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Plan to Clean Up Newtown Creek Starts in Bed-Stuy, Officials Say

By Paul DeBenedetto | September 18, 2013 9:26am
 Bioswales are designed to absorb water before it goes into the catch basin, which officials said will divert it from overflowing into places like Newtown Creek.
Bioswales are designed to absorb water before it goes into the catch basin, which officials said will divert it from overflowing into places like Newtown Creek.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A new plan to help improve water quality in Newtown Creek will start more than 3 miles away in eastern Bed-Stuy, according to city officials.

The plan, unveiled at a recent Community Board 3 meeting in Brooklyn, will involve building new green infrastructure, including bioswales — roadside planters designed to absorb water runoff —  and stormwater greenstreets, both designed to add more greenery to the neighborhood while capturing and diverting rainwater, according to Department of Environmental Protection officials.

"They look a lot like regular street tree pits," DEP Director Margot Walker said at last week's meeting, adding, "We are hoping to achieve a certain water quality by installing these, and then we have to maintain that compliance."

Every neighborhood in the city is connected to a drainage area which, in the case of eastern Bed-Stuy, is near Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, a DEP spokesman said.

On an average day without rain the city's sewer system handles more than 1 billion gallons of water waste, and on days with heavy rain, the system is designed to overflow into the closest body of water, the spokesman said.

So, water waste flowing through the streets and sewers of Bed-Stuy often makes its way into Newtown Creek, Walker said.

The locations, which have not yet been finalized, will be bordered furthest to the west by Lewis Avenue, to the south by Atlantic Avenue, on the east by Broadway and on the north by Myrtle Avenue, according to a DEP presentation.

The affected zone also moves farther east into Bushwick, officials said.

The new infrastructure would be placed in front of catch basins to absorb much of the runoff into about 5 feet of soil and broken rock, with only excess water going into the basin, DEP officials said.

"The goal here is to keep as much stormwater out of the catch basin, [and] out of the sewer system," Walker said.

The agency has begun visiting sites around the neighborhood looking for locations, and Bed-Stuy residents said they've already noticed the "little green dots" spraypainted by DEP workers in front of their homes, which are indicators that a location may be viable for the new structures.

"On my block, there are a lot of green dots, and one of them is right in front of my house," said board member T.J. Wilson.

Another board member worried that property taxes would go up to fund the new infrastructure.

Walker would not confirm whether an individual homeowner's taxes would increase because of the plan, though the DEP spokesman did confirm the program is paid for through water and sewer bills. 

DEP eventually hopes to use the green infrastructure as part of its normal process throughout the city, much in the same way the agency maintains pumping stations, Walker said.

"We're really looking at this as part of our sewer infrastructure in New York City," Wilson said. "The ultimate goal, like I said, is water quality."