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Too much water is a problem in several parts of Queens

By Bob Harris

A recent meeting in Fresh Meadows at the Utopia Jewish Center again highlighted the problem of flooding along Utopia Parkway south of the Long Island Expressway. For decades there has been flooding when intense heavy storms hit the area. The city Department of Environmental Protection presented things that could be done to prevent flooding.

For decades the water has bubbled up from the sewers and flowed down into the basements of houses built with below-ground-level garages. In the past, the city has installed huge cement basins at corners to better gather rain during heavy storms. There was the suggestion that backflow valves be put on toilets so stormwater would not flow back into the houses through the toilets.

Now the DEP installed new manhole covers plus duckbills in four of the huge corner basins to keep the water in the sewers. Of course, a high-intensity storm will probably drop so much rain that it will overwhelm the system. How wide can they build the sewer pipes?

Over the decades, more houses have been built and more open land and grassy areas have been covered with cement. People pave over part or sometimes illegally all of their lawns so the ground cannot absorb heavy rains. Actually, people can build a dry well and use bricks over their driveway. However, some people may not build the drywell. Cemented yards even blocks away just let the water flow into the sewers until they overflow.

The DEP gave out pamphlets explaining that grease put down sinks can coagulate and reduce the flow of water in sewer pipes. I keep a plastic container for liquid grease in my freezer and put the can in the garbage when it is full. I also wipe out frying pans that have a grease residue so it doesn’t go down my pipes.

For years the residents of Utopia have repeated a theory that there is a special valve in the sewers at LaGuardia Airport that closes when there is too much rain and redirects the water into Fresh Meadows. The DEP says this is not true. The neighbors keep complaining.

In southeast Queens the city did not install sewers until quite recently. Now with sewers the flooding seems to have lessened, but there still are complaints after storms. The problem in the southern part of Queens is the rising sea level and intense storms which cause flooding from the Atlantic Ocean high tides. Sewers are either nonexistent or can’t handle the storm rain water.

As of now, no big projects have been planned to prevent the rising sea level from overwhelming the land. The only thing done has been FEMA printing Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps for the city. The new maps put 71,500 buildings in flood zones, but the city says only 45,000 buildings should be in flood zones and subject to higher insurance rates. The city is making people build their houses higher and raising road levels. Due to the rising tides, houses can no longer have an occupied ground floor. Naturally, some people are unhappy. It is interesting that along some stretches of the Mississippi River the government does not permit people to build houses any more due to the periodic flooding from the river.

My wife and I have discussed the situation that in Southeast Asia the wealthy live high on bluffs above the ocean and the poor live on the coast and get hit with tsunamis and storms, but here our wealthier people like to live along the ocean. With the rising sea level our people along the coast are now feeling the power of the ocean.

Good and bad news of the week: Modern science has provided us with useful products and ways to make food tastier and last longer, but now scientists say that some of these new chemicals are toxic to us. Something to think about.

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