If the city wants residents to think it doesn’t care about the poor, or about minorities, or about the quality of life of those not blessed with drawing room views of Central Park, it sure is doing a great job in Southeast Queens.
That’s where, for the last 15 years, people have been plagued by incessant flooding made worse by the city’s own actions. The problem is multifaceted, but the basics are fairly simple. Much of Southeast Queens has a very high water table. It’s not the administration’s fault that entire sections of the borough are little more than swampland; back in the day you just poured in fill and built in areas where you might not today (take note, Major League Soccer). Given how high the water table is, and how much of the land is paved over and therefore unable to absorb rainfall well, some flooding is inevitable.
But where the city is at fault is in knowingly making the situation worse. It did that when it bought out the old Jamaica Water Company, which had been supplying residents with water from wells in the area, shut down the wells and got everyone on “city water,” which is brought to the five boroughs from reservoirs upstate. Bringing in the clean upstate water was the right move, given all the toxins that industrialization has left in the soil here. But the mistake was in shutting down the wells entirely, because the water table apparently has been rising ever since. According to Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, who’s been leading the fight to get the city to fix the problem, the Department of Environmental Protection itself acknowledges that the water table rose 35 feet between 2001 and 2007. And, Scarborough said at a flooding-issue meeting held last week at York College, the agency won’t even say how much it’s gone up since then.
Area residents don’t need to know the exact increase; they just know that every time we get a decent rain, it seems half the streets from Jamaica to Rosedale turn into virtual rivers.
The best answer anyone’s come up with, other than adding more storm drains, is to restart the wells, pump the water out and disperse it. The DEP had started doing that last year, in a joint project with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, but then the work came to an abrupt halt. The agency plans to use the wells in 2018 while it repairs one of the tunnels from the reservoirs to the city, but residents can’t wait that long.
Scarborough is now planning legislation that would force the city to resume pumping now, a bill that Sen. Malcolm Smith is expected to carry in the Senate. It’s too bad it’s come to that, but the residents of Southeast Queens need relief, so unless the city changes its tune immediately, we hope that measure becomes law.