Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thinking About Storm Water

In today's Register-Star, John Mason reports on the City of Hudson's continuing efforts to deal with combined sewer overflow (CSO): "City working to eliminate sewer overflow into the Hudson River." The headline makes it sound as if Hudson regularly spills untreated sewage into the river, which isn't the case, but when there is a very heavy rainstorm, the storm water can overwhelm the sewer system, causing water from the storm drains and the sanitary sewer to overflow and end up in the river. The stimulus for the article seems to have been DPW superintendent Rob Perry's mention, at a Public Works Committee meeting back on January 21, that he was applying for a grant to upgrade the Power Avenue pump station, an upgrade that, according to Perry, would eliminate the CSO problem on the south side of the city.

Last summer, Perry reported to the Public Works Committeeand also, as required by law, to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservationthat, for a few minutes during a particularly heavy rainstorm, there had been a CSO event at the water treatment plant. Fortunately, it happened in the middle of the nightat about 3 the likelihood that anything more than storm water spilled untreated into the river was minimal. Still, climate change and predictions of greater and more frequent rain events going forward make dealing with storm water and the CSO problem a priority.

Storm water was a topic this morning not only in the Register-Star but also on the PRI environmental magazine program Living on Earth, heard on WAMC. One of the reports was about how some cities in Pennsylvania and Maryland are financing their efforts to deal with storm water by levying a "storm water fee" on property owners, the amount of the fee being determined by how much of a property is taken up by impervious surface--buildings, driveways, stone patios, parking lots, etc. The rationale is that when rainwater cannot be absorbed into the ground dealing with it becomes a municipal problem.

The issue of rainwater and impervious surface calls to mind something else that is happening in Hudson: the Common Council Legal Committee's resolve to amend the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations for Residential Districts. The motivation for amending the schedule is to reduce what are interpreted by city attorney Cheryl Roberts and Legal Committee chair John Friedman as requirements for the interior size of individual dwelling units in multiple dwellings--specifically to reduce the required size of an apartment in the R-4 district from 1,500 square feet to 500 square feet. In the discussion about this issue at the last Legal Committee meeting, Friedman noted there were many things that should be amended in the schedule, citing as an example the requirement that buildings may cover only 30 percent of a lot. This, he opined, should be the other way around: buildings should be permitted to cover 70 percent of a lot. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Friedman acknowledged that increasing the population density of Hudson would impact the city's sewer system and indicated that he had checked with DPW superintendent Perry, who assured him that the city's water treatment plant could handle an increase in population. What does not seem to be a consideration of the Legal Committee, at least not yet, is the impact of greater building density on the sewer system. If 70 percent of every lot in Hudson were impervious surface, how would the city deal with the increased storm water that could no longer be absorbed into the ground?


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  2. In the Register Star coverage and here at Gossips, two storm water issues are being conflated into one.

    When I was interviewed for the RS piece, I wasn't informed that the city's intention is to entirely eliminate the Power Avenue CSO outfall. Instead, I was told that the grant was for "upgrading the pump," full stop.

    If I'd been properly informed, then I'd have been emphatic in pointing out that any decision to eliminate what's called a "SPDES" outfall into the river is being made without the benefit of empirical data.

    Is eliminating these outfalls healthier for the river in the long-term? Could be ... but maybe not. And that's the point: without tests you cannot know.

    What do you suppose Rob Perry cares about, the freshwater ecosystem or a grant for $182,250?

    In the meantime, I've publicly endorsed something under false pretenses. Well, I take it back.

  3. Fourteen million to "upgrade" the North Dock plant, when a second plant on the south side of Warren St. would split demand in two.
    Is it about money for nothing or clean water?
    Then again, Mr. Perry has a rich uncle Sam.

    1. Uncle Sam and Aunt Albany ....

      So which is better for the environment, buying a $175 water test kit or getting a $182,250 for nothing?

      Obvious to anyone who's not an entirely ignorant cretin and sworn enemy of nature the larger figure is plainly better. It must be because there's um ... just more of it.

      In fact, damn the science! Just cleanse all our problems with those healing funds!