Progress for Great Bay: Exeter Agrees to Major Pollution Reductions

Jan 18, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Algae Growth in the Winnicut River, Greenland, NH; photo by Peter W.

In early January, the Town of Exeter’s Selectmen voted 5 to 0 not to appeal a permit issued by the EPA – a permit that will require a major upgrade of its sewage treatment plant. Exeter becomes the second Great Bay community to accept stringent reductions in nitrogen pollution from a sewage treatment plant, following in the footsteps of Newmarket which announced in December they would not appeal a similar permit.

Together, Exeter and Newmarket have taken an important first step toward tackling the issue of nitrogen pollution – a problem that is contributing to a decline in the health of the estuary. Sewage treatment plants are a major source of nitrogen pollution, especially dissolved inorganic nitrogen – the form of nitrogen of greatest concern. According to the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) State of Our Estuaries 2013 report, there has been a 68% average increase in this troubling form of nitrogen between 1974 and 2011. You can read PREP’s entire 2013 report here.

The most effective method for reducing nitrogen inputs to the estuary is by upgrading aging and outdated sewage treatment plants. Like Newmarket, Exeter will now begin the process of constructing a new plant that will lead to a significant reduction in nitrogen levels. You can read about Exeter’s plans here.

Unfortunately, officials from Dover and Rochester have decided it is not in their best interest for others to invest in new infrastructure designed to reduce nitrogen pollution. On December 14, they filed an appeal of Newmarket’s permit. That’s right: Dover and Rochester are appealing a permit issued to Newmarket – a permit with no bearing on their respective communities. As discussed in an op-ed written by me and other members of the Rescue Great Bay coalition, this latest legal maneuver is part of an ongoing campaign to derail needed efforts to protect the estuary. It’s time for Dover and Rochester to step aside and let communities solve the problems facing Great Bay.

In this regard, you can help the Great Bay estuary by taking action now: follow this link to urge the mayors of Rochester and Dover to drop their appeal of Newmarket’s permit and let us get on with the business of protecting our waters.

We commend Exeter and Newmarket for their actions to protect our Great Bay waters, and we urge Dover and Rochester to get out of the way and allow other communities to get on with the business of cleaning up the estuary.

For more information about the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper and my work to protect the Great Bay estuary, visit: You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.




Pavement Sealcoats – Make the Right Choice

Sep 18, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

As I drive around the Seacoast, I see a lot of people getting their driveways resealed. Perhaps people are anxious to get this done before the onset of winter. I wonder, though, if homeowners realize there are different types of sealcoats and that choosing the right one can help protect the environment and our health.

Most sealcoats are made of either an asphalt emulsion or a refined coal-tar pitch emulsion. Although the two sealcoats are similar in appearance and cost, coal-tar pitch sealers contain much higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, more commonly known as PAHs. Present in crude oil and diesel fuel, these organic compounds are known to cause cancer.  Incredibly, the concentrations of PAHs are up to 1,000 times higher in coal-tar-based sealcoats compared to asphalt sealers, posing a threat to fish and humans.

The UNH Stormwater Center has been studying the impact of coal-tar based sealcoats and found that soil at the edge of the pavement contained several hundred parts per million (ppm) of PAHs compared to less than 10 ppm where no sealcoat was applied.  Soil samples taken three years after the initial application remained high in PAHs. This means that dust from sealed pavements, with elevated levels of carcinogens, can track to areas like playgrounds and homes.

The presence of high PAH concentrations in your driveway pose a threat to your family’s health. Studies at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health found that constant exposure to PAHs can affect cognitive development and cause asthma and other respiratory problems in children.

Toxic to aquatic life, the presence of PAHs is also on the rise in the sediments of Great Bay, adding yet another stress to the estuary and putting its health at risk. UNH researchers are currently trying to determine if sealants are the major source of PAHs to the estuary and hope to build a model that links the contaminant to its source.

Unlike many environmental choices, this one is fairly simple – avoid coal-tar based sealcoats in favor of asphalt-based ones or, better yet, no sealcoat at all. Home Depot and Lowes no longer sell coal-tar based sealcoats, but they are still available at some other retailers. You can tell if a product contains coal tar by looking at the materials list for words like “coal tar”, “refined coal”, “refined tar”, and “coal-tar pitch.” If you hire a commercial sealcoat company, insist they only use an asphalt-based sealer and only apply if the outside temperature is at least 60 degrees F, with no rain forecasted for at least two days after application.

