Amazon says its new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, will deliver 25,000 jobs. It can even deliver extra crowds, extra noise and, sure, extra bathroom flushing.
It may appear mundane, however what occurs within the lavatory issues: New York, for all its trendy conveniences, sits atop a century-old sewage system utilized by extra individuals than ever earlier than. Every time somebody flushes, washes their arms or takes a bathe, all that family wastewater (and worse) flows down into 7,500 miles of sewer pipes. Most of those pipes additionally do double obligation, accumulating rainwater runoff from rooftops in addition to streets.
When these sewer pipes get clogged by people — flushing child wipes anybody? — or just overloaded with rainwater, it turns into everybody’s drawback. The “combined sewer overflows” are discharged instantly into close by rivers, bays and creeks as a substitute of going to wastewater remedy vegetation. Raw sewage additionally backs up in houses, making a stomach-turning mess.
Long Island City residents say these backups and overflows already occur at any time when it rains onerous — and 25,000 extra Amazon employees will solely make the issue worse. But metropolis officers say they’re able to tackle no matter comes down the pipes. Here is why.
2.5 million gallons of wastewater
A New Yorker sometimes makes use of 100 gallons of water per day, from showering and brushing enamel to washing dishes and garments, in keeping with the town. All that water goes into the sewer pipes.
By that math, 25,000 Amazon employees will produce 2.5 million gallons of wastewater per day. While that appears like rather a lot, it’s really not by metropolis requirements.
For context, about 1.three billion gallons of wastewater move every day by means of all the sewage system on rainless days. Even when it rains, the system can deal with as much as three.eight billion gallons of wastewater per day.
Bigger Pipes for Sewage
Amazon’s wastewater will circulate into pipes which can be larger than these present in most residential neighborhoods. Long Island City is a former industrial space, so its pipes as soon as dealt with the output from factories and companies.
These sewer pipes are additionally in comparatively fine condition, mentioned Vincent Sapienza, commissioner of the town’s Department of Environmental Protection. The oldest pipes date to the 1900s, whereas others had been added within the 1920s when development was deliberate for the doorway to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The relaxation got here a long time later.
Citywide, the typical age of a sewer line is about 80 years previous.
“I would say Long Island City is middle-aged,” Mr. Sapienza mentioned.
Room on the Treatment Plant
Nearly all of Long Island City’s wastewater is whisked away to the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant in Astoria, Queens, one of many metropolis’s 14 sewage remedy vegetation.
Currently, the Bowery Bay plant processes about 100 million gallons of wastewater every day. It can deal with way more — as much as 150 million gallons a day — leaving loads of room for Amazon’s wastewater, metropolis officers mentioned.
“Even if there’s an influx of 25,000 people, that’s only 2.5 million gallons more a day,” Mr. Sapienza mentioned.
“It’s not much. In the scheme of things, it’s not a big difference.”
But What Happens When It Rains?
Heavy rains, nonetheless, can upend the town’s sewage calculations. In Long Island City, as in lots of different neighborhoods, sewer traces can refill with a lot rainwater runoff that there are mixed sewer overflows.
Citywide, about 20 billion gallons of mixed sewer overflows are discharged yearly into native waterways. Still, that’s an enchancment from almost 110 billion gallons yearly in 1985. The overflows can set off seashore closings and restrictions on leisure water use.
“That’s the No. 1 water pollution problem in New York City,” mentioned Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “It happens every time it rains — whether Amazon gets built or not.”
But Amazon — or any massive growth — might exacerbate that present moist climate air pollution drawback, Mr. Goldstein added.
What’s the City Doing?
A 2012 metropolis rule requires new developments to take measures to retain important quantities of rainwater on web site, reminiscent of utilizing inexperienced roofs and porous pavements. As a consequence, metropolis officers mentioned, Amazon’s new headquarters could be an enchancment over older buildings — and will really find yourself lowering rainwater runoff within the sewage system.
City officers pointed to significant progress in reducing rainwater runoff — and the resulting overflows — across the city in recent decades. In fact, they like to say that New York waters have not been this clean since the Civil War.
Mr. Sapienza said his agency will be monitoring Amazon’s development to see if additional work is needed.
Even before the Amazon deal, the city’s Economic Development Corporation announced $95 million for water and sewer improvements in the neighborhood. Officials also pointed to years of city efforts to lay the groundwork for development in the neighborhood, including opening a new section of Hunters Point South Park along the East River in June that serves as a buffer against storm surges.
An Amazon official said the company has not yet begun to design its buildings and will address infrastructure needs during the environmental review process. In Seattle, where Amazon is based, its buildings have green roofs and low-flow fixtures in the restrooms, and capture rainwater to use to water the landscape.
Don’t Flush When It Rains
Still, critics worry these efforts will not be enough, especially given all the other development in Long Island City. They also pointed out that climate change could bring more frequent and more severe storms — and more rainwater runoff.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat who represents Long Island City, said sewer lines were built for fewer people, and have not kept up with the recent building boom. In many buildings, residents are asked not to flush during heavy rains, he said.
“This would turn a situation that is untenable into a crisis if Amazon is able to build all of this and bring in all of these people,” he said.
Mike Dulong, a senior attorney for Riverkeeper, an environmental group, said Amazon’s headquarters could undermine years of efforts to clean up local waters.
“That’s a lot of people,” Mr. Dulong said. “That’s a lot of toilets and showers and sinks and wastewater going into treatment plants that are already overwhelmed every time there’s a significant amount of rain.”
What Do Long Island City Residents Think?
Tom Paino, an architect and longtime resident, said that sewage problems have become a constant headache and “$95 million is not enough to even begin to cover what needs to be done.”
No matter how big the sewer pipes are, he said, “They are not big enough.”
As it is, sewage backs up in homes and businesses. Combined sewer overflows wash up along the waterfront and in parks where children play, residents said, and with rising sea levels could creep farther inland in coming years.
“It’s a health hazard,” said Ernie Brooks,” a musician who lives near the Amazon site, who also complained of an odor from the overflows. “If you walk around Long Island City after a heavy rain, there’s a lot of standing water — often at least a foot near where I live.”
Sheila Lewandowski, the executive director of a nonprofit theater, lives a block away from the East River. Whenever a deluge is possible, she scrambles around her basement getting everything off the floor — even propping chairs and tables on top of paint cans — in case the river rises high enough to flood her home.
“I don’t want to be cleaning the sewage off my furniture,” she said.
“If we don’t deal with the problems that currently exist in the sewage system, every new building exacerbates each of those problems.”
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