Residents and officials from Southeast Queens appear to be through asking the city for action to alleviate flooding from groundwater levels that have been rising since the mid-1990s.
Now they are demanding it.
Nearly 30 people rallied outside the Corona offices of the Department of Environmental Protection on Friday to once again call on the city to restart pumping operations at wells formerly owned by the old Jamaica Water Service.
“DEP has known about this problem for 20 years and has not responded,” Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) said outside the offices on Junction Boulevard.
“In 1996 the city bought Jamaica Water Service and capped 69 wells that pumped 60 million gallons of water per day,” he said.
Between 1997 and 2006, as the city phased out pumping operations at the wells, the water table in some areas rose more than 35 feet. As a result, any heavy or sustained period of rain can result in flooding of streets and of people’s homes ranging from several inches to several feet.
The DEP’s response has been that while it is responsible for handling runoff caused by rain, groundwater does not fall under its purview.
As DEP personnel came out to observe the rally, Scarborough and others said the issue is one of fairness and environmental justice.
And they are particularly maddened by the fact that the DEP will begin pumping the wells in 2018, when the water will be needed to compensate for the temporary but long-term closure of a supply tunnel from upstate.
“This water problem is not one of mystery, but one of overt and benign neglect by the City of New York,” said Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP. “The City of New York was well aware of the consequences of shutting down the wells. ... We cannot wait until 2018.”
“If flooding was taking place in Midtown Manhattan, it would have been resolved,” Scarborough said. “If flooding was taking place on the Upper East Side, it would have been resolved.”
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), who also attended the rally, and Scarborough have companion bills in the state Legislature that would compel the city to resume the pumping.
Scarborough said the problem never needed to have come this far, and still can be resolved short of the force of law.
“If they have another solution, we’re willing to listen,” he said. “We’ve been talking to them. We’re trying to find them funding.”
Following a town hall meeting at York College on Feb. 28, DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland and state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens met with the two lawmakers in Albany to discuss the matter.
Smith said Friday they are anticipating another meeting with city and state officials within the next two weeks.
A spokesman for the DEP on Friday repeated almost verbatim a statement issued after the York College meeting, saying that the DEP in the last 10 years has spent $1.5 billion in capital projects to improve drainage in Queens, and has more than 200 other projects either underway or in the pipeline, costing another $1 billion.