Green Engineering to Boost New York’s Water Quality

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Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
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Residents of the New York Borough of Queens can expect improved water quality with the incorporation of green infrastructure systems.

The new systems, which will be built by green engineering consultancy Dewberry, will improve water quality by providing enhanced absorption of rainwater. This reduces the strain on urban sewerage systems in the wake of heavy storms, which can otherwise result in overflow and spillage  into surrounding bodies of water.

The green infrastructure is comprised of primarily of Right-of-Way Bioswales (ROWBs), curb cuts, and permeable layers of soil, sand and gravel. The systems are expected to be capable of handling at least an inch of rainwater on on street surfaces within the Combined Sewer Overflow tributary areas of New York City’s Green Infrastructure Plan.

The bioswales are essentially small urban nature strips measuring around five feet in width and 20 feet in length, which are better capable of absorbing rainfall than standard impermeable street surfaces.

In addition to alleviating the pressure on the urban sewerage systems caused by heavy rainfall, the ROWBs also provide keenly appreciated bursts of greenery to the urban environment in the form of indigenous plant and tree species.

“Bioswales are as close to a natural system as we can get on a New York City street,” said Nette Compton, a landscape architect in charge of the green infrastructure division of New York’s city parks department.

Bioswales are not new to urban design, with Portland installing them as early as the mid-1990s on the banks of the Williamette River. New York, however, could be the first major metropolis to widely deploy bioswales in such an exclusively urban setting.

The introduction of bioswales to the streets of Queens is part of the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, which proposes a total of $2.4 billion in spending to improve water quality in New York Harbor over the next two decades. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection latest 10-year funding plan allocate $735 million to green infrastructure alone.

The project will also entail extensive collaboration between a raft of New York City departments, with the Department of Environmental Protection entrusted with overall management, the Parks Department given responsibility for maintenance of the plots, and collaboration with the Department of Transportation also expected.

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