How Ida survived NYC’s flood defenses


“The problem is that we’re seeing these effects and these changing storms faster and adaptations just can’t keep up,” he says. Lauren McPhillipsis a hydrologist at Penn State University who studies urban flooding.

McPhillips says New York City is relatively forward thinking about flood preparedness. For years, the city has installed more permeable architectures such as green roofs and rain gardens, and renovated pumps and drainage pipes. These improvements intensified after Sandy.

“We learned a lot from Sandy,” said New York governor Kathy Hochul. Press conference the morning after the storms. “We’ve rebuilt resilience; Our coastlines are in much better condition than before. But where we have a vulnerability is in our streets.”

Sandy stands out in any discussion of flooding in New York. But the difference between the 2012 hurricane and Ida illustrates the city’s complex flooding threat from climate change. Sandy caused an intense storm surge through which the ocean entered the city. Ida soon poured inches of water all over the city – a problem that sea barriers and other coastal protection systems cannot solve.

While New York City and other coastal areas are more vulnerable to sea level rise, any urban area can experience what is called profuse flooding, the type caused by precipitation. “The way we developed New York has caused the flooding problem,” he says. Timon McPhearsonurban climate resilience researcher at the New School and New York City Climate Change Panel.

Impermeable surfaces such as concrete cause water to flow downhill instead of sinking into the ground as in meadows or forests. If enough water flows together, the consequences can be fatal.

“We need to literally redesign the city to fix the problem.”

Timon McPhearson

With contributions from researchers like McPhearson, New York City developed plans to improve its defenses against storm flooding. looking forward rainwater resilience plan The report, released in May 2021, included an assessment of flood risk throughout the city and proposed solutions ranging from social strategies such as educating local city councils on flood risks to engineering techniques such as greener roofs and rain gardens.

And the city’s Environmental Protection Department is considering plans for areas hit especially hard during the most severe storms. NS Cloudburst Resilience studyIt examined strategies for dealing with extreme precipitation events, completed in 2018. In a frequently flooded area in Queens, pilot plans included green infrastructure such as floodable park walkways, as well as a ballpark designed to retain water during major floods.

But realizing these, or any other stormwater management solution, requires massive funds and some decades to engineer. “To solve the problem, we need to literally redesign the city,” McPhearson says. And he expects the price tag to be high, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars. In some cases, he says, research has already suggested how to protect the city from flooding, but combining the money and political will to take action is still a stumbling block.


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