When the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused flash flooding in parts of Queens and Brooklyn last month, it emphasized how the city’s sewer system could be quickly overwhelmed under extreme weather conditions.
The 11,000-plus rain gardens across the city are part of green infrastructure meant to manage large rain events.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said rain gardens are becoming the department’s most widely used tool to manage stormwater runoff.
“It looks like just a few bushes, some plants and a tree, but underneath the ground is actually an engineered system that absorbs stormwater runoff and lets it percolate into the ground,” said Sapienza. “When it rains, most of that water goes into the catch basins and sewer systems, but as we learned from Hurricane Ida, sometimes the capacity of the sewers can be overwhelmed.”
Sapienza said the department is looking into other green infrastructure, including permeable street surfaces.
“We all hear that with climate change we’re going to be getting heavier rainfall, Ida really highlighted that,” he said. “It was the most rain we ever measured in one hour in New York City.”
With crews going around daily to maintain the rain gardens throughout the city, including changing out the plantings to match the season, DEP hopes to educate communities on how to keep rain gardens clear of trash and relax a stressed sewer system.
DEP community coordinator Rowie Samaco helped volunteers maintain rain gardens along Seabury Street and Grand Avenue in Elmhurst last week. If a rain garden in your neighborhood needs maintenance, DEP advises residents to call 311.
Joining in the effort last week was Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has introduced legislation that would track maintenance and cleaning of catch basins to help prevent flooding during intense rainfall.
He said it makes sense to engage local residents to help maintain rain gardens and catch basins.
“We want to give opportunities for the community to fill the gap where it makes sense, where it’s possible, where it’s safe and where it can be most impactful,” Williams said.