NYC Stormwater Rule Introduced for Overflow
In New York City, officials recently introduced what has been titled the Unified StormWater Rule (USWR), which if approved, will apply to construction within the city’s Gowanus area as part of its rezoning plan, as well as citywide.
Specifically, the USWR would apply to projects on lots sized 20,000 square feet of more and would require developers to install a detention tank capable of capturing more than the 10-year rainfall. The rule also requires the tank to have a one-inch maximum diameter for the tank’s orifice, where water would exit.
Ideally, the rule would help achieve greater water retention in the area and promote a slower release of stormwater into the Gowanus canal.
Last month, the Brooklyn Community Board 6 hosted a meeting outlining its infrastructure plans in relation to the rezoning efforts to take place in Gowanus, which could potentially bring in an estimated 18,000 new residents to the neighborhood.
According to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the population increase would generate an estimated 1.253 million additional gallons of waste per day into the city’s sewer system, where sewer capacity is already a vital concern for residents and stakeholders in the area.
Currently, the area operates under a combined sewer system—like many other parts of the city—where both stormwater and sanitary wastewater travel in the same pipe to a nearby treatment facility. Unfortunately, due to this style of system, the pipes become easily overwhelmed in the wake of heavy rainfalls, causing excess rain and sewage to overflow into the canal’s waterways.
City Limits reports that the Gowanus canal is already a high-polluted Superfund site and is currently still in the process of being remediated by the federal government.
“We have those heavier rainfalls [then] we have the system overloading itself and relieving itself at the combined sewers,” Angela Licata, DEP Deputy Commissioner of Sustainability.
To immediate the issue, city officials introduced the USWR, which would require all developer sites to receive a clean bill of health from city engineers in order to proceed with construction.
The proposal’s introduction is just a step in reducing combined sewer overflows, as the local Councilmember Brad Lander-supported Gowanus Neighborhood Justice Coalition has issued several other demands with the proposal, most notably the reduction of overflows into the canal to zero.
While Licata expressed that the only way to make such a drastic reduction would be to separate the neighborhood’s sewer lines, the task would be too costly, timely and have too much of an impact to carry out successfully. Instead, Licata said that the board would be looking at private property storm management as outlined in USWR.
Although the plan looks good on paper, local resident Owen Foote pointed out that the USWR still poses a concern for wastewater. “So the city’s making efforts to try to capture even more overflow and that’s great,” he said. Adding, however that, “the sewage will continue. As we know, they’re going to add 20,000 new people to a population of a 100,000.”
Other residents echoed Foote’s points, further arguing that the rezoning would disrupt the ongoing Superfund site cleanup and risks displacement for long-term residents.
Regardless, legislation that included the 2021 Unified Stormwater Rule passed the City Council in August and is scheduled to go through a public review and comment process by February or March, as per the Citywide Administrative Procedure Act Process.
Recent Stormwater Initiatives
At the beginning of the month, associate professor Lisa Reyes Mason, from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, reported that drains, pipes and other stormwater infrastructure is expected to be a critical defense against extreme rainfall and storms experienced in the changing climate.
However, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the nation’s water sector, which includes existing stormwater infrastructure, a D+ in its most recent Infrastructure Report Card.
In attempt to improve the water systems without replacing existing infrastructure or building new systems, the University of Denver reports that Reyes Mason has partnered with a cross-disciplinary team of researchers to develop a smart stormwater system. The partnership is funded through grants from both the National Science Foundation and the University of Tennessee.
Through their combined efforts, Reyes Mason, alongside civil engineers and urban planners, intends to incorporate sensors to monitor how much water is flowing through the infrastructure and, by communicating with valves and gates, divert water from areas prone to flooding.
On the research side of wastewater properties, in May the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that its researchers would be engaging in research practices involving wastewater to help states, tribes, local, territorial governments, and public health agencies in reducing the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Preliminary research has indicated that monitoring wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 may be useful as a sensitive early indicator of an of an infected community. Due to this discovery, the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun developing and applying methods for measuring SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater.
The wastewater monitoring would also be able to provide indications if a community was experiencing a decrease in infection levels as well and hopes to better understand potential risks from exposure to untreated sewage.
In December, infrastructure consulting firm AECOM announced that it too, would be partnering with Northern New Jersey-based Bergen County Utilities Authority and Columbia University (New York City) to monitor COVID-19 ribonucleic acid (RNA) in wastewater in the BCUA sewer shed.
Following initial testing, researchers conducted molecular testing—specifically, RT-qPCR testing—to determine the COVID-19 RNA concentrations and statistical analysis was performed to develop time series trends that correlated to actual reported cases. The results indicated that wastewater monitoring statistically provides a seven- to ten-day leading indicator of reported COVID-19 cases.
Through the partnership, researchers hope that wastewater COVID-19 RNA testing will deliver valuable, early information around trends in infection rates and provide advantages in tracking hot spots and developing proactive mitigation strategies. The project also aims to equip public health and emergency management officials with a continuous method of community monitoring to inform decisions around social distancing protocols, shelter-in-place orders, targeted testing, reopening strategies, and vaccine deployment.
AECOM, BCUA, and Columbia University report that they will continue this work as the program is expanded.