Van Cortlandt Lake

Making a Healthier Connection between Van Cortlandt Lake and the Harlem River


Article by Harlem River BOA Interns: Megan Joskow and Sebastian Valcarcel

Before the American Revolution, Jacobus Van Cortlandt (purchaser of most of the land that is now Van Cortlandt Park), created the Van Cortlandt Lake in the 1690’s for a gristmill. As time passed and technology changed, the mill closed down and along with the lake was taken over by the local native fauna. By 1961, the lake had become polluted due to leakage upstream and killing thousands of fishes. Many years later, efforts to restore the lake were undertaken. Including restocking the lake’s fish population, dredging the lake, installing sediment tanks to catch the runoff from the highway, and the installation of a stone edge around the lake to prevent erosion.

All of this brings us to today’s Master Plan for Van Cortlandt Park, which includes a daylighting plan for Tibbetts Brook south of Van Cortlandt Lake. This will allow the lake to drain directly into the Harlem River, rather than having it drain into the sewer.

– 1.45 million gallons of water per day flows from the lake into the sewer on average
– Normally this water flows to the Wards Island Sewage Treatment Plant whose effluent goes into the East River
– During storms excess water causes this sewer system to overflow into the Harlem River
– These overflows result in one highest discharge volumes of sewer overflows in NYC adding the Harlem River polluted

The Tibbetts Brook Daylighting Project is connected to the Harlem River BOA Project because both are concerned with the water quality of the Harlem River, and both seek to improve the environment in the surrounding areas. By allowing the lake to drain directly to the Harlem River, pollution will significantly decrease.

Speaking of the Harlem River! Please take this survey that will take less than 10 minutes. The purpose of the survey is to gain knowledge of what people would want along 7 miles of unused land known as Brownfield Opportunity Areas along the Harlem River.  Help us make a healthier Bronx watershed as we improve both the health of Tibbetts Brook and the Harlem River.

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