More on the CSO problem and how to solve it

Riverkeeper has created a great report on CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) which illustrates the extent of New York City’s sewer system overflow problem and outlines a number of very simple and affordable solutions. While none of the ideas presented are new to sustainability advocates, what has changed is the level of receptiveness in our city government. As the article states, DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) is still focusing on end-of-pipe solutions, which are more costly and less effective; but PlaNYC has opened dialogue about the potential of source controls – parks, trees, green roofs and rainwater harvesting – to absorb rainfall before it overburdens the sewers. In fact, Riverkeeper’s report proposes treating rainfall as a beneficial resource rather than a problem:

Stormwater Can Make the City More Sustainable.
Source control regards stormwater as a resource to be utilized for much broader sustainability purposes, rather than a waste that must be disposed. By giving life to vegetation, stormwater can help prepare the City for the effects of climate change, decrease summer temperatures, promote energy efficiency, improve air quality, and make communities more livable. A major commitment to source control would help advance a number of ambitious and laudable goals that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the City to attain by the year 2030.

Imagine every building’s roof covered with vegetation, every city block lined with trees surrounded by plants and flowers, every apartment house using rainbarrel water for its garden… this is not a pipedream (no pun intended), it can be done for less money than the DEP’s unsustainable and less-effective proposals:

For $1,000 invested in the DEP’s end-of-pipe projects, CSOs might decrease by 2,400 gallons. By comparison, the same $1,000 investment in:

•Greenstreets could decrease CSOs by 14,800 gallons;
•Street trees could decrease CSOs by 13,170 gallons;
•New green roofs could decrease CSOs by 810 gallons; retrofitted green roofs could decrease CSOs by 865 gallons; and incentivized green roofs could decrease CSOs by 12,000 gallons; and
•Rain barrels could decrease CSOs by 9,000 gallons

You get the idea. The whole report is available here. Perhaps the most important force for change will be ordinary citizens educating ourselves about the CSO problem and its potential solutions, and letting our elected officials know what we want, as well as implementing ideas ourselves on the local level. How great would it be to see a rainbarrel in front of every home in Brooklyn?

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