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Residents Take Gowanus Cleanup Into Their Own Hands

Not content with leaving the canal's cleanup to the government, a handful of residents are doing what they can, as well.

Although the Gowanus Canal is the focus of a large-scale government cleanup, a handful of local residents are taking matters into their own hands, doing what they can to clean up the canal in their backyard, says the New York Times.

Eymund Diegel, 50, an urban planner, spent a recent weekend taking aerial photos of the canal with a camera strapped to a kite, which he will use to map where street runoff streams into the canal after it rains, says the article.

“You should be able to take pride in your backyard,” Diegel told the paper. “This should be able to reflect the standards that we’re capable of.”

The Gowanus is one of several sewage overflows mandated by the city, says the Times, which means that about 377 million gallons of sewage flow into the canal each year, according to a 2008 report by city officials.

Alison Croney, 29, helps with a composting program in an empty lot next to the canal, and says she tries “not to focus on the fact that there’s still sewage going into the canal,” but rather what she can do in the moment to help.

And even those who are paid to care for the canal find themselves doing it more for love than a paycheck.

Hans Hesselein, 30, who works with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, spends many of his weekends off pulling weeds and replanting gardens near the canal that have been hurt by exhaust and oil from nearby industrial sites, says the article.

“Once you begin to take control of your own environment and make changes on your own without asking other people’s permission, the canal became my backyard,” Hesselein told the paper.

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