Pelham Bay Park beach lovers can breathe easy.
The sands of Orchard Beach should smell sweet for years to come.
The city announced Tuesday, Sept. 17 the completion of a $2.7 million upgrade to an aging sewage facility in Orchard Beach that pumps waste water from the beach toward a treatment plant in Hunts Point.
The renovation ensures that the over one million gallons of waste water produced daily at the beach is pushed out of Pelham Bay Park, avoiding possible backups into local homes, businesses and beaches, according to a Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s a mechanical system, like a car. It breaks down, you fix it,” said Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns, who has first-hand experience working at the DEP.
The majority of the city’s sewage flows by gravity through New York’s 7,500 miles of sewer lines to 14 facilities that treat it to the standard of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, according to the DEP.
The Orchard Beach Pumping Station, which Kearns described as “basically a large pipe encased in a concrete box,” was built in 1970 to step in when gravity does not provide enough force to get the waste where it needs to go.
The pump takes waste from the eateries and shops on the beach’s’ public pavilion and boosts it south, in the direction of a larger processing plant on Hunt’s Point.
Regularly upgrading the city’s sewage system is no laughing matter.
Sewage leaks have caused tri-state-area beaches to be closed to the public as recently as this July, when some Westchester beaches were shut during a heat wave after raw sewage leaked into the Long Island Sound.
In July, 2011, city officials declared the rivers that run into New York Harbor unfit for recreational activity after millions of untreated sewage seeped into the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, according to a published report.
Orchard Beach has not been immune to the effects of such leaks.
Known as The Riviera of the Bronx, the beach was forced to shut down for a day in 1997 after a leak in Throgs Neck, and closed again a year later after a leak in Westchester County.
The renovation work, which began in July 2011, involved installing brand new pumping systems that are also expected to be easy to maintain by DEP personnel.
DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said in a statement that he is confident that the results of the upgrade will ensure the safety of New York’s beaches.
“Collecting and treating the more than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater produced every day in New York City is essential to protecting public health,” said Strickland. Nowhere is this more important than at our city beaches, and I’d like to thank our partners at the Parks Department who have helped us ensure another successful beach season.”