Maintaining a driveway in New England is never easy. Constant freezing and thawing can lead to lots of cracks, often made worse by plowing, causing homeowners to protect their driveways by using a sealcoat every couple of years. However, proper repair of cracks in your driveway can delay and potentially avoid the need to sealcoat.

To repair driveway cracks, which can lead to pavement deterioration, homeowners typically use a cold asphalt patch to fill cracks. One new product now available is called GreenPatch, an environmentally friendly cold asphalt patch that does not contain petroleum based solvents. This makes GreenPatch a VOC compliant material that is healthier for your family.

As consumers, we are faced with many choices. If you are planning a new driveway, alternative surfaces such as gravel, concrete or porous pavement are great options as none of these require the use of sealants. Since most of us already have an asphalt driveway, the choice is even clearer – maintain your driveway to avoid the need to use sealants, and if sealants are necessary, never use a coal-tar based product

Why CLF Filed a Lawsuit Against EPA to Restore Alewives to the St. Croix River

Jun 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Image courtesy of USDA @ flickr.

Last week, CLF filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Curtis Spalding, EPA Regional Administrator, Region 1. (You can find a copy of the suit here, and copy of the press release here.) I want to take a moment to explain why this lawsuit is important.

The alewife is a critical “keystone” species in marine and fresh waters – it is an important source of food for many fish and marine mammals and for numerous birds.  The alewife is a native fish to many Maine rivers and is anadromous, meaning it starts its life in freshwater ponds and lakes, migrates down river to the ocean where it spends most of its life and then returns to its native waters to spawn.

As on many Maine rivers, alewives on the St. Croix River were all but extirpated due to pollution and the damming of the river. However, in the early 1980’s, the population of alewives in the St. Croix River was restored, reaching more than 2.5 million a year due to cleaner water and effective fish passage at the dams on the river.  But in 1995 the Maine legislature passed a bill specifically designed to block alewife passage at the Woodland Dam and Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River, based on what turned out to be unsubstantiated claims that alewives were causing a decline in the non-native smallmouth bass population in the St. Croix watershed. In 2008, even after those claims were found to be without merit, the Maine legislature amended the law to allow alewives passage only at Woodland Dam, restoring only 2% of the natural habitat previously available to alewives – effectively preventing them from accessing 98% of their natural habitat in the St Croix above the Grand Falls Dam.

As a result of this change, as I said in my letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, “the Maine Legislature intentionally and effectively changed the water quality standards for that section of the St. Croix [from Class A] to Class B.” As we allege in our suit, this action obligated the EPA to review and reject that change pursuant to its non-discretionary duties under the Clean Water Act (or CWA).

Under the Clean Water Act, any change to an existing water quality standard must be consistent with the state’s anti-degradation policy and must be submitted to the EPA for review. The de facto change to the water quality standards of the St. Croix was not submitted to the EPA for review, nor did EPA review the change for approval or disapproval, as required.

As a result, Maine was allowed to circumvent its responsibilities, and the EPA failed to fulfill its legal obligations.

As I said in the press release, “The law is fundamentally at odds with the legal requirement that the St. Croix River provide natural habitat unaffected by human activity for these fish and EPA has a continuing obligation to review and reject this change in that requirement.”

I was joined in my statement by Bill Townsend, a longstanding member of CLF and one of the deans of Maine’s environmental community, who noted that when he served as President of Maine Rivers, it obtained the funding and data to support studies that alewives are not detrimental to small-mouth bass populations, the original basis for the law. “The failure of the Maine Legislature to change the law in the face of that evidence and of the EPA to take every possible step to address that wrong is unacceptable.”

For more, find copies of my letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson here, CLF’s filing here, and our press release here.

Stay tuned for more!

CLF Scoop’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Dec 30, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It’s been a great year for CLF — and a great year on CLF Scoop. We’ve had lots of great posts by our advocates, staff and volunteers. See below for the most read 10 blog posts published in 2011.

1. Northern Pass: The 5 million ton elephant in Massachusetts’s climate plan 
By Christophe Courchesne

“The Northern Pass transmission project is being pitched by its developers as a clean energy proposal for New Hampshire. As I’ve pointed out before, Northern Pass is aregional proposal with dubious benefits in the Granite State. Unfortunately, the developers’ hollow promises have found an audience further south, in Massachusetts.”

2. RGGI results good for our climate, economy and consumers 
By N. Jonathan Peress

“If you listen to the word on street, or read the headlines, you’ll have heard that our times are hard times. Joblessness remains stubbornly high, markets remain volatile and credit is tight. Most people agree that what we need is a program to creates jobs, generates money, and reinvests each of those in our communities to make them stable, healthier and happier.”

