Education / Environment

Letter to the editor: Cleaning our rivers starts at home

Zach Stellato

New Visions students Fatou Mbeguere, Isaac Cruz, David Urbina test Bronx River water quality using sensors.

Rocking the Boat is a non-profit organization on the Bronx River, dedicated to helping students understand the connection between the river and our daily lives. It also teaches students to build boats and use them on the river as a reward for their work. My school, New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II, took us there to learn about river ecology and how the Bronx River and the community both affect each other.

Before the trip to Rocking the Boat, I didn’t know much about the Bronx River. I knew that many people visited during the summer and it has been preserved as an icon of the community. My expectation was that the river was clean and healthy because I did not know much about how rivers are treated and I was expecting people to treat such an important resource well. Due to these conclusions I presumed the river to be healthy.

When we went to Rocking the Boat, we learned how boats are built, and we went on a few boat rides to survey the river and collect data. The living organisms work interactively with each other to sustain themselves and the environment they live in. We measured the pH, turbidity and the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) present in the river to answer the question, “Is the Bronx River Healthy”. Our results showed that the Bronx River had a slightly high acidity, sufficient DO, and  was turbid. While the DO level tells us the river could support life, turbidity and acidity indicates that there is still work to be done.

The truth about the Bronx River’s condition surprised me and made me a little angry. The staff of Rocking the Boat told us what has been done to the river. It turned out that the sewage system of NYC is designed to send excess waste into the river if it overflows during floods or hurricanes. I was a bit surprised by how much we change our environment like that just to suit our needs.This waste comes from the homes we live in, the shower, the toilet, sinks, and our streets. I think all this starts from the sewage systems used today. When the filtration units are overflowing during heavy rains or flooding, they are designed to route the waste from our homes and streets into an alternate route which is the river.

The solutions to these problems all start in our homes. If we reduce the amount of waste we produce, reuse, and recycle, this will significantly reduce the amount of waste we produce collectively as a community. I would also urge future engineers to design buildings with rooftop gardens. Rooftop gardens will be a great way to reduce runoff, and help prevent excess rainwater from flooding the sewers, leading to a reduced amount of waste being dumped into the river.

This solution may be a bit expensive, but in comparison to what will happen if the river’s ecosystem is not preserved, it is a pretty good trade off. I urge my fellow New Yorkers to pay a little attention to their environment and realize that every action has an effect on the Bronx River. As Sama Veda states, “one who maintains cleanliness keeps away disease.” I urge everyone to keep their surroundings clean and work to reduce the amount of waste they produce.


Emmanuel Dufour

Emmanuel Dufour is a sophomore at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II at 900 Tinton Avenue in the Bronx, NY. He plans on majoring in engineering in college. 


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