City may order new buildings to reduce stormwater overflows

By MIAWLING LAM

They’ve tackled the heating oil issue, and now city officials are turning their attention to stormwater discharge.

Residential buildings could be forced to capture more stormwater runoff and store it on-site, under a city plan designed to alleviate street flooding and reduce combined sewer overflows.

The proposal, flagged by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter H. Strickland Jr., will require new construction and major alteration projects to cut runoff flows by 10 percent.

Officials said the reductions would be achieved through natural measures such as blue roofs, green roofs, subsurface gravel beds and stormwater chambers.

If approved, they estimate combined sewer overflows will be reduced by up to 800 million gallons over the next 20 years.

They also predict the costs for compliance will be less than 1.5 percent of the total development budget for new developments and major alterations. Existing homes will not be affected.

But members of Community Board 8 are anxious about the proposed changes.

CB8 housing chair Thomas Durham was concerned the so-called “negative declaration” would snowball further and follow in the footsteps of the heating oil mandate imposed last year.

“Declarations like this usually precede things like water meters and oil fuel conversions,” he said. “This is how it starts. It starts in conversation and it starts as a declaration or a proposal with no numbers, no kind of financial plan in place. And then all of a sudden, some executive officer decides we’ll make it a regulation or we’ll make it a rule.”

Durham alerted the community of the proposal at last month’s CB8 environment and sanitation committee meeting.

He said although the plan was vague and not yet fully defined, he predicted that it could eventually lead to water discharge meters being installed on all homes across the city.

“It’s not written in fine print, but I’m telling you…this is going to eventually lead to water metering of discharge coming off property,” he said.

“What they’re going to do is see the difference of what you’re intaking, and if the discharge is greater than what you’re intaking, you’re going to be paying for that difference.”

DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla refused to answer any specific questions relating to the proposal, including whether the future installation of water discharge meters was a possibility.

Instead, she provided a link to comments made by Strickland last month, where he explained the proposal.

“The new stormwater rule requires new construction and major building alterations to capture substantially more runoff through cost-effective measures, providing additional capacity in the combined sewer system,” he said in the statement dated January 4.

According to city documents seen by the Riverdale Review, officials speculate that the plan could even lead to tighter discharge volumes.

“Implementation of the proposed rule amendment would allow for a phased approach toward attaining future and potentially more stringent federal and state stormwater requirements,” it states.

Currently, New York City operates on a combined sewer system, where stormwater and wastewater are carried through a single pipe. During heavy storms, the system can exceed its capacity and must discharge a mix of stormwater and wastewater into waterways.

The new rule is a key component of the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010, which will invest $2.4 billion over the next 20 years on green infrastructure to improve harbor water quality and reduce the flow of sewage.

CB8 said they would invite a DEP representative to explain the proposal further at a future environment and sanitation committee meeting.

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