3. My NY Times letter to editor 
By John Kassel 

“It would be hard to find “a tougher moment over the last 40 years to be a leader in the American environmental movement” only if your sole focus is the national debate. All the rest of us — at the local, state and regional levels — have known for years what the nationals are only now realizing: we’ve got to engage people closer to where they live.”

4. Countdown to Shark Week 2012
by Robin Just

“I really do love our New England sharks. But I also love to surf. And as the water temperature at my favorite break is going down, the great whites are heading south. One less thing to worry about as I struggle with frigid water, thick head-to-toe neoprene, and my own personal resolve to surf all year long.”

5. We Can Get There From Here: Maine Energy Efficiency Ballot Initiative 
by Sean Mahoney 

“Maine has a new motto: We can get there from here… As Washington has failed to advance clean energy legislation, and Governor LePage has expressed open hostility to the state’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS), I am reminded of that famous quip from Bert and I: “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” For Mainers concerned about Maine’s dependence on expensive, dirty fuels, and sincere in their interest in building a sustainable economy for the years to come, this quip has become a frustrating reality – a reality we can change, with your help.”

6. Love That Dirty Water: Massachusetts Lacks Money, Needs Clean Water 
By HHarnett 

“Massachusetts lacks money and needs clean water. This bind – one in which the state found itself following a June report – has forced a discussion policies that are raising the hackles of Massachusetts residents.”

7. Would Northern Pass Swamp the Regional Market for Renewable Projects? 
By Christophe Courchesne

“With the Northern Pass project on the table, as well as other looming projects andinitiatives to increase New England’s imports of Canadian hydroelectric power, the region’s energy future is coming to a crossroads. The choice to rely on new imports will have consequences that endure for decades, so it’s critical the region use the best possible data and analysis to weigh the public costs and benefits of going down this road. To date, there have been almost no objective, professional assessments of the ramifications.”

8. CLF Negotiates Cool Solution to Get Kendall Power Plant Out of Hot Water (And To Get Hot Water Out of Kendall Power Plant)
By Peter Shelley 

“Today marks a new milestone for CLF in our efforts to clean up the lower Charles River. Concluding a five-year negotiation, involving CLF and the other key stakeholders, the EPA issued a new water quality permit for the Kendall (formerly Mirant Kendall) Power Plant, a natural gas cogeneration facility owned by GenOn Energy. The plant is located on the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge.”

9. What the Keystone XL decision should mean for Northern Pass
By Christophe Courchesne 

“Last week, a major disaster for our climate and our nation’s clean energy future was averted – at least for now – when the Obama administrationannounced that it won’t consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline’s border crossing permit before it reconsiders the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts and the potential alternatives to the proposal on the table.  For all the reasons that my colleague Melissa Hoffer articulated in her post last week, the Keystone XL victory was a resounding, if limited, triumph with important lessons for environmental and climate advocates across the country as we confront, one battle at a time, the seemingly overwhelming challenge of solving the climate crisis.”

10. When it comes to river restoration, haste makes waste
by Anthony Iarrapino

“In their rush to exploit recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Irene, ideologues who perpetually fight against regulation and science and who posture as the defenders of traditional “Yankee” values are forgetting two important rock-ribbed principles.”

Memo From New England: EPA’s Clean Air Standards Following New England’s Example

Dec 21, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There is a saying that as goes Maine, so goes the nation. That is proving to be true, with one slight twist: As goes New England, so goes the nation’s environmental policy.

If you look at a wind map of the United States you’ll see that all prevailing winds east of the Mississippi eventually converge right here, in New England. That helps make New England the place so many of us love – warm summers, stunning falls, and cold, snowy winters – but it also makes New England the tailpipe of the nation.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, researchers began documenting evidence of the effect of acid rain on Camel’s Hump in Vermont’s Green Mountains. They documented dramatic decreases in biomass, forest reproduction, seed germination, and other damaging effects among such species as red spruce, mountain maple, sugar maple, and beech – some of the trees whose brilliant fall colors draw millions of tourists to New England each fall. The cause? Acid rain.

Today, the problem continues, though in different ways. Antiquated coal plants built before 1970 have long enjoyed loopholes in the Clean Air Act that allowed them to emit toxic pollutants without modern controls. They have spewed a mix of mercury, arsenic, lead, and soot that harms all Americans by degrading our air and water quality, as well as our public health by increasing the rates of lung disease and causing asthma attacks, among other ailments. Even though many New England states have imposed modern controls on their plants, winds continue to carry pollution from the rest of the country that harms New England’s environment and its people.

