Sections

City: Flowers not sewers will keep waste out of boro’s waterways

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

The city is rolling the dice on an untested plan to stop human waste from flowing into Brooklyn’s most polluted waterways thanks to a new agreement with the state that delays a required overhaul of the borough’s inadequate sewer system.

Albany is letting the city spend $4 million to experiment with gardens, tree pits, and other greenery that could prevent some household sewage from draining into the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek during heavy rainstorms — allowing the Bloomberg administration see if the cheap, low-tech shrubs are a substitute for costlier brick-and-mortar repairs of the sewers themselves.

Under the deal, City Hall will pay a $200,000 fine because it failed to meet federal clean water standards for nearly two decades — but gain five years to see if the plantings can solve the putrid sewage problem.

If the scheme works, the foliage could save the city billions of dollars in sewer upgrades. If it doesn’t, the city must find an actual solution beginning in 2017.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland touted the planting plan, saying soil and foliage can absorb some of the stormwater that otherwise overwhelms sewers, forcing a noxious mix of household waste and run-off into Brooklyn’s waters.

“[This] represents the next phase of building green infrastructure in our sidewalks, streets, and city-owned buildings at significant scale, and is the most significant step to date to saturate the Gowanus Canal [and] Newtown Creek,” Strickland said.

The tree pits, street plantings, and other water-thirsty shrubbery will line sidewalks and street ends in the drainage areas surrounding the waterways. The green roofs could be installed on a mix of public and private buildings, potentially keeping rainwater off the streets and out of the sewers and preventing sewer overflows.

But some environmentalists worry the city might be relying too heavily on mother nature’s power rather than focusing on a complete rehab of the sewers, which regularly dump feces into waterways that are so polluted they qualify as federal cleanup sites.

“It’s all about whether the city complies with water quality standards — if they can do it with green infrastructure, god bless them!” said Paul Gallay, the president of the environmental organization Riverkeeper.

Others blasted the Bloomberg administration for kicking the can down the river by pursuing a cheaper, experimental fix rather than tackling the problem at its root.

“The city actually stepped back from its earlier commitments to reducing combined sewer overflows,” said Kate Zidar, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance.

In 1992, the state ordered the city to cut the amount of sewage in its sludgeways. Bureaucrats on both sides battled for nearly two decades before reaching a deal announced this week that allows City Hall to experiment with the above-ground plantings.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Carroll Gardens) cheered the proposed greenery — so long as it doesn’t get in the way of a permanent fix for the vile viaducts.

“This is one important part of the broader water quality solution,” said Lander. “But I want the city to accelerate its long-term control process.”

The project is part of a $2.5-billion, citywide plan to reduce the flow of human waste and rainwater, dubbed combined sewage overflow, using flora.

As the city tinkers with the herbal remedy, it will commit $1.5 billion to actual sewer repairs across the boroughs. But that cash will only fund minor fixes at the Gowanus and Newtown Creek — and it would only represent a fraction of what it would cost to modernize the entire sewer system, officials said.

This isn’t the city’s first attempt at bringing foliage to the Gowanus Canal’s drainage area. Last summer, the Department of Environmental Protection unveiled four tree pits on Dean Street near Fourth Avenue in Park Slope that can hold up to 7,200 gallons of runoff during light rain storms.

In 2010, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy received a $580,000 city grant to line Sixth Street between Second an Fourth Avenues with water-hungry vegetation to soak up stormwater.

The latest project is scheduled to start later this year — but even the Conservancy admits green spaces won’t be enough.

“They’re not going to solve all the problems in the Gowanus Canal,” said Hans Hesselein, the group’s special projects director.

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reader Feedback

JudahSpechal from BedStuy says:
Nice! Wondering why the city did plant one tree along Fulton St bet. Bedford Ave & Marcus Garvey Blvd instead of those concrete squares at the sidewalk edge. Pretty stupid an wasteful. Not mention ugly.
March 20, 2012, 9:29 am
JudahSpechal from BedStuy says:
Correction: City did not plant one tree along Fulton St, bet Bedford Ave & Marcus Garey Blvd
March 20, 2012, 9:31 am
Echo from NYC says:
Sweet! But I noticed that no trees were planted on Fulton st. in the Bedford/Marcus Garey Blvd. area. Instead, there are these unsightly concrete cubes, which I find to be dumb and extravagant.
March 20, 2012, 11:57 am
JohnQ from Brooklyn says:
Better put a whole big bunch of shrubs around Atlantic Yards!
March 20, 2012, 2:15 pm
AY from Red Hook says:
If the city was serious about this they would insist that the Atlantic Yards development would build the rain retention ponds that were included in the EIS sewage mitigation.
March 20, 2012, 4:14 pm
Lifted Lorax from your nabe. says:
Tree pits? PFFFTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!
March 20, 2012, 5:39 pm
Mark Cruz says:
Flowers are the most relaxing parts of the plants especially flowers which are grown intended to please other people such as roses and tulips. Most women love flower that therefore this is the best thing to include together with the special presents of suitors. However, there are chances that two lovers are away from each other, good to know that there are websites who offer flower deliveries which automatically deliver the purchased flower from the website to the specified address. Whatever presents we give to our love ones, the most important thing is our love to them and flowers or other material things are just symbols of our love. Thank you for sharing this great article.

Regards,
Mark Cruz
March 21, 2012, 10:32 am
Josef from clinton hill says:
This burns my biscuits. If the Feds want NYC to me their standards, they should have included funds for this ish in the stimulus bill, but instead we got needless tax cuts. Or they could buy less weapons and spend the money on infrastructure projects like this nation-wide. But to be like, "oh hey there, City-with-budget-problems, here's a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate is just clearly stupid, and that's coming from someone in favor of strict environmental regulations.

AY from Red Hook, right on.

Mark Cruz, I suspect you must be an oddball.
March 22, 2012, 11:17 am
Josef from clinton hill says:
This burns my biscuits. If the Feds want NYC to me their standards, they should have included funds for this ish in the stimulus bill, but instead we got needless tax cuts. Or they could buy less weapons and spend the money on infrastructure projects like this nation-wide. But to be like, "oh hey there, City-with-budget-problems, here's a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate is just clearly stupid, and that's coming from someone in favor of strict environmental regulations.

AY from Red Hook, right on.

Mark Cruz, I suspect you must be an oddball.
March 22, 2012, 11:17 am
Ar from Gowanus says:
Why dont the city or whoever just put new sewers instead of wasting money on tree pits, etc.!!!??? That isnt going to solve the problem!!!! Put our money back into our neighborhoods and correct the sewers and drainage the proper way!!!!!
Aug. 6, 2012, 1:32 am

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

This week’s featured advertisers