In response to public outcry from the Southeast Queens community, the city will begin implementing a plan next month, which it hopes will help alleviate the persistent flooding problems that have plagued the area for decades.
Carter Strickland, the commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, and other representatives from the agency presented the ideas at Monday’s Borough Cabinet meeting in Kew Gardens, where the panel includes the district managers of Queens’ 14 community boards.
DEP will be installing two reverse seepage basins next month as part of a pilot program. They will be placed at 155th Street and Linden Boulevard, and 165th Street and Linden Boulevard. The process involves sinking a pipe or chamber into the aquifer to draw groundwater out and dispense it into the storm drains.
“We are looking forward to this because the way that we understand it, this system will help the St. Albans area community,” said Jacqueline Boyce, the chairwoman of Community Board 12. “We are hoping it will happen because there is an awful lot of flooding damage at an awful lot of homes.”
DEP calculates that each of these sites will draw two million gallons of groundwater per day and residents living nearby should begin to get flood relief soon after the project is operational. However, the initiative requires a sewer line to be in proximity to the area where the basins are installed. It cannot be used in areas where there are no sewers.
If all goes well, the project will be expanded to as many as 12 sites throughout Southeast Queens late this year or early next year, with about two to four basins at each location.
In May, DEP will also begin pumping at Station 24, a former Jamaica Water Supply well at 180th Street and 106th Avenue polluted by chemicals from the West Side Corp., an adjacent dry cleaning plant.
Some 800,000 gallons of groundwater will be extracted daily, but not for drinking purposes. The toxins will be filtered out and the water emptied into Jamaica Bay, according to DEP. The agency is also in the process of identifying which other wells are safe for use and can be reactivated.
“With regard to the groundwater system, not every well will help the immediate area, and that’s what we are going to be looking at,” Strickland said. “They all go to different areas, so a well that’s super deep is not going to help. There is a cone of depression.”
The agency also intends to extract 60 million gallons of water from wells located throughout the borough to offset losses during the repair of the Delaware Aqueduct in 2018 and 2019. It is one of three tunnels that brings in the city’s water supply from upstate, and it has been leaking.
Asked whether the wells would be utilized after the tunnel is fixed, Strickland did not provide a direct answer. He said DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been floating ideas about what to do with the water when a backup supply is not needed.
“It’s very expensive to pump wells and maintain those wells, so that’s a very difficult issue,” Strickland said. “That’s also the reason why we are piloting this low technology, low energy use technology.”
From fiscal year 2010 to 2011, DEP spent $217 million on sewers and $120 million on water mains in Southeast Queens, Strickland said. For FY 2013 to 2016, the agency will spend $179 million on borough sewers alone — $64 million of which will go to Southeast Queens. Some $35 million will be allocated for water mains, and of that $22 million is for high level storm sewers.
Flooding is not the only area of concern DEP is seeking to address, Strickland said. Over half of the sewer blockages in the city are caused by the disposal of residential grease. While there is a market for some of the substance, turning it into biodiesel fuel, most brown and yellow grease has no value, Strickland said. In an effort to curb the problem, the agency is considering making special containers available.
“There are little plastic bags that can withstand temperatures of up to 400 degrees,” Strickland said. “You can pour the grease in there, let it solidify, roll it up and throw it in the trash.”