Ever wonder what happens to the water when you flush the toilet, wash dishes, or watch the rain go into the gutter?  As you can imagine, it’s filled with dirty things like poo, pee, pills, soap, bacon grease, and cigarette butts.  To clean the water up, it usually goes through something called a Wastewater Treatment Plant.  B U T   (this is a big BUT), when it rains or snows a lot, all the wastewater in New York goes directly into the river.  This is called a Combined Sewer Overflow or CSO. For the humans and sea life who swim, eat, drink, and live in the river, CSOs are a big problem.

Let’s learn more about wastewater treatment before moving on to what happens when we don’t do it:


  1. Begin by watching the video Flush.
  2. Next, take a virtual tour of a wastewater plant.
  3. Now use SketchUpScratch, Lego or any other Maker tool to teach others about wastewater treatment.


OK, so now it rains or snows.  Instead of being treated, the raw sewage goes straight to the river.  Let’s learn more about this:

  1. Watch either this video about Evansville or this video about Winnepeg’s CSO problems.
  2. Now check out a CSO event in Brooklyn New York.
  3.  You can learn much much more abouts CSOs by visiting the Riverkeepers website.
  4. Finally, check out these solutions to help out the terrible CSO situation: Street Creeks, GreenStreets, TreesNY, and HydroVentiv.
  5. Take one of these ideas or think up your own and use SketchUp or other Maker Tools to make a model of your solution.

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This section is for those of you involved with the Billion Oysters Project.  As you know, oysters help the harbor in many ways including by filtering it. Unfortunately, when CSOs happen, oysters are forced to take in many contaminants including harmful bacteria.  For this section we will be investigating for ourselves the presence of such bacteria around our oyster restoration station.

  1. When CSOs happen, poop gets into the water. Different kinds of bacteria are in this poop and one is called Enterococcus.  A bunch of citizen scientists do measurements of this bacteria and upload the results.  One group tests for this bacteria right where our oyster restoration station is.  Here are the results of their tests.
  2.  But, like good scientist, let’s not just assume they are right.  We are going to go to our station and test the water next to our station from October through November.  Using what’s called a Coliform Test Kit, we will test the water four times: two sunny day visits and two visits the day after it rains.   Let’s see how bad these CSOs really are.