City Focuses on Green Infrastructure to Stop Sewage Pollution

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection wants to improve ways to prevent sewage from polluting local waterways during heavy rainfalls through a long-term plan involving green infrastructure.

The city is committing $1.5 billion to build out green infrastructure, such as rooftop farms and street gardens, designed to trap run-off rain water.

The agreement between the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also lays the groundwork for collaborative management of these projects over a 20 year period during which the DEP will publish information about its initiatives annually, and will establish “check in” periods every five years in which progress will be assessed in joint meetings with the NYS DEC, the public and environmental groups.

Environmental groups said Tuesday’s announcement is a positive step in moving the city away from gray infrastructure — underground tanks, pipes and tunnels — and traditional methods employed in preventing sewage overflow in favor of green methods that also serve a dual purpose of beautification. Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resource Defense Council, said utilizing green infrastructure will also save the city money. “At a certain point, they realized this could be a more cost effective approach — water as a resource rather than waste.”

The new plan will also save the city money by requiring private developers to meet storm water run off standards, ultimately reducing the amount of sewage overflow which the city is responsible for managing under the federal Clean Water Act. It also means New York City could be eligible for money through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a federally funded program through which the city predicts it could obtain about $30 million a year.  

The agreement will also add language to New York City’s Clean Water Act permits to ensure that citizen groups can bring action against the city should future administrations fail to follow through on the agreement.

Overall, the city estimates the added green infrastructure should prevent 1.5 billion gallons of sewer overflow from reaching city waterways each year by 2030.