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Green solutions for New York City's overflowing sewers

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Large-scale, industrial solutions, such as 50-million underground sewage storage tanks, are simply not affordable given New York City’s budget constraints. And the return on investment for these tanks is diminishing rather than growing according to PlaNYC. Therefore, other solutions must be taken seriously.

With green infrastructure, the city aims to reduce combined sewageo utflows by “manag[ing] runoff from 10 percent of the impervious surfaces in combined sewer watersheds through detention and infiltration source controls.” One tangible way to do this: the MillionTreesNYC campaign, which is planting trees throughout the city not only to provide shade, but also to create more treebeds that absorb rainwater.

But to many sustainability activists, the city’s green infrastructure plan is just a stop-gap measure, well-intentioned but too centralized and bureaucratic.

The approach of the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) coalition differs. The coalition views stormwater as a resource, rather than a waste. It wants to improve water quality through “natural, sustainable stormwater management practices in our neighborhoods,” according to its website. It has more than 70 member organizations working on infrastructural water issues in New York City.

After the recent North River sewage plant crisis, S.W.I.M. released news that the level of pollution in the Hudson River was much higher than the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had announced.

Riverkeeper is one of our member organizations,” explained Kate Zidar, the coordinator of S.W.I.M. “They sampled in the middle of the river and near the shoreline; they did a comparative grid. It’s not totally clear to me how DEP tests; typically they test midstream. Riverkeeper found the pollution because they looked for it.”

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