A “Green” Facelift for The Big Apple’s Waterfront

Mar 16, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the city’s 10-year Waterfront Vision and Action Agenda.  New England cities should take note of this forward-thinking plan, which knits together a dizzying array of restoration activities to ensure that NYC’s rivers, harbors and 500-mile waterfront remain world class amenities for its residents and visitors.

The waterfront plan incorporates key elements of NYC’s Green Infrastructure Plan, released last September.

Among other things, NYC plans to invest over $4 billion over the next 20 years in modernizing infrastructure to control pollution to the city’s waterways.  Recognizing it would need to invest huge sums to protect and enhance its critically valuable waterfront, the city did its homework.  Experts found that using green infrastructure approaches to reduce sewer overflows over the 20 years would result in cost savings of $1.5 billionNYC’s vision for restoring water quality now includes a mix of strategic investments in some “grey” or hard piped infrastructure – the sort cities have employed for the past century – along with a hefty proportion of green technologies.  In addition, the plan includes $900 million in private investment.

One inch at a time

Green stormwater management techniques, often referred to as “Low Impact Development,” model nature’s way of handling runoff from paved areas during storms – the runoff is cleansed by soil and plants in vegetated areas, then evaporates or is filtered back into the ground.  Wetlands, green roofs and even specially designed rain gardens and street trees can serve this function.  Dumping polluted stormwater runoff into natural wetlands isn’t on its own an acceptable solution, so green infrastructure approaches add new vegetated areas where the treatment occurs.

The status quo is that street runoff co-mingles with human wastewater in the sanitary sewer system, overwhelming the pipes and treatment plants.  Instead, the city plans to send street runoff into new green treatment areas designed to manage stormwater.  NYC has set its sights on diverting runoff from the first inch of rainfall from 10% of paved area. Keeping this quantity of runoff out of the combined sewer system, experts predict, will have dramatic water quality benefits.

Everybody pays, everybody wins

NYC’s waterfront vision is an impressive example of coordination across a tangle of city and state agencies, public and private entities.  The city’s action plan to cut back sewer overflows relies on public and private entities to restore water quality over the next 20 years.  The city will soon require new development to include state-of-the-art stormwater management, recognizing that private property owners will benefit from the improved waterfront and the public goals cannot be accomplished without their contributions.  If all goes as planned, many more New Yorkers will enjoy views of blue harbors from atop green roofs…