Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NYC | Urban Flooding Wake-Up Call (Guest Post)

Robert Trentlyon, Boolavardier
(Photo by JT Marlin)
The following post was sent to me by Bob Trentlyon, a Yale man (Monsieur Boolavardier, I call him) and former publisher of the Chelsea-Clinton News and other fine newspapers. Bob has asked me to post his comments on my blog in the hopes of being read by people he hasn't reached before. Here's what Bob wants you to know:

Justin Gillis of the New York Times performed an important public service when he wrote a major piece in the January 14 "Science" section entitled “The Flood Next Time”.  He wrote about the inexorable rise of the Atlantic Ocean and its impact upon the east coast of the United States.  Not only is the sea level rising, but the land mass in many places is sinking. Not only is the sea level rising, but it is rising faster.  That means that flooding and hurricanes will create even more damage.  This means that we have to do something about it very soon.   

There are three options - moving to higher ground, resilience, or sustainability.  Moving to higher ground is the most logical, but I am not sure or able that millions of New Yorkers are ready or able to do that.  Resilience means living with the higher water, raising your building, and making continual repairs.  Sustainability means protecting yourself from storms and flooding by building storm surge barriers (SSBs). 

Restoring marshes, and building berms will be done using either  resilience or sustainability. In England there is a 50 year plan for London and for all the neighboring towns.  The London Environment Committee tells the towns what they must do to fit in with the 50 year plan.  The latest North Sea storms had no impact on London, because of storm surge barriers on the Thames that had been in place for many years.

Two cities that have lived with resilience and have chosen storm surge barriers are St. Petersburg, Russia and Venice, Italy.  Both of them had been plagued by flooding for hundreds of years.  St. Petersburg is situated at the mouth of the Neva River. The Neva River Estuary that leads into the North Sea closely resembles the Hudson River estuary. This past year the storm surge barriers were finally completed, and this past fall St. Petersburg was not flooded for the first time in 307 years. The British company Halroyd was the major adviser on the project. The St. Petersburg extensive series of gates and barriers is much longer than what is proposed for the five mile stretch between Sandy Hook and the Rockaways. In Venice, the Venetians were tired of their first floors being flooded every year. The Venetians, with a big assist from the Italian government, are presently testing their new SSBs.

In smaller residential buildings resilience means making do with what we have and modifying existing structures.  It means moving machinery to a higher floor or even the roof. It means vacating living space on the ground floor and eventually the second floor.  There would be some governmental money to assist the owner in making these changes, but not enough. The streets would still be flooded every year in the flood zone.  The flood zone will expand as time goes on.  Most housing modifications in the future will be paid by the owner of the building and passed on to the tenants.  Flood insurance will not exist or be limited, and government aid will be either minimal or non-existent.

If storm surges and flooding can be controlled by building barriers at two or three strategic locations that would be more effective and much cheaper than fortifying hundreds of miles of NYC shoreline and tens of thousands of buildings.  Why are some people afraid of having SSBs studied?