Streams

Hoboken Looks for Solutions to Frequent Flooding

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's hard to imagine with weather like today's that just a week ago the region was battered by record-setting rainfall and high winds. Some people are still cleaning up, or getting their power restored. In Hoboken, floods brought the city to a near standstill. Turns out, it happens a lot.

Marsalla Rivera is a motor-broom operator for the city of Hoboken in New Jersey. Her job is to clean up the mess after a storm. She operates a giant sweeper. It's a massive truck with countless buttons and steering wheels on both sides.

The brushes come out of the truck and start spinning as the machine sucks in water and garbage. She describes what Hoboken looked like after the storm.

"There was a lot of mud and umbrellas in the street, garbage, bottles, papers that the can-man couldn't pick up because it was stuck in the street with the mud and stuff, so the sweeper goes down and picks it up," she says. "Oh, the smell was horrible. It smelled like sewer water."

As bad as last weekend's storm was, the cleanup is nothing new for Riviera. Hoboken has a history of bad floods. Even the city officials say so: "This is on-going. This is historical," says Jennifer Maier, the director of Environmental Services in the city. "We really have a situation that we can't do much about unfortunately."


Nosheen's car on a flooded Hoboken street last week.

More on Nosheen's flood experiences here.

Like most cities in the Northeast, Hoboken has a combined sewer system. That means that both rainwater and sewer water are carried in the same pipes to a treatment plant. But the aging system can't absorb the water fast enough. So when it rains, the sewers get clogged and begin to spit out the combined overflow into the streets.

Philip Reeves is a project manager at the North Hudson Sewerage Authority which operates the wastewater treatment plant.

He points to a giant computer-printed map behind a glass marked in blue lines. He says it's a known fact that some places get hit exceptionally bad when it rains. There are four sites that he says are known to flood every time there is a rain storm.

But on the map near the Observer highway he points to something in the works that may be able to save Hoboken from excessive flooding: A new pumping station is coming online.

The storm-water pumping station will basically force the flow out of the city and into the river.

Reeves acknowledges one pump is not going to solve the issue, especially in heavy storms like the recent one.

Jennifer Maier, the environmental services director, says the city cannot afford an upgrade of the entire system so it’s exploring cheaper plans that would get Al Gore's seal of approval.

"We will be implementing green, natural ways to try to improve the situation, and when whenever we do any new construction we make sure that it's constructed above the flood level," she says.

The green gardens should help absorb the rain and overflow and save the city money. But even Maier admits that the green spaces in no way will stop all the flooding in Hoboken.

For now, the residents and the clean-up crew may just have to hope for sunnier weather this spring.

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