Neighbors join effort to document flooding 1

Hamilton Beach experienced flooding during the December nor’easter as well as the February snowstorm.

Over the past decade, residents in neighborhoods surrounding Jamaica Bay have been increasingly encroached on by flooding during high tide on streets that used to stay dry, according to the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay.

Hamilton Beach, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, has suffered chronic flooding problems for years, but the storms in combination with the monthly tides this winter have been particularly harsh, pushing the waters of Jamaica Bay into the streets of the 10-block Queens community and blocking the drains with ice.

Enter the Community Flood Watch Project, a new way to gather and share standardized information about street-level flooding in New York City.

The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay held an online forum last Thursday that was attended by residents of Hamilton and Howard Beach to learn more about how they can support the community-sourced effort to document and combat flooding.

Flood Watch is aimed at bringing together a network of residents and community groups to report and share resources related to coastal flooding in the city. The project provides an online forum for residents to share photographs and reports that document flood-event timing, depth, location and associated impacts, with the goal of influencing city policy.

The effort is being coordinated by the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay and New York Sea Grant, with support from the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency.

“Residents know more than anyone else about the flooding that they experience in their neighborhoods but scientists can use this local knowledge to better understand flood dynamics and better improve forecasts and models, and on the other hand governments can use local knowledge to make decisions about budgets, policies and projects,” said Katie Graziano, a coastal resilience specialist at New York Sea Grant.

In her presentation, Graziano walked residents through the way the system had documented the nor’easter on Dec. 17, which combined with some of the highest tides of the month to create flooding with a layer of floating ice chunks in several streets of the neighborhood that temporarily blocked snow plows from arriving.

Community-sourced posts showed that by 9:30 a.m., one hour before peak high tide, water levels were about a foot higher than a “normal” high tide. By 10 a.m. a photo logged from Lindenwood showed a resident standing in the water up to his shins as a way of providing a reference for water depth. As water rose the posts from around the adjoining neighborhoods created a comprehensive record of where the flooding was happening that Graziano mapped out.

Though the Hamilton Beach area has a Facebook group dedicated to documenting high tide pictures, its organizer, Roger Gendron, said that the Flood Watch project would help organize the response into a more scientific approach.

“It’s taking information that’s now available and being able to hone that information to our community so they can know so they can make plans,” said Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Group, which is a partner of the project.

The forum also brought representatives for Floodnet, the electronic cousin to Flood Watch, a network of flood sensors developed by NYU and the CUNY, with the goal of providing information on the presence, frequency and depth of street-level flood events.

The project is in the process of expanding its sensor network, which currently has some presence in Hamilton Beach.

Floodnet representative Brett Branco said the project’s goal is to combine the sensor data with community reports and develop an information center that can guide residents in the middle of a flooding event.

To make a report or learn more about Flood Watch, visit srijb.org/jbfloodwatch.

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