Are tree pits a ‘quick fix’ for Gowanus stink?

Are tree pits a ‘quick fix’ for Gowanus stink?
By the way, this is the “before” shot.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The city’s latest effort to stanch the stink in the Gowanus Canal is the pits.

Environmental officials unveiled four “green” spaces on Dean Street that will hold onto stormwater during heavy rainstorms so that sewer systems don’t overflow, sending raw sewage into the already polluted, foul-smelling waterway.

The drainage ditches near Fourth Avenue in Park Slope are topped with mulch and water-thirsty shrubs to absorb up to 7,200 gallons of runoff during light rain storms.

But at just 80 square feet, the glorified tree pits aren’t designed to handle heavy rainfall, according to city planners, the $16,000 green pits will overflow — rendering them ineffective whenever it pours.

Still, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland touted the plant-covered holes.

“They are a perfect example of how green infrastructure projects not only help retain stormwater, but also beautify our streets and sidewalks,” Strickland said.

Residents were more skeptical.

Diane Jacobowitz said the tree pits weren’t likely to make the canal smell any better — or stop her dance studio on Fourth Avenue at Dean Street from flooding during downpours.

“It’ll flood the next time [it rains hard],” said Jacobowitz, whose ground-floor business was inundated with water twice in the past year. “There’s obviously a drainage problem here.”

Supporters of the project countered that it was a small step forward towards improving the water quality in the fetid canal.

“This is a quick and easy first step in the right direction,” said Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6.

Strickland said the city is planning to install green roofs, rain barrels and more of the landscaped pits to handle 10 percent of the stormwater runoff in the area.

The bioswales on Dean Street aren’t the first of their kind in the borough.

Last year, the city gave the Gowanus Canal Conservancy $580,000 to install a similar system of water-sucking plants along Sixth Street between Second and Fourth avenues.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

The city calls them “bioswales,” but basically it means that planted areas like these will help collect water so that the Gowanus Canal won’t get so poopy. Here, Diane Jacobowitz of Dancewave sashays over to a tree.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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