Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene Likely To Cause Big Problems For Gowanus

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NYC Government on Storm Surges:
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that New York City's low-lying, heavily populated neighborhoods are more exposed to the threat of coastal flooding in a hurricane than most people realized.
Large areas of southern Queens, southern Brooklyn, the lower east and west sides of Manhattan, and the perimeter of Staten Island could all suffer damage from a hurricane's storm surge. In addition, storm surge from a strong hurricane would not be limited to waterfront properties and could conceivably push miles inland in some areas. New York City's unique geography — located at a "bend" in the coastline between New Jersey and Long Island — makes it especially vulnerable.
Even a low-level hurricane that makes landfall near New York City could wash ocean waters over large sections of some coastal neighborhoods.
Storm surge can make landfall five hours before the hurricane itself.
It can also take place after a hurricane has moved away from the city, as high seas slump back into confined spaces like Long Island Sound.”
The problem with 100-year storms is that no-one thinks that one may actually happen in one's lifetime. However, Hurricane Irene, which is predicted to pass over the Metropolitan area on Sunday, may just be one of these rare occurrences.
Hurricanes are a rare occurrence in New York City, so it is understandable that most New York City residents have no idea how vulnerable our coastal city is to the storm surge flooding which follows these massive storms. It has been predicted that Irene may dump upwards of 6 to 10 inches of rain in our area. How will that affect our immediate neighborhood, and in particular the Gowanus Canal area, which is prone to flooding in the best of times?
A quick look at the map created by the Office of EmergencyManagement (NYCO) which indicates flood zones and detailed steps to take in case a hurricane, indicates that the Gowanus area will be severely affected by Hurricane Irene. There are two very huge problems with this.
First, combined sewer overflow (CSO) is dumped into the Gowanus Canal every time New York City's sewer system is overloaded after a flash flood. Imagine how much raw sewage will flow into the Gowanus during the heavy rains which will accompany hurricane Irene?
To get an idea, one only has to take a look at the now-famous You Tube video taken after a particularly severe storm last summer. Now image what this week-end could be like for local residents?
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Raw sewage floating on the Gowanus after thunderstorm in 2009

The second problem facing the Gowanus area in case Irene hits this area is that the waters of the Gowanus Canal are heavily polluted with rather dangerous contaminants, as anyone knows by now. The thick sludge at the bottom of the canal is so toxic in fact, that the US EPA has listed the canal on its list of Superfund sites last year and is currently working on clean-up solutions.
Hurricane force winds could churn the waters of the Gowanus Canal so much that this toxic sediment could possibly make its way out of its banks and deposit it on shore mixed with the storm water. That's a scary possibility and would certainly pose lots of health problems for local residents.
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Sections of sediment core samples taken from the bottom of the Gowanus Canal. Note the black coal tar in the top two sections.

Which makes you wonder why the City would like local residents to head towards the canal in case of emergency. According to a sign on Third Street right off Smith Street, the Coastal Evacuation Route for this area is in Park Slope, which means that if one has to evacuate on Sunday, one has to cross the Gowanus Canal and right into a flood zone. (Just look at the picture below and look at how Third Street slopes down towards the canal.)

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense now, does it?

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1 comment:

ReaderC said...

Oh I hope this storm gives a generous pass to you coastal dwellers. Watching this and thinking of you. I'm still sweeping haboob clay dust from Tucson.