By Rich Bockmann
Despite its color on Google Maps, the Long Island Expressway is no yellow brick road, but a number of green projects in northeast Queens have contributed to New York City being compared with the Land of Oz.
The National Resources Defense Council recently gave the city a five-out-of-six rating on its Emerald City Scale, which measures how cities tackle water-pollution problems, urban stormwater runoff and sewage overflows with smarter and greener practices.
“New York City recognizes that green infrastructure — which stops rain where it falls — is the smartest way to reduce water pollution from storms,” said Karen Hobbs, NRDC senior policy analyst.
“It often only takes a fraction of an inch to trigger this kind of pollution. And the trend of extreme weather we’ve seen this year — including a hurricane — drives home the need for these smarter solutions to New York’s water woes,” she said.
In general, the “Rooftops to Rivers II” report gives the city high marks for developing and funding its Green Infrastructure Plan — released in September 2010 — which requires the reduction of impervious surfaces and offers incentives for private parties to contribute toward the goal of sustaining clean waterways.
Specifically, the report cites the city Department of Environmental Protection’s new Bluebelt locations in Queens and its distribution of rain barrels in the borough as contributing toward that goal.
“We agree with NRDC’s assessment that New York City is at the forefront of green investments, and future projects in Queens will be a major part of it,” said DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov. “Our groundbreaking green infrastructure plan will dramatically improve the city’s waterways, a key goal of PlaNYC — the mayor’s long-term vision for a greener, greater New York.”
The Bluebelt program — first implemented on Staten Island — combines conventional storm sewers and natural wetlands and streams to manage stormwater.
This past July, the city Department of Environmental Protection announced the completion of a $2.5 million improvement to Oakland Lake Park, the first project under the Bluebelt program in Queens.
The park includes a rain garden that allows water to infiltrate and be filtered by the ground, the storm sewers and new plantings. The park’s drainage system feeds into the DEP’s Alley Creek Combined Sewer Overflow facility, completed in May, which reduces the amount of polluted run-off discharged into Alley Creek and Little Neck Bay.
Sklerov said Queens’ main Bluebelt project, near Springfield Lake, will improve Jamaica Bay water quality and benefit the community’s open space.
Since 2008 the DEP has given away 2,000 rain barrels, the largest concentration of which in the borough can be found from Bellerose down through Laurelton.
The rain barrels connect directly to a building’s existing downspout to collect water for watering lawns and gardens, which often account for up to 40 percent of a household’s summer water consumption in areas with single-family homes.
“The city has strongly embraced green infrastructure to manage runoff in public spaces, recognizing that these techniques are the most effective way to reduce sewage overflows,” said Larry Levine, a senior attorney in the Water Program at NRDC.
“Stopping runoff with green infrastructure on private property is a crucial part in solving the city’s stormwater problems and improving the health of our communities,” he said. “The city should adopt the same approach when setting standards for private development.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.