During Hurricane Season, Bronx Homeowners Brace For Overflowing Sewers, Flooded Streets As Climate Change Intensifies – Bronx Times


After a tumultuous Atlantic hurricane season in 2021, this season – which began on June 1 and ends in November – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the arrival of 14 to 21 named storms, including three to six hurricanes. majors. With fast-paced, explosive rainstorms looming, Bronx homeowners in flood-prone communities worry about the threat of flooded homes and relentlessly overwhelmed sewer systems in the face of intensifying climate change.

“I don’t sleep at night. Every time I see it’s going to rain, I feel like a nut because I feel traumatized by the amount of flooding and damage caused by those rains,” said Dawn Ciciola, a Yonkers resident, whose family home for 50 years sits in the middle of the 4300 block. of Grace Avenue in Wakefield was submerged by downpours from Hurricane Ida in 2021 and the most recent rainfall on June 2.

The Bronx’s infrastructure has been battered by intense rains that are flooding roads and homes across the borough. In the neighborhood of Wakefield, a landlocked community in the northern part of the Bronx, residents said heavy rains often flood Bruner Avenue, where a portion of multi-family residential homes face invasive stormwater and sewer runoff. in their basements.

“When I got home (during Hurricane Ida), I was knee deep in water to even get into our house, and our (devices) were all destroyed,” said resident Mary O’ Shaughnessy, who moved to Wakefield two years ago and has already encountered two floods from Hurricanes Ida and Elsa. “And the water was literally gushing out, and our gutter was overloaded. There was about 21 inches of water in the basement.

In City Island, one of the borough’s most flood-prone communities due to its proximity to the Long Island Sound, John Hampton told the Bronx Times that he lived with ‘fear and regret’ in his Eastchester Bay home, as minor rains – much less intense thunderstorms – threaten to overwhelm his residence. And in some cases, it’s life or death, like the fate of 33-year-old Alan Dorsainvil, who was found dead in a flooded car in Mount Vernon during Ida.

Hurricane Ida sank the Saw Mill River Parkway near the Bronx-Yonkers border, leaving motorists stranded for hours. Photo Christian Falcone

These resident stories are becoming more common as climate change puts a damper on a flood-prone borough, particularly in the northern and western sections. According to riskfactor.com, which assesses multi-year flood risk across the country, 9,690 properties in the Bronx are likely to be seriously affected by floods over the next 30 years.

Sea levels along New York’s shores have already risen more than a foot since 1900 and will be 18 to 75 inches higher than today by the year 2100. Last fall, Hurricane Ida offered a dystopian sight in a weather-ravaged Bronx as the Major Deegan Freeway was pooling with stormwater leaving driveways of abandoned cars laying in its wake.

Some things are jeopardizing the Bronx when it comes to recent rain events, and managing the city’s sewers has long been a concern for residents of flood-prone areas.

According to O’Shaughnessy, a city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) supervisor who inspected the Bruner Avenue sewer line last week said it hadn’t been cleaned since. years and there was so much grease and debris buildup that the 12 inch line was effectively reduced to 8 inches, limiting its effectiveness against torrential rain. A DEP spokesperson also confirmed O’Shaughnessy’s claims to the Bronx Times.

But even so, DEP is still limited in what it can do to halt the consequences of rapid and intensified climate change. About 60% of the city is a combined sewer system, which allows street stormwater to be combined with raw sewage; every time a rainstorm overwhelms the sewers, a crude confluence of grime and sewer runoff pours into the basements of all five boroughs.

When the clouds of Ida swept over New York last September, they produced a total of 7 inches of rain in 24 hours. The torrent overloaded the city’s drainage system, city officials first said.

“Rainfall rates were truly extraordinary and far exceeded the capacity of the system,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said at a Sept. 2 news conference the day after Ida. “Anything over two inches per hour, we’re going to struggle with it.”

Garbage and debris from the streets in city sewers can end up in Bronx homeowners’ basements when weather events overload the drainage system. Photo courtesy of Mary O’Shaughnessy

While a majority of the Bronx is landlocked, residents are surrounded by rivers on three sides – the Hudson River to the west, the Harlem River and Bronx Kill to the south, and the East River to the east. While FEMA flood maps have few flood zones in the Bronx, Ida and rainstorms like her didn’t discriminate when it came to flooding the borough.

The flood maps highlight high-impact coastal flooding and storm surges that could come from major storms, but they don’t account for localized flash flooding that occurred during Ida, climatologists told the Bronx Times. They also don’t account for the city’s major sewer overload, which has led to increased flooding in the Bronx’s landlocked neighborhoods.

A DEP spokesperson told the Bronx Times that hundreds of millions of dollars are allocated each year to upgrade and build the city’s sewer system, but frequent torrential downpours overload the city’s drainage system.

“Last fall, the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped record amounts of rain on NYC – more than three inches in a single hour in parts of the five boroughs. This amount of precipitation in such a short period has everything simply exceeded the capacity of the sewer system in many areas,” said DEP spokesman Edward Timbers. “And, in fact, in many areas sewers cannot be built any taller than they are not already – in some places the sewers already occupy the entire area under the roadway.”

There are currently approximately 7,500 miles of sewers and 150,000 catch basins draining stormwater from New York City streets into sewers. And every day, dozens of upgrade projects are underway in the five boroughs.

For capital projects, this process is managed by a partner agency, the city’s Department of Design and Construction, and it can be initiated in several ways: DEP staff monitor reports of flooding or sewers in need of repair, or sewers that have reached the end of their useful life and need to be replaced, and elected officials and community councils can draw attention to an area they believe needs improvements.

The city’s move toward green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, infiltration ponds, and green roofs, intercepts stormwater before it reaches a catch basin and allows it to be naturally absorbed into the floor. Green infrastructure has purchased several Bronx communities near Westchester Creek and the Bronx River for some time and the DEP says using green infrastructure creates additional capacity in the sewer system and helps reduce flooding.

A layout of the city’s green infrastructure shows the investments needed in the West Bronx as well as riverside communities like City Island. Screenshot courtesy of NYC DEP

However, the lack of green infrastructure near areas such as Van Cortlandt Park and Tibbets Creek is making residents sensitive and frustrated with the lack of environmental response from city leaders.

Groups like the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (BCEQ) have implored local leaders to accelerate Tibbetts Creek daylighting projects, an effort that would redirect overflow waters from Van Cortlandt Lake and mitigate the major flooding Ida caused to Bronx boardwalks and roads like Major Degan.

“Decades of overbuilding and divestment in the Bronx have made the Major Deegan Freeway an international symbol of urban failure to respond to the planning changes demanded by climate change,” BCEQ Chairman, the Dr. Robert Fanuzzi, at the Bronx Times. “These changes should not be conditional on the next weather forecast but should have happened yesterday.”

Contact Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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