Emily Lloyd, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, told a group of more than 200 people on Monday night that multiple means of combatting their chronic flooding problems have been deployed successfully, and that far more are coming.
Lloyd, appointed earlier this year by Mayor de Blasio, spoke at a meeting of the group Empowered Queens United in Action & Leadership, or EQUAL, a coalition of churches and civic organizations.
“Some things we can do in the next six months,” Lloyd said. “Some will take 15, 20 or 25 years.”
The latter, Lloyd said, refers to the ongoing effort to extend storm sewers throughout Southeast Queens.
As for the short-term remedies, Lloyd said they have been successful where employed. So too did Deacon E. Thomas Oliver of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Jamaica and the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica.
Oliver spoke Monday night about the joy he experienced when buying a home 40 years ago.
“Little did I know that I was buying waterfront property,” he said.
Most in the crowd at Our Lady of Light Church in St. Albans could sympathize.
Much of Southeast Queens sits above a high groundwater table, the level of which has risen more than 35 feet since the city purchased and stopped pumping water from wells of the old Jamaica Water Service after 1997.
Matthew Mahoney, an associate commissioner under Lloyd, said other problems were caused as long as decades ago by unskilled or possibly unscrupulous developers.
“Does anybody remember where there used to be a stream or a creek running near your property and it just disappeared?” Mahoney asked. “Some developers just covered them over and built on them. But that water is still down there. And when it rains, it comes to the surface.”
Several speakers from EQUAL said the DEP under Lloyd and her predecessor, Carter Strickland Jr., have been responsive to their group in the last 18 months or so.
“People have power,” O’Connor said.
Oliver said a request to clean storm drains resulted in 1,500 tons of trash and other material being removed and making an immediate impact.
“Don’t assume your neighbor notified 311,” Mahoney counseled for those who see flooding in their neighborhoods. “Don’t assume we’ve seen it.” He said that while all storm drains are cleared on a scheduled basis, increased complaints can speed up treatment in troubled areas.
Lloyd said they also have had some success with three reverse seepage basins in the region, which can channel water away from the surface in areas where ground water levels are higher than storm sewer pipes.
“The first one we put in removed 500,000 gallons per day,” she said.
She also said the city is planning on spending $200 million to install storm sewers in Southeast Queens between now and 2017.