That’s why today’s ruling from the EPA on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) is so laudable. As my colleague Jonathan Peress said in a press statement, these standards “amount to one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years.” They are also similar to standards we adopted here in New England years ago.

According to EPA estimates, these standards will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually among Americans by 2016. The standards will also save at least $59 billion measured as a reduction in premature deaths, lower health care costs, and fewer absences from work or school. That is undoubtedly a good thing. It is also undoubtedly long overdue.

The affected coal plants are toxic dinosaurs. According to an AP survey, the average age of the plants is 51 years – some of them were even built when Harry S Truman was president. EPA’s new standards will finally allow the public health protections, signed into law by George H.W. Bush as a part of the Clean Air Act of 1990, to do their job. As Ilan Levin, associate director of Environmental Integrity Project, said in a piece on Climate Progress, “The only thing more shocking than the large amounts of toxic chemicals released into the air each year … is the fact that these emissions have been allowed for so many years.”

Here in New England, we have long understood the importance of controlling harmful pollution. CLF together with a close coalition pushed for strict state air pollution standards to clean up the dirtiest plants in Massachusetts. In 2001, the Department of Environmental Protection adopted regulations known as “The Filthy Five” that went beyond the Federal Clean Air Act of 1970, and tackled the issues of mercury and carbon dioxide. From our experience with stringent state standards in Massachusetts and Connecticut, we know the substantial benefits to public health and the environment that will result from these rules.

Concern that these standards will directly shut down plants is misguided. According to an AP survey, “not a single plant operator said the EPA rules were solely to blame for a closure.” Instead, a confluence of factors have already initiated a broad technology shift we’re already seeing here in New England: coal prices are rising and natural gas prices are declining against a background of strict state clean air rules. Given this, many (but not all) of New England’s plants have either already installed modern pollution controls, or are actively planning for retirement, in ways that will keep the lights on.

I applaud the EPA, and Administrator Jackson, for their good work on these standards. We will continue to support them, and they’ll need our help.

And in any event, how long are people to suffer while clean air requirements on the books go unenforced? 21 years (since 1990) is too long. The time has come. Finally.

Best (and Worst) of the Beaches

Jul 4, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

 It’s July 4th – as you head out to your favorite swimming spot, consider this…

While New England is home to many clean, scenic beaches, the sad truth is that hundreds of beach closures occurred in 2010 across the New England states.  Check out NRDC’s new report, Testing the Waters to see where your state ranked, and how clean your favorite beach was last year. (Spoiler alert: if you’re in Maine, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island, there’s room for improvement).

Why are these problems so pervasive?  Polluted stormwater runoff and sewage overflows are the major culprits – making beach closures more likely after it rains.  In Massachusetts, 79% percent of ocean beach standards violations happened within 24 hours after a rainstorm, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  

The solutions are not cheap – to tackle this set of problems problem will require a sustained commitment to fixing and improving underground sewer pipes, enlarging wastewater treatment plants, and installing green stormwater treatment to capture and clean runoff from roads and parking lots.  

The cost of doing nothing is also significant.  The US EPA estimated that in one year, 86,000 people lost a chance to swim because of beach closures in areas affected by stormwater pollution.

Clean water is essential to a thriving New England.  That is why CLF is applying legal leverage to improve management of sewage and stormwater runoff across the region.  We’re working toward a day when the pollution that causes beach closures will be a thing of the past, and swimmers will have their pick of beautiful New England beaches – whether or not it’s recently rained.

A Long Journey to a Cleaner Boston Harbor

Jul 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  9 Comment »

Peter Shelley, CLF senior counsel. Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Twenty-eight years ago, we at CLF said we were going to take Boston Harbor back from the state polluters for the benefit of the children at the beach, the economic opportunities around a clean harbor and the future of Massachusetts. No one at CLF even suspected that this was to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort, let alone that billions more would be needed to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s water distribution system. Last week, the final major capital project from the original litigation to create that cleaner harbor was completed, producing feelings of great satisfaction as well as nostalgia. It was the light at the end of the tunnel that CLF entered on behalf of our members so long ago. Our supporters have been patient beyond recognition.

It is safe to say that it was worth the wait and the investment. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a new National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process, and Boston Harbor now also has its own watchdog—Save The Harbor/Save The Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward. While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all this happen, there is no question that we were the point of that spear.

