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In New York City, 2010 is All About the Water

This is a Blog Action Day post

Has New York City hit a critical mass that will make it truly a green city?  I’m beginning to suspect so, at least in terms of water issues.  There have been an increasing number of initiatives both to remediate past damage and to prevent future water quality problems, that are worth looking at together.

An overview of this year:

Jamaica Bay: In February, Mayor Bloomberg, the State Environmental Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council announced an agreement that would improve water quality and preserve the wetlands of Jamaica Bay.  The Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan commits to restoring degraded marshlands and reducing nitrogen discharge into the bay by 50 percent over the next ten years at a cost of $115 million to the city alone.

Gowanus Canal: In March, the EPA added the Gowanus Canal to the Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). Placing the Gownaus Canal on the list allows the Agency to further investigate contamination at the site and begin to clean it up.

Newtown Creek: In September, the EPA added Newtown Creek to the Superfund list, the beginning of a 15 year, $500 million clean-up process.

New York City Green Infrastructure Plan: Also in September, the Mayor and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection announced a twenty year plan to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff entering the sewer system, to save money and reduce the raw sewage that pollutes the waterways.  It develops cost-effective gray water systems (pipes and tanks and treatment plants) and increases green water management (green roofs, water catchment, permeable surfaces) to the tune of more than $5 billion.

From the New York City Green Infrastructure Plan

(As an aside, Columbia University is getting in on this action.  It has just received an almost $400,000 grant from the DEP for a Greenstreets stormwater capture system in Rego Park that will remove nearly 2,500 square feet of impervious surface and replace it with permeable pavement and vegetation to capture runoff from a three acre-watershed.)

Big investments: According to  Environmental Valuation & Cost-Benefit News,

“The Bloomberg Administration has made a larger commitment to maintaining and improving the City’s water system than any administration in history. Approximately $21 billion has been allocated for water system capital projects, including:

* $2.6 billion invested and committed to City Water Tunnel No. 3 – more funding for the tunnel than the previous five administrations combined;

* Acquisition of nearly 77,000 acres of land upstate to protect the City’s watershed – allowing New York City to remain one of only five large cities in the country to obtain the majority of its water from unfiltered sources;

* $2.8 billion for the Croton Filtration Plant, which will filter drinking water from the Croton Watershed;

* $1.6 billion for the Ultra-Violet Disinfection Facility, which will provide an extra level of drinking water protection for water from the Catskill and Delaware Watersheds; and

* $6 billion for upgrading the City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants and more than $1 billion to reduce combined sewer overflows, which has helped bring harbor water quality to an all-time high since testing began 100 years ago and allowed wastewater treatment plants to meet the Federal Clean Water Act’s secondary treatment standards for the first time ever.”


See more DEP initiatives here.

Dual Flush Toilets:  This week I hear that the New York City Council has voted to allow (or possibly require) buildings in the city to install dual-flush toilets (low water volume option and power flush option) for the first time.  The bill does mandate that showerheads, urinals and sink faucets meet federal standards for performance and water efficiency.  And in a related bill,  says Gothamist, “Most controversially, the council required new construction to install water fountains with a separate spout with 10 inches of space below to allow users to fill a water bottle.”  YAY!

This video lets you watch a series of remarkable objects being flushed down the new American Standard H2Option Siphonic Dual Flush Toilet.

Long overdue cleanups.  New ecosystem protections.  Major capital investments in infrastructure.  Building code regulation revisions. Verily it makes my head spin.

When in pessimistic moods, many of us who are concerned about the environment and the future may say that there isn’t political will to make the changes and spend the money needed to make a difference.  Obviously more needs to be done, but while all the above initiatives together won’t resolve the climate change challenges, they do show that major, far-reaching, forward thinking planning and policy are possible on a significantly large scale.

Now may we have a formal prohibition of hydraulic fracturing, please?

I admit that I find a bit of optimism creeping in.  As the song says, “There’s nothing you can’t do.  Now you’re in New York.”

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13 years ago

This is amazing. It just made me realize how far behind we are in Mexico City where the government spends millions in parties for political propaganda and very little in water infrastructure. We really have to start implementing similar actions in our overpopulated city.