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Building Infrastructure Resiliency for Storm Impacts

Spring 2013 Issue

New York has been hit with extreme weather events, including storms Irene, Lee and Sandy. Many of New York's wastewater treatment facilities were severely damaged and temporarily shut down. This included the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant on Long Island and the Yonkers Joint Wastewater Treatment Plant, both of which were inundated with salt water. Similarly, the Binghamton-Johnson City area was hit with a record flood due to Lee, which caused extensive damage to its sewage treatment plant and collection system. It will take years to complete repairs.

Following the storms, it was clear that statewide action was needed. As Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State message: "There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns ... She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits."

Governor Cuomo appointed the expert NYS2100 Commission to make initial recommendations toward more resilient infrastructure. The Commission has released its preliminary report which includes concepts to address the risks to wastewater infrastructure posed by floods, coastal surges and power outages. Find the report at: http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/NYS2100.pdf.

In the State of the State address, as it related to NYSDEC and superstorm Sandy, Governor Cuomo emphasized:

  • Lowering the emissions cap on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with proceeds being used to re-power existing power plants and to strengthen natural and built infrastructure to better prepare for storm events like Hurricane Sandy.
  • Building smarter with resiliency by exploring enhanced engineering criteria for new, expanded or rebuilt structures. This will include programs to enhance resiliency by such steps as elevating structures, using flood-proof engineering criteria or incentivizing the purchase of flood damaged residences in very hazardous areas.
  • Strengthening coastal protections by filling in low spots where many dunes, which acted like protective levees for coastal communities, have washed away.
  • Examining the full range of "hard" and "soft" infrastructure measures available to protect New York Harbor that could together operate to establish multiple barriers of protection.
  • Improving wastewater treatment systems with direction to fix and build heightened resiliency in them. This means taking immediate steps to address sensitive infrastructure and implementing engineering asset management plans that provide a blueprint for resiliency. The Governor stated his interest in implementing disinfection systems, coupled with backup power, at "vulnerable" plants to prevent large pathogen discharges during outages.

Governor Cuomo has estimated that approximately $30 billion will be allocated to New York under the federal Sandy relief package. This means a lot of potential funding to get this work accomplished.

Recent storms have sent everyone a strong message. Part of that message is that wastewater treatment facility operators need to achieve resiliency for storm events and rising waters. The NYSDEC is committed to helping in this important effort.