Improving The Health Of New York Harbor - The Fisherman

Improving The Health Of New York Harbor

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos and New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala announced a new agreement that modifies a 2012 Consent Order that will help to ensure the continued improvement of the health of New York City waterways for years to come. As part of the agreement, New York City commits to investing $3.5 billion to build Green Infrastructure in sewered areas across all of the five boroughs in order to better manage the more intense rainfall and severe weather that climate change is bringing to the region and improve water quality in New York Harbor.

“Green infrastructure is an essential tool to improve water quality and protect communities from flooding, and I commend Commissioner Aggarwala and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection staff for negotiating this historic agreement,” DEC Commissioner Seggos said. “By securing these strategic investments to reduce sewer overflows, especially in environmental justice communities burdened with pollution, New York State is continuing to deliver the necessary projects to protect public and marine health in the region and ensure our communities are taking the steps necessary to prepare for our unpredictable climate future. I applaud DEC’s legal and water experts for advancing this comprehensive Order.”

“Dating back to the Civil War, more than 150 years ago, New York Harbor has never been as healthy as it is right now, and today’s $3.5 billion commitment will ensure that we continue this important progress in cleaning up our waterways,” said DEP Commissioner and Chief Climate Officer Rohit T. Aggarwala. “We are working closely with local communities and our partners at DEC to ensure that every waterway is as healthy as it can be, while also building the type of infrastructure that can increase our resilience to the more intense storms that are caused by climate change.”

“In 2012, I was privileged to be part of the process that resulted in DEP’s commitment to invest $1.5 billion to build Green Infrastructure to partner with nature to mitigate flooding, decrease Combined Sewer Overflows, and improve coastal water quality. Today’s agreement and commitment by DEP to invest an additional $2 billion in Green Infrastructure throughout the city will build on the amazing flood mitigation and clean water results achieved by DEP thus far,” said James F. Gennaro, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, Resiliency, & Waterfronts. “I thank DEC for its regulatory partnership with DEP that made today’s historic announcement possible.”

“Climate Change is real, it is arriving faster than many had even predicted, and New York City’s Green Infrastructure Program has developed into a model for municipalities across the state and the nation,” said Carter Strickland, former DEP Commissioner and incoming SUNY Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Director of Climate Action. “At scale, Green Infrastructure can help to mitigate flooding during wet weather, cleanup local waterways, and lower summertime temperatures – and with a $3.5 billion commitment New York City is leading the way on resilience.”

“This is a great leap forward in transitioning NYC into a sponge,” said Amy Chester, Managing Director of Rebuild by Design. “This commitment to green infrastructure will provide critical flood protection while cleaning our air, contributing to our mental health, and enhancing our neighborhoods every day–not just during the heaviest rain.”

“We thank our State and City partners for this agreement,” said Bronx Council for Environmental Quality Secretary Karen Argenti. “It increases funding, extends years for new projects, and adds criteria that recognizes the CSO, flooding, and stormwater pollution impacts from projects, such as the Daylighting of Tibbetts Brook. As the City’s largest Green Infrastructure project, it will allow rain to infiltrate into the Harlem River’s base flow the way nature intended. BCEQ has been advocating for the use of Green Infrastructure to mitigate combined sewer overflows since the 1990s. Thank you!”

New York Harbor is cleaner today than it has been at any time in more than 150 years, but additional work is needed to help enhance all of the progress that has been made in protecting water quality. More than 70 percent of New York City is covered by surfaces that are not absorbent. As a result, heavy rain can mean tremendous volumes of stormwater streaming towards the city’s catch basins and sewer system. Green Infrastructure absorbs stormwater from streets, sidewalks, roofs, and other hard surfaces before it reaches the sewer system where it can cause local flooding.

In addition, New York City, like many other older urban communities, is largely serviced by a combined sewer system where stormwater and wastewater are carried through a single pipe. During heavy rainstorms, all of the additional stormwater can cause the sewer system to reach capacity and it is designed to discharge a mix of stormwater and wastewater – called a combined sewer overflow – into New York waterbodies. If the overflows were not discharged, the combined sewage and stormwater would backup into homes and businesses and severely damage the City’s wastewater resource recovery facilities. Building more Green Infrastructure to intercept and naturally absorb stormwater before it can reach the City’s sewer system has proven to also reduce the discharge of combined sewer overflows into local waterways.

Enforcement of water quality violations is a top priority for New York State and today’s agreement builds upon a 2012 Consent Order to resolve the City’s violations and comply with state and federal clean water laws. The earlier agreement included Green Infrastructure as an important tool in the City’s work to improve the health of local waterways by reducing stormwater runoff that could contribute to water quality impairments. At the time, DEP committed to investing $1.5 billion to build green infrastructure in combined sewer areas of the city.

Today’s agreement extends the areas where Green Infrastructure can be built to comply with the Order to separately sewered areas, and with an additional $2 billion commitment, it recognizes that Green Infrastructure can play an important role in mitigating urban flooding and reducing pollution in stormwater, as well as reducing combined sewer overflows into local waterways. The agreement also recognizes many of DEP’s more recent stormwater management tools as Green Infrastructure, including Bluebelts (leaves DEC website), Cloudburst projects (leaves DEC website), and the restoration of historical stream flows (leaves DEC website). Cloudburst projects are specially designed, built, and engineered infrastructure that will protect residents and property in Corona and Kissena Park, Queens, Parkchester, Bronx, and East New York, Brooklyn from future extreme weather brought about by climate change.

Over the last decade, DEP has created the largest and most aggressive Green Infrastructure program in the country, with more than 12,000 installations built across the city (leaves DEC website). The most common type of Green Infrastructure found in the city are curbside rain gardens (leaves DEC website), but there are also green roofs, porous pavement, and subsurface detention. DEP also partners with NYC Parks, the Department of Education, and the New York City Housing Authority to build Green Infrastructure on their properties. To ensure the private sector is doing their part in this effort, DEP has also issued a Unified Stormwater Rule that requires all new developments and redevelopments to manage stormwater on-site, and not allow it to drain off onto the sidewalks and streets where it can contribute to flooding and sewer overflows.

In addition to today’s agreement, DEP is implementing scores of additional projects to improve the health of local waterways, including the under-construction $1.6 billion combined sewer overflow retention tanks for the Gowanus Canal and projects that are outlined in eleven separate waterbody-specific Long Term Control Plans (leaves DEC website), which are reviewed and approved by DEC. These plans also include a combined sewer overflow retention tunnel for Newtown Creek that is estimated to cost $2.1 billion. In the recently release PlaNYC update, New York City has committed to ending the discharge of untreated sewer overflows by 2060.

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