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How You Can Help Prevent Slush Puddles in Your Neighborhood

By Emily Frost | February 5, 2015 7:40am
 The severity of the puddles can be prevented with the cooperation of citizens and businesses. 
Slush Prevention in NYC
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The city let out a collective groan this week as snow turned to sleet — eventually leaving New Yorkers to wade through "crosswalk slush puddles the size of Lake Huron." 

The city's 311 complaint line received 97 calls between Monday at midnight and Wednesday afternoon about clogged and overflowing sewer drains around the city, compared with just 10 during a sunny stretch over the same amount of time this past August. 

While there are ways to cope with the melt, DNAinfo New York sought out solutions you can take to prevent this dreadful winter rite of passage.

Consider runoff prevention on your property or street

The city's Department of Environmental Protection offers grants of $35,000 and up for green infrastructure updates to non-city owned properties that reduce the impact on the city's sewer system. Co-op, condo and property owners can apply for the grants online for various projects. The DEP is promoting blue roofs — a sloped roof system that collects and stores precipitation — as well as rain gardens, which store excess water in perforated pipes under the plantings. 

Community groups and Business Improvement Districts can fundraise in their neighborhoods or apply for outside grants to install sidewalk features that prevent an overflow of storm water to city drains. Two popular options include porous concrete and bioswales. Porous concrete is just like it sounds and allows rain water to seep into the ground rather than into typical drains. 

A bioswale is a sloped drain surrounded by plants and trees that collects rain water, which it then redistributes to the plantings near it. Bioswales help absorb water that would run into the sewer system and it also purifies water headed into the aquifer by trapping pollution. 

The Columbus Avenue BID's bioswale, installed in 2012 along the avenue between West 76th and 75th streets in Manhattan, has helped reducing flooding nearby.

"We have found that [the bioswale] solved a flooding problem that used to regularly occur at the West 76th Street and Columbus corner. It works to collect flood water, siphon it, and reutilize it instead of being wasted in the sewers," explained the BID's Executive Director Barbara Adler. 

Call 311 and notify city agencies

On the Upper West Side, City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal described her office as "inundated" with calls about about slush puddles and residents are also dropping in to her office to share the hot spots. But she said it's important for people to call 311 so that the right city agency can get dispatched and the city can track patterns. 

"The more complaints you place, the more the correct agencies know where to go," she said.

Monica Blum, president of Manhattan's Lincoln Square BID, said 42 percent of respondents to a 2014 general survey said ponding, where water pools on the street, was an issue at the Broadway Malls, the medians along the avenue.

"We have identified the worst locations, which include all the current crossings in [the mid-West 60s] and brought them to the attention of [the Department of Transportation]," said Blum. 

"DOT has assured us that they will address ponding in 2015," she said. 

Get cooperation from businesses

While businesses are typically pretty good about clearing snow from right in front of their entrance — to make sure you can get in their doors — the closest street corners, where slush and snow end up getting pushed, are often a mess. Try asking businesses to shovel and salt a little further afield. Then find a way to reward them for their cooperation, whether via praise on social media or with your business.

Or, take matters into your own hands and organize your block association, parents from your school, local volunteer group or religious community to shovel the communal pathways and crosswalks that are trouble spots before they become epic puddles. 

Peter Arndsten, the director of the Columbus Amsterdam BID, said clearing drains has become a daily project. 

"We have been going out every morning with shovels and ice choppers to clear corners, curb cuts, part of the crosswalk and open drains and drainage channels," he said. 

Employ extra workers

If the community is unlikely to pull together on a volunteer basis, consider getting your BID or elected representatives to hire extra helpers for snow removal during bad storms. 

Workers from the Doe Fund, formerly incarcerated or homeless men rebuilding their lives, are on retainer with the Columbus Avenue BID for extra snow removal. 

"I absolutely think that clearing the crosswalks, near the sewers, helps to prevent ponding issues," said Adler, the BID's executive director.

"Sometimes, it must be done more than once, of course," she added.