City announces completion of $150M sewer upgrades in Canarsie, East New York

Fresh Creek 2
Newly restored wetlands around Fresh Creek in southern Brooklyn.
Department of Design and Construction

Construction is complete on nearly 15 miles of new sewer lines and water mains in Canarsie and East New York, the city announced on Earth Day.

The $148 million, three-phase overhaul began in 2016 and sought both to reduce flooding in the southeastern Brooklyn waterfront nabes and and curb the amount of sewage flowing into Fresh Creek and Jamaica Bay. The completed project is expected to reduce the amount of sewage outflow into Fresh Creek by 189 million gallons annually, according to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“No New Yorker should have to cross their fingers and hope their street or home doesn’t flood when they see rain clouds,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “This $148 million investment in 15 miles of new sewers and water mains for Southern Brooklyn will reduce flooding, protect our drinking water, and improve quality of life. We know that environmental justice begins on the ground, and through projects like these we will build a safer and more resilient city for all New Yorkers.”

In total, the city constructed 6.3 miles of new “high-level storm sewers” and 8.3 miles of new water mains within a 400-acre basin draining into Fresh Creek, all aimed at shoring up infrastructure in the area, which is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Canarsie’s precarious perch on Jamaica Bay and ancient infrastructure have made it uniquely vulnerable to flooding, which is only set to become more frequent and deleterious as the planet continues to warm. During heavy rains, the existing sewer system was unable to handle increased volume due to storm surges, causing “combined sewage overflow” to seep into Fresh Creek. That not only pollutes the creek, but also causes flooding on Canarsie’s streets and in homes.

New “boxy” sewers intended to relieve pressure on the existing system.Department of Design and Construction

The new sewers are large and boxy, intended to take on a large volume of stormwater previously handled by older sewers — something, officials say, will prevent waste from flowing into Fresh Creek, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

“These 6.5 miles of new sewers throughout East New York and Canarsie will prevent flooding in homes and in our streets, not to mention keeping 189 million gallons of overflow from entering Fresh Creek and Jamaica Bay,” said state Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who represents the area in Albany, in a statement. “Completion of this project marks a significant step toward resiliency.”

In addition to new infrastructure, the city also created about 30,000 square feet of wetlands along the Fresh Creek Nature Preserve. Municipal workers cleared heaps of fill and invasive species and have restored the creek basin to its marshy splendor.

Even with the project completed, there’s still a long way to go to make Canarsie resilient as it needs to be to sustain its community in the long term. In October, the state’s Dormitory Authority commenced construction on a project at the southeastern end of the peninsula on “tidal gates” around sewer openings, intended to prevent backflow of water and debris into the sewer system during storms. Work is still ongoing.