March 14, 2012

POLICY: Using New Technology to Deal With Old Problems

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Water-related issues have plagued New York City for years.

The city relies on a huge reservoir in the Catskills to supply sufficient amounts of drinking water, yet at the same time, New York’s density and lack of vegetation make flash flooding a chronic problem. Sewers often overflow, and even subway tunnels occasionally fill up. According to this New York Times blog, 40 billion gallons of rain and sewage overflow each year onto city streets and thus eventually out into the Hudson, posing problems for commerce and transportation and leading to serious environmental health and safety hazards. But the city is on the verge of introducing a safe, sustainable, and ultimately cost-effective solution to these recurring problems. 

The New York Times recently reported that Mayor Bloomberg has taken the lead in committing $2.4 billion dollars to new, green flood control and adaptation methods. Rather than continuing to try and use outdated and ineffective subterranean tanks, tunnels, and pumping systems to deal with water and sewage overflow, a combination of green roofs, porous pavement, and greenspaces will be used to retain storm water before it even has a chance to reach the sewers and overload the system. Bloomberg’s shift towards using green technology to improve city’s environmental management problems is groundbreaking; the state has never before allowed the city to use such techniques to meet federal standards for water quality. 

Bloomberg’s willingness to invest so heavily in these groundbreaking management methods will pave the way for other cities to follow. Dealing with storm water and the resulting sewer overflow will be an increasingly serious problem for cities like New York, which are widely expected to experience greater rainfall in the future as a result of climate change. If this level of green innovation can be reached in a megacity like New York, smaller cities with more limited needs and fewer problems can surely make similar changes in their environmental management systems.

The project in New York is expected to pay itself off in only 20 years, but its effects will go far beyond economics. Decreased flooding and improved sewer management will have cascading results throughout the entire metropolitan area and even the entire nation. A healthier city without sewage in its streets will be full of healthier, happier, more productive people; people who will be able to go to work in water-free subway tunnels, walk in clean streets, and recreate in lush new greenspaces. New York City’s shift towards green technology provides a glimpse of a sustainable urban future, in which cities can mitigate but also adapt to the effects of climate change, while improving the quality of life for their citizens and boosting their economies. 

Teal Arcadi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. The Missing Link: Policy appears on Thursdays. 

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Original Author: Teal Arcadi