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Saving the City $1.8 Million at a Time

Professor Cherrier, BC department chairperson of Earth and Environmental Sciences (right) and Professor Smith, assistant professor in EES (left). PHOTO/ Brooklyn College

By Michelle Bernstein

Published: September 26th, 2018

NYS Department of Environmental Protection and Mayors Office puts two Brooklyn College Professors in charge of a $1.8 million dollar effort to survey the city’s flooding problem.

As inclement weather and floods are on the rise,  Jennifer Cherrier, chairperson of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES), and Brianne Smith, assistant professor in EES, discuss their efforts in spearheading a campaign to address one of the more pressing matters effecting the city.

“NYC is experiencing increasing occurrences of flash-floods because the storm water has nowhere to go,” Cherrier said. “We currently use a combined sewer system, which the City began developing in the mid-1800s, to drain the storm water and wastewater.”

The result has been an all-too-noticeable spectacle for commuters; with waterfalls ever frequently rushing down the subway stairs and drenched bodies, it is an eerie sight not to be mistaken as some new wonder of the world that one hopes to see and visit during their next family getaway, but rather another sign of NYC’s ongoing sewage management problem.

It is here, Cherrier points out, that one of the main culprits behind the lack of sewage space for water to go lies: people and pavement.

As the NYC population has grown and more pavement is built, the number of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) has also grown.

According to NYC Environmental Protection, “Treatment plants are unable to handle flows that are more than twice design capacity, and when this occurs, a mix of excess storm water and untreated wastewater discharges directly into the City’s waterways at certain outfalls.”

This problem not only results in the pollution of our waterways, but also causes major flooding issues,” Cheerier said. In the past, the City addressed this issue by creating models that predicted major floods zones, but these models failed to show how water drains from the City.

Concerned, Cherrier and Smith assembled a team of scientists from five other institutions and submitted a research proposal to investigate storm water flow and flooding in the five boroughs.

“Out of the numerous to submit proposals, Brooklyn College’s team was selected to receive $1.8 million in funding from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the Mayor’s Office for the project,” Cherrier said proudly.

The money allocated for this study is going towards the project’s main goal, which is align the environmental, social, and economic needs of flood-prone areas of the City to identify the best forms of storm water infrastructure to offset flooding risks. The best choices of infrastructure would address the needs of vulnerable communities and make these areas more sustainable and resilient to floods.

Cherrier excitedly shared that her team is developing high resolution 2-D hydrologic and hydraulic models, which show how water flows within the city. Elaborating on this technology, she said they are making scenarios of various weather conditions to predict future rain/storm events as well as identifying interventions to handle floods on a citywide and neighborhood scale. Once the study is complete, NYC policy makers will use the information and modeling products developed by the research team to make decisions about which interventions should be implemented in chosen neighborhoods.

One of the interventions to be considered will be Cherrier’s green hybrid technology that helps to better control green infrastructure systems to maximize storm water interception and pollution removal and allows for water reuse.

In leading such a project, Cherrier and Smith hope to provide city managers with the best scientific tools for making decisions about storm water management and to inspire future generations to build stronger and more sustainable cities.

In the meantime, those that wish to affect change should vote, Cherrier expressed. “Vote for candidates that will allocate the resources to ensure that NYC is safe and resilient to storms and flooding.”

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