The Newtown Pentacle

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To distraction, it drives me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the dodges often offered by the governmental crowd is the avoidance of specifics when they’re trying to sell you the latest flavor of kool aid they’ve been cooking up in City Hall. To wit, the Green Infrastructure/bioswale/rain garden story which the NYC DEP “sells and tells” is scientifically valid, but they refuse to prove it so by using numbers. In short – the various wastewater treatment plants which NYC owns and operates, there are 14 of them, have a set engineered capacity for how many gallons of wastewater that they can handle. Given that it rains more than it used to, and there’s also a lot more toilets flushing than there used to be, one option for handling the design capacity overage would be to finance and build a series of additional sewer plants. That particular choice would be expensive, both fiscally and politically. Another option is to increase the amount of open soil in the drainage area serviced by the existing 14 so that instead of going into a sewer, rainfall and other precipitation soaks into the ground and soil. Problem there is that the ground in NYC is largely coated in cement and concrete. What’s the answer then? Rain Gardens, right?

You open up some of the soil, as in thousands of acres citywide, and you’ve extended the design capacity and service life of your 14 sewer plants for another couple of decades. Those thousands of acres would be aggregate, of course, tap holes of small size, scattered around the various neighborhoods in strategic spots which would drink up “x” number of gallons of rain.

You add the open spots up, you’ve achieved the vast acreages. Simple, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the building guides used by architects who want to construct things in the megalopolis, a square acre of land in NYC can be expected to accumulate (if memory serves) 22.7 inches of rain per year. Don’t expect one such as myself to accurately calculate the number of gallons that represents, but the idea here is that there is actually a calculable number which can be arrived at. Rain Gardens, which in their current form are about a yard (or meter) long on the short side and about three meters (or yards) on the long side, are engineered structures which Government employees are designing and installing. Government employees – and in particular Civil Engineers – do not “guess” when they’re spending your tax money. There is a calculation somewhere which dictates that “x” number of bioswale/rain gardens equate to “y” number of gallons being diverted from the sewers. DEP has instead constantly told me that they are essentially crossing their fingers and hoping for the best with their “Green Infrastructure” initiative. Even in private meetings, they say this.

That’s when I opine that they are lying to my face, that engineers do not cross their fingers and hope for the best, and I ask them why they are treating this like a state secret. Funnily, I believe that the Green Infrastructure program is fantastic, and represents the sort of lateral thinking which I espouse. Gordian Knot, anyone?

A bit of quick Google fu indicates that a single inch of water covering a square acre would represent roughly 27,154 gallons, and multiplying that amount by 23 gives you roughly 624,548 gallons per square acre. I suck at math, so this is probably off, but “State secret,” right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other than wanting to run the shots that were captured during last Friday’s rain storm, the thing that set me off on this topic was actually where I was going on Friday night. The CB1 Astoria Community Board Environmental Committee – which I’m a member of – invited representatives of an outfit called “Solar One” to come and discuss the requirements and nuances of a new series of local laws that address climate change and carbon emissions here in NYC. When queried about how many theoretical acres of NYC rooftop which the new law required for conversion to solar, and what number of kilowatt hours that acreage would result in as far as harvesting power from passive collection, the answer was “it depends” and that “we haven’t calculated that.” Sound familiar?

Why treat it like a state secret? I’m certainly “for this,” and being evasive with answers is not how you create allies who will help sell this plan to their neighbors.


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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2020 at 1:00 pm

One Response

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  1. Going by their area alone, rain gardens barely remove any load from the sewer system.

    A very good rain garden infiltrates 1 inch of water per hour. So if a typical rainy day sees 0.5 inches of rain, the rain garden can drain 48 times its area… or 0.03 acres. Your math here puts that at 18500 gallons per year.

    So to eliminate the 20 billion gallons of combined sewage currently entering our waterways each year we’d need roughly one million rain gardens.

    marcel

    March 11, 2020 at 9:58 am


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