S.W.I.M. – StormWater Infrastructure Matters

After the torrential rains of last week, I received an email from an organization called SWIM (StormWater Infrastructure Matters). If you are not yet aware of the major problems New York City faces regarding stormwater runoff, read on.

(Storm Water Infrastructure Matters)

PLaNYC2030: A Great Step Toward a Greener More Sustainable City, but Where’s the SWIMming?

New S.W.I.M.Coalition
Says, “Where’s the SWIMming in the City’s Long-Term Plan?”

Quick. Look out the window. Now. It’s raining, and, guess what? More sewage is being swept into our waterways. Yes, sewage. Again.

Just before Earth Day, as you’ll remember, our city was hit with a nasty and very unusual Spring Northeaster, socking us with torrential rain. And we also watched, just days ago, as a whale lost its bearings and swam into the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. The Daily News named the whale “Sludgie,” and they did that for a reason. Many of our waterways, although generally improved in the last couple of decades, remain polluted. And one of the biggest sources of that pollution: CSOs (Combined Sewer Overflow).

Did you know that less than 1/10 of an inch of hard rain is all it takes for sewage to enter our waterways? So, can you imagine the sheer volume of sewage that is being swept into our waterways? This happens largely because we don’t capture enough of our storm water BEFORE it flows into our waterways through the CSOs.

Right on point, just this past Sunday, on Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the city’s long-term plan called PlaNYC 2030. It’s the first time in a long time that any Mayor/NYC government has tried to envision what our city should look like in the coming decades. It’s a terrific plan that really should do a lot to give us a greener, less polluted, more sustainable city.

And we’re happy to report that much of the water quality action plan is directly in line with the S.W.I.M. platform, and includes many great measures. However, parts of the plan aren’t quite expansive enough e.g., planting only five storm water capture street trees and studying only those while tens of thousands of others are being planted, potentially missing broad opportunities for storm water capture.

While parts of the plan are modest, the plan does contain many S.W.I.M. platform items like creating an interagency task force that will address innovative storm water management techniques and creating a pilot program that includes swales (shallow troughlike depressions that carry water mainly during rainstorms or snow melts) along parkways, improving tree pit design and looking into mollusk habitats to improve water quality. The plan also calls for planting a million more street trees and creating at least 40 more greenstreets every season and designing them to absorb storm water, as well as new zoning regulations requiring storm water capture in parking lots and providing incentives for green roofs.

However, despite early mentions by the Mayor’s office that the water recreation goal would include swimming (he said that in an early press release), PlaNYC 2030 doesn’t mention achieving swimmability in any of the city’s waterways.

We think the bar is set too low and we ask, “Where’s the SWIMmability?”

While no one intends to actually swim in the shipping lanes on the East and Hudson Rivers, we firmly believe that 90% of our waterways can be swimmable by 2030. We can do that by making sure that all of the S.W.I.M. platform is adopted.

So, a word to Mayor Bloomberg: We want to work with you on water quality and, some day, when our waterways are again swimmable, we’ll all get together for a beach party.

In case you missed the storm water overflow, here’s a picture:

Stormwater in East River

This is a picture of an overflowing CSO at Stuyvesant Cove (on the East River @ 23rd Street in Manhattan) caused by the recent northeaster. What you’re looking at is a mix of untreated storm water and sewage that’s pushed out into the water because the way we’ve built our city causes too much water to “run off.”

You can help us make this photo ancient history. You can help S.W.I.M. Feel free to post this photo and send it around the ‘net. Call, email or write your Councilmember and the Mayor and ask them to support the entire S.W.I.M. platform.

We are planning a large outdoor event for late Spring, and other events that may be “virtual” in nature. We hope you’ll join us.
Coalition Partners
Ashokan Services, Inc
Bronx Council for Environmental Quality
Bronx Initiative for Energy and the Environment
Bronx River Alliance
Cook + Fox Architects
The Downtown Boathouse
Eastern Queens Alliance
Full Spectrum
Friends of Brook Park
Friends of the High Line
The Gaia Institute
Gowanus Dredgers
Gowanus Oyster Garden Stewards
Green Apple Corps
Habana Labs
Long Island City Community Boathouse
Lower East Side Ecology Center
Manhattan Island Foundation
Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance
Mosholu Preservation Corporation
Mothers On the Move
Natural Resources Defense Council
Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation
New York City Soil and Water Conservation District
New York Harbor School
New York/New Jersey Baykeeper
New York Public Interest Research Group
New York Restoration Project
Newtown Creek Alliance
Nos Quedamos
Pratt Center for Community Development
The Redhook Boaters
Regional Plan Association
Rocking the Boat
Sebago Canoe Club
Solar 1
South Bronx Economic Development Corporation
Sustainable South Bronx
The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy
Trees NY
Water Resources Group
Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice

For more information, contact: Marsha Gordon, LCG Communications: 718.853.5568; marshag@lcgcommunications.com

2 thoughts on “S.W.I.M. – StormWater Infrastructure Matters”

  • The Mayor’s newly announced PlaNYC (one “n” is deliberately dropped — it’s very cute but no-one knows how to pronounce it now!) does include, I believe, plans to relieve some of the stormwater problems. But, interestingly enough, there is no mention of the vastly over-burdened sewage plants. Of course, reducing stormwater would reduce the volume flowing into these plants so it will help. But, with the thousands and thousands of new residents settling in New York, the problem is much more problematic — the Upper Westside, alone, is getting 17 new 30 and 40-story new buildings (of Trump origin) along the waterfront. If you drive down the Westside Highway, by the way, keep your windows open as you drive past the sewage treatment plant (around 180th, I think), and you’ll get a small whiff of the problems we’re facing. (Actually, no , you don’t need to have your windows open. On most days, you’ll get a very good blast of sewage-scent, every if you’d rather not.)

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