So many of the people who made this a success story are now gone. At the top of that list would have to be Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Paul G. Garrity and Federal Judge A. David Mazzone, neither of whom lived to see the final realization of their judicial efforts. Judge Garrity singlehandedly faced down the Massachusetts Legislature and refused to budge until they released their control of the sewer and water system by creating the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA). In the process, he may have issued the only city-wide building ban in Boston history. Judge Mazzone was the harbor cleanup program. He loved this harbor and threw his keen intellect, his brilliant strategic skills and his wonderful sense of humor—not to mention a couple of unbelievably good law clerks—into the challenge that was thrown before his court. Also in that list has to be Sam Hoar, a long time friend of CLF’s who died in 2004. Sam selflessly volunteered himself and some of the best lawyers at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar to help CLF survive the relentless legal briefing of the early days.

Among those who have moved on to other things are Doug Foy, Paul Levy, Doug MacDonald and Dick Fox. Doug Foy is gone only in the sense that he is no longer CEO of CLF. He needs no special introduction to the CLF family. His vision never faltered when he had made up his mind that something had to happen with Boston Harbor. Paul Levy and Doug MacDonald both performed project management miracles to bring one of the biggest and most complicated public works projects in Massachusetts history online both on schedule and on budget.  They, of course, were just the tip of the iceberg of the extraordinary staff at the MWRA. As for Dick Fox, lead engineer for CDM, the project design and construction lead, I’ll never forget the moment in open court when Judge Mazzone leaned his long frame forward, fixed Dick Fox in his eyes and said: “I’m going to hold you to your promises here.” Dick not only didn’t flinch; he responded “I expect you to.” This may have been a court-supervised cleanup, but make no mistake—it was a cleanup that happened because of the personal integrity commitment of lots of folks like Dick Fox.

Great credit also has to be extended to Diane Dumanowski, one of the finest reporters ever at the Boston Globe and one of the best environmental reporters in the country. Her series in the Globe on the collapse of the Metropolitan District Commission sewerage system, backed up by strong editorials from Globe columnist Ian Menzies, was the spark that ignited Doug Foy into action. Finally, no story about the Boston Harbor cleanup would be complete without mentioning Bill Golden, then solicitor for the City of Quincy, whose fateful jog on the feces-strewn Wollaston Beach in 1982 made him mad as hell and got the whole ball rolling.

CLF is not done with Boston Harbor, however. All the tributaries coming into Boston Harbor still suffer from significant pollution discharges from multiple public and private sources. These discharges expose Massachusetts residents to disease, damage the environment, and frustrate new economic opportunities. With the same energy we brought to the battle for Boston Harbor, we are hard at work fighting those upstream pollution sources with a terrific coalition of community groups and partner conservation non-profits. We look forward to similar moments of great accomplishment and satisfaction in the future when we can finally say that this great harbor’s entire watershed has a clean bill of health.

MassHighway finally starts to clean up its act—and our waterways

May 6, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On April 14 U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young issued a final judgment in CLF’s favor in our suit against the MassHighway Department, bringing to a close nearly five years of litigation to push the department to manage stormwater runoff from state roads that was polluting nearby waterbodies. The court found that MassDOT (which now includes MassHighway) is finally, sufficiently carrying out its obligations. As a result of CLF’s suit, MassHighway has now built new stormwater treatment measures at the three sites that were contributing to discharges that cause on occasion instream exceedance of water quality standards. In addition, it submitted a revised Storm Water Management Plan that addressed the numerous deficiencies in the original plan which the court approved. The court noted, however, that MassHighway has more work to do. MassHighway has committed to assess its storwmater impacts on over 600 locations over a five-year schedule and to install new treatment if necessary.  MassHighway will have to submit two more reports to the Court detailing its activities throughout 2011.

When CLF filed suit in 2006, MassHighway had not even obtained permit coverage for its stormwater from EPA as required under the Clean Water Act. Two years later, in 2008, Mass Highway had done nothing to comply with the federal court order to clean up three sites in Milford, Franklin and Lancaster, Massachusetts, and had not revised its statewide cleanup plan for degraded waters.  CLF took MassHighway back to court, and at a hearing in May, 2010, Judge Young called MassHighway to the mat for non-compliance with federal law and issued an order to begin the cleanup immediately. (For a more detailed history of the case click here.)

At long last, the Judge issued a final judgment in CLF’s favor. This lawsuit sets a precedent for how stormwater is managed, on MassHighway’s remaining 2,500 miles of roadways in Massachusetts and the 600+ locations throughout the state where stormwater is being dumped into degraded rivers, lakes, and streams. The true measure of our success, however, is cleaner water. One important thing to note is that Judge Young, in the court’s final judgment, explicitly said this does not preclude suits for future violations so you can be sure CLF will be closely monitoring MassHighway for years to come. Until next time…

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…