Seeking Solutions to Stormwater and Sewage Issues

In many cities, stormwater and sewage water are collected in the same sewer. As a result, good rainwater is combined with dirty sewage water. Overflows can create major problems for cities. But avoiding those problems is not exactly easy.

Kate Zidar writes about her group's effort to turn a piece of Brooklyn roadside vegetation into a stormwater collection area to help the city avoid sewage overflows during heavy rains.

"Most runoff flows directly into the city's combined sewer, and once the stormwater is in the sewer, you've pretty much lost your chance to do anything useful with it. And one way or another, we have to pay: we either pay to treat it like sewage – which it is not – at the sewage treatment plant, pay for it ecologically when it overflows with a mixture of sewage into local waterways, or pay for it in that big picture way when, by breaking natural environmental cycles, we perpetuate chronic ills such as urban heat island effect. So what can we do? Interventions that might help alleviate the problem require the support and approval of multiple agency gatekeepers. The Department of Transportation has to uphold the integrity of the curb, the Department of Parks and Recreation has to sign off on planting, and the Department of Environmental Protection has to inspect specific stormwater overflow mechanisms.

In short, when North Brooklyn Compost Project became interested in testing a stormwater management strategy on a block in Williamsburg, we found that everybody liked the idea, but nobody could say yes."

Now, Zidar is running a competition to find creative and implementable ideas for dealing with stormwater.

Full Story: Minds in the Gutter

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