Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant – New York NY


“Under the auspices of the New York Department of Sanitation, between 1937 and 1944, three new wastewater treatment plants were constructed — Wards Island in Manhattan, and Bowery Bay and Tallman Island in Queens. These facilities were designed to reduce pollutants in the Harlem River and in the East River, whose dark and murky waters had some of the lowest dissolved oxygen concentrations in the harbor. During the summer months, dissolved oxygen levels were often zero, which caused unpleasant odors. The city and its waterways benefited from an infusion of funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an ambitious public works program that was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.” (www.nyc.gov)

“The Wards Island plant, located in the middle of the East River, was built to handle flows from the east side of Manhattan and the lower part of the Bronx. The plant came on-line in October 1937 and was the first to use the conventional activated sludge process, a great leap forward in wastewater treatment.” (www.nyc.gov). The New York City Parks Department notes that the plant on Wards Island became “the world’s highest capacity sewage treatment center.” (NYC Parks)

A few years after the construction of the Wards Island Plant, “…the activated sludge process was incorporated into the Bowery Bay (1939) and Tallman Island (1939) plants. During this period, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut established the Interstate Sanitation Commission (ISC) to protect, regulate and set water quality standards for the entire harbor.”   (www.nyc.gov)

According to the WPA photo shown here, the PWA was also involved in constructing the plant. Indeed, a Chicago Daily Tribune article published in October 1939 reported that the Public Works Administration (PWA) awarded the City a grant of $11,360,250 for the construction of the sewage plant on Wards Island (NY Times).

Source notes

"New York Harbor Survey Program", last accessed January 2016
Chicago Daily Tribune: "New Deal Pours Three Billion Into New York", last accessed January 2016

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation: "Wards Island Park", last accessed January 2016

The Living New Deal: "Randalls Island Improvements - New York NY", last accessed January 2016

Project originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere on April 22, 2014.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

7 Wards Island
New York, NY 10035

Coordinates: 40.788944, -73.921560

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