NYC Considers Green Tactics to Curb SSOs

The New York City Council passed legislation on Jan. 30 to advance the implementation of green design elements into the city's streets, parks, and other public spaces and into existing and new development projects.

By adopting "green infrastructure" solutions, such as green roofs, permeable pavement, wetland restoration, and smarter design of street tree plantings, stormwater can be captured where it falls and used to green the city, instead of overwhelming sewers and flushing raw sewage into city waterways. The legislation ensures that the city will follow through with the initiatives outlined in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, by requiring the development of a city-wide Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan focusing on such measures. The mayor is expected to sign it into law.

Currently, more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewer overflows into New York Harbor each year. Although water quality in the harbor has improved significantly over the last few decades, most of the waterfront and its beaches are still unsafe for recreation after it rains. New York City's outmoded sewer system combines sewage from buildings with dirty stormwater from streets. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can overload the system and cause raw sewage to overflow into the harbor.

The city's most recent plans for addressing this problem, submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation last year, would reduce these sewer overflows by only about 40 percent -- leaving about 17 billion gallons still pouring into waterbodies around the city each year.

Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) -- a coalition of more than 50 organizations, including community and environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, architects, water engineers, and community development corporations -- partnered with Council member James Gennaro, chair of the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee, to advance the legislation.

"This local law is good for the city's environment and makes sound economic sense," said Basil Seggos, Riverkeeper's chief investigator. "By regarding stormwater as a resource for irrigating the landscape, we not only improve water quality, but also capture all the added economic benefits of green infrastructure, including cooler streets, reduced energy costs (by reducing building cooling needs), cleaner air, sequestration and reduction of global warming pollution, flood mitigation, and more livable communities."