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Brooklyn Stenciling Project Aims to Reduce Marine Debris

Storm Drain Stenciling GCC

Volunteers with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy with a stenciled storm drain in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Gowanus Canal Conservancy, 2017)
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Volunteers with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy with a stenciled storm drain in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Gowanus Canal Conservancy, 2017)


To reduce the amount of trash and other undesirable material entering our waterways, Riverkeeper is working with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Newtown Creek AllianceSWIM Coalition,  and New York City Soil and Water Conservation District  to stencil storm drains around Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. Funded by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, the project aims to both educate community members about their sewer systems and reduce the amount of street litter ending up in local waterways.

“Most people don’t know where the stormwater runoff that goes down the storm drain goes, and are surprised to learn it enters our Harbor and local waterway, taking litter, oils, metals and pet waste with it. By educating our neighbors and community, we can all become better stewards for our waterways.” -Korin Tangtrakul, NYC Soil, and Water Conservation District

Learn more about New York City’s combined and separate sewer system.

Students from the Brooklyn Urban Garden School with their storm drain stencil. (Photo Credit: Callie Quinn, BUGS School, 2017)

Thus far, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has kicked off the stenciling project with two projects, one with community volunteers, and one in partnership with the Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS). Students at BUGS spent the year researching issues facing the Gowanus Canal and working with their advisory group to design and execute a project to combat their issue of choice. Students worked with Gowanus Canal Conservancy to design a stencil and paint the drains near their school, completing 16 stencils and speaking to passersby and business owners along the way.

“The Gowanus stenciling project captured everything BUGS’s sustainability mission is about. It involved student choice, collaboration, and creativity. It allowed students to be advocates for a sustainable Gowanus future in an authentic way.” -Dan Strauss BUGS 7th Grade Sustainability Coordinator

“Working with Brooklyn Urban Garden School students was an exciting way to get students informed about and engaged with the combined sewage overflow issues surrounding the canal. Physically getting the students out of the classroom and into the field is a great experience and learning tool for them as it puts visuals to what they hear about in school.” -Shelby Hyatt, Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal Sewershed Map (Credit: Korin Tangtrakul)


Opportunities to participate in projects with both the Newtown Creek Alliance and Gowanus Canal Conservancy will continue into the summer with events scheduled for July. The kit of supplies is available for rental from either organization, which comes with instructions so communities can do their own stenciling projects.



“These events are meant to be a fun and creative way to engage community members in needed long-term stewardship; we don’t need to be directly on the water to have an impact on its health.“ – Lisa Bloodgood, Newtown Creek Alliance

Both Newtown Creek Alliance and Gowanus Canal Conservancy will be hosting stenciling projects as part of City of Water Day on July 15 in Brooklyn and Long Island City. Learn more about the July 15 City of Water Day projects here. For more information about other Newtown Creek stenciling events, e-mail Lisa at [email protected] or [email protected] for information about the Gowanus Canal stenciling events.

Stencils were designed by local artists Jeff Dietz and Gabrielle Burger of Brieff Studios.


Learn more about the stenciling project and how you can get involved here.


Funding provided by the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, and/or interpretations of data contained herein are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of Rochester Institute of Technology and its NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or the State.



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