NYC Looks to Philadelphia for CSO Solutions

Friday, July 30, 2010 - 10:55am
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Recent WNYC Story Takes a Look at Philly's Clean Water Strategy

What do Philadelphia and New York City have in common besides heroes of the American Revolution? Aging sewer systems.

DEP SignIn NYC, 135,000 catchbasins and more than 6,000 miles of sewer pipes carry our wastewater away from homes and offices to treatment plants. Often, however, heavy or prolonged rain can overload these basins and pipes, resulting in combined sewer overflows, the bane of a clean New York Harbor. At right is one of hundreds of CSO outfall signs that can be found along NYC's waterways.

NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection has invested millions of dollars in sewer system upgrades and clean water projects, most recently -- earlier this month -- activating a new oxygenation system for the Gowanus Canal. But when it comes to substituting impermeable concrete surfaces with new, rainwater-absorbing surfaces, the Big Apple lags behind the City of Brotherly Love.

A July 15 WNYC radio piece entitled "New York Looks to Philadelphia for Ideas on Sewer Overflow Issues" began this way: "Just a few years ago in South Philadelphia, Herron Playground looked like a lot of other city parks. 'Essentially this whole site was pavement before,' says Glen Abrams from the Philadelphia Water Department. He says when the playground came up for a renovation in 2007, new guidelines required parks to manage stormwater runoff. But instead of just complying with those rules, city officials decided to go all the way and make Herron Playground into a showpiece of sustainability." To read or listen to the rest of the story, click here.

The WNYC reporter, Brian Zumhagen, goes on to compare how New York City stacks up against Philadelphia's sustainability efforts and he focuses on a city park under reconstruction in the Bronx called the Pearly Gates. Here, landscape architect Stephen Koren has designed a rain garden that will receive runoff from the basketball court (see art below), a first for the city.

Rain GardenBut to many environmentalists, the pace of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC sustainability initiatives is too slow and enforcement too lax. Michael Heimbinder, Executive Director of HabitatMap and a member of the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) coalition told WNYC that he thinks the city should require the installation of green infrastructure any time crews renovate a park or tear up a street.

"If NYC installed stormwater source control technologies (porous concrete, biofiltration beds, street trees with storage chambers, etc.) every time it replaced a sidewalk or roadway," he noted, "we could not only prevent 27 billion gallons of polluted stormwater from entering New York Harbor every year, we could also reduce the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, reduce energy bills, create green jobs, and save money on reduced capitol costs. It costs less to grab a gallon of rainwater where it falls and feed it to a street tree than it costs to shuffle it into a storage tank and treat it in a multi-billion dollar plant."

Click here to read PlaNYC's Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan.

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