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  • Writer's pictureFernando Ortiz

Tibbetts Brook

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

A stream pushed into a pipe.

This beautiful landscape is the Tibbetts Brook Park located in Yonkers, home to the Tibbetts Brook- a small stream that flows north-south from Yonkers into the Bronx. Originally named “Mosholu” meaning small stones by the indigenous Lenape people, the name was changed to honor previous landowners the Tippetts. Tibbetts Brook naturally empties into the Spuyten-Duyvil Creek as part of the Harlem River system but after leaving Yonkers and entering Van Cortlandt Park, the stream is confined underground into pipes that run below Tibbetts Avenue in the Bronx and the diversion was a project led by the infamous Robert Moses. Most of New York City’s natural waterways have been submerged into the ground and into pipes, creating many urban problems. Now, instead of the Tibbetts Brook emptying into the Spuyten-Duyvil Creek, it flows into the city sewage system until reaching Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant where it is processed and treated and emptied into the Harlem River, on a good day…

The issue with this system is that the Tibbetts Brook is confined into what is called a Combined Sewage Overflow pipe system (CSO). CSO is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) as “sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe where it is transported to wastewater treatment plants to be treated and discharged into nearby bodies of water. During periods of heavy rainfall/snowfall, the wastewater volume exceeds capacity and the design of the CSO is to when overflowing- discharge excess wastewater straight into the waterways without any treatment.” Hence, the saying that you shouldn’t go swimming in NYC rivers at least two weeks after it rains…

There are several issues with CSO, particularly water pollution and loss of freshwater. When overflow occurs and water is directly released into waterways, water that contains untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris along with storm water is released. This contaminates potential drinking water sources and marine wildlife such as shellfish like oysters and fish. This contamination is the largest source of water pollution to the Harlem River, where the water is directly released into. An estimated 4-5 million U.S gallons of freshwater enters the sewage system daily from the Tibbetts Brook. Freshwater is such a valuable resource and is being wasted in an unsustainable way in this scenario. This also creates a huge expense for the City who has to pay millions of dollars annually to process and treat sewage and wastewater, so mixing freshwater that is clean with sewage to later be treated is just illogical.

The NYC Parks Department has proposed daylighting the stream in its Van Cortlandt Park Master Plan 2030. Daylighting the stream would mean resurfacing it- either entirely or partially. Designs include locating the daylighted Tibbetts along its former passway which runs along the old Putnam Railroad, next to the Major Deegan Highway. This design will allow for stormwater to be diverted from the highways, for the restoration of native wetlands, improved water quality and for the creation of recreational space. Again, sustainable design has the potential to solve so many of our environmental and urban issues, while helping reduce cost and improve social well-being.

The Tibbetts Brook is a quiet stream that is home to such diverse flora as phragmites, cattails, marshmallows, willow herbs, and cursed crowfoot. The area is also a must-see for bird and wildlife watchers, who can occasionally spot herons, owls, woodpeckers, rabbits, raccoons, muskrats, and skunks in the vicinity. Imagine this stream extending into the Bronx along its natural course into the Harlem River at the Spuyten-Duyvil Creek. Let’s restore our natural waterways for the benefit of the community and the environment...

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