The sprawling sewers
New York City residents are able to turn on a faucet at any time and obtain clean, drinkable water. This daily process of drinking water distribution is in large part made possible by Anastasios “Tasos” Georgelis, the acting deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. He supervises 1,250 staff responsible for the in-city distribution of drinking water as well as the collection and management of stormwater and wastewater. In an interview with City & State, Georgelis talked about how his bureau helps to manage flooding in the city, misconceptions about the bureau and the natural stormwater management system near Staten Island.
C&S: How is DEP planning on addressing flooding in southeast Queens?
AG: Under the leadership of Mayor (Bill) de Blasio, who made the historic commitment of $1.7 billion over 10 years to address flooding in southeast Queens neighborhoods, we have several projects underway now, and dozens more coming in the next few years. The bulk of the funding will go toward the construction of large trunk sewer spines, which will be installed through at least 18 separate projects. But, we don’t just think in terms of gray infrastructure, we’re also thinking about green components as well. Southeast Queens will be getting new green infrastructure in three city parks, two public schools and one NYCHA facility, in addition to bluebelts to help manage stormwater.
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C&S: Could you speak a little about the sewer separation projects to cut down on combined sewer overflows? What will those projects entail?
AG: We’re investing significant resources into reducing combined sewer overflows. One way to combat CSOs is to develop high-level storm sewer projects, which entail installing new storm sewers and disconnecting the catch basins from the existing combined sewers and reconnecting them to the new HLSS. This method allows rainfall from the streets, sidewalks and a portion of private property to be captured by the HLSS, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in CSOs. DEP has initiated 15 HLSS projects that are currently either in design or construction. Right now, work is underway on a $132 million project in the College Point neighborhood of Queens that will reduce street flooding, but also improve the ecological health of Flushing Bay. We’re installing 400 new catch basins, nearly 12 miles of new sewers and 10 miles of new water mains. Three existing combined sewer outfalls will be decommissioned, which we estimate will reduce overflows into Flushing Bay by nearly 50 million gallons a year. We also have a similar $56 million project happening in Canarsie that will help to improve the health of Fresh Creek in Jamaica Bay as well as separate sewers being installed along Third Avenue in Gowanus.
C&S: Are there any common misconceptions around what the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations does?
AG: I don’t think people realize how focused we are on not just maintaining our water and sewer infrastructure, but upgrading it as our city both grows, and ages. DEP is responsible for 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts that bring water to 9 million people, along with 7,500 miles of sewer lines, and we’re managing a capital program with billions of dollars in planned investments over the next decade. We’re always planning for the future through incorporating resiliency, city planning policies, ecological and water quality improvements and community quality of life issues into our planning.
C&S: How do you manage the maintenance and conservation of the Staten Island bluebelt?
AG: The bluebelt model for stormwater management is a cost-effective way to manage stormwater and reduce flooding. Bluebelts preserve natural drainage corridors, such as streams and ponds, and optimizes them to help control and filter stormwater. Maintenance of the ponds, channels, weirs and other structures is performed regularly during routine inspection visits. Most maintenance consists of plant management and debris removal, with occasional removal of accumulated sediments from outlet stilling basins and ponds. Over the last decade, DEP has built bluebelts for approximately one-third of Staten Island’s land area, and earlier this summer we completedthelargest-ever expansion of the system in the Woodrow neighborhood. In addition, last year we broke ground on the first mid-island bluebelt for Staten Island, and over the last few years have completed our first bluebelt projects in the Bronx and Queens.
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