New York is surrounded by water on all sides, from the open sea to bays and rivers. However, beneath the city’s streets and high-rise structures is a vast reservoir of water — hundreds of subterranean streams, rivers, and springs that were buried long ago and largely forgotten as the city grew.
One of these is Tibbetts Brook. Around 1912, it was rerouted into a drain in the Bronx and sent down to the sewer pipes below to make space for the construction of the marshes where it used to run.
Environmentalists and local activists have been campaigning for decades to bring the long-buried stream back to life. Now, a shifting climate necessitates what they worked so hard to achieve.
Because burying the brook in the sewer system has aggravated the city’s flooding woes as a warming globe suffers more frequent and violent storms, the city plans to unearth the brook — an engineering achievement known as “daylighting” — at a cost of more than $130 million.
The brook pumps around 2.2 billion gallons of freshwater each year into the same underground pipes that carry domestic sewage and stormwater runoff to wastewater treatment plants, despite the fact that it is hidden from view. It consumes valuable capacity in the ageing sewer system and leads to combined sewer overflows that pollute adjacent rivers.
The brook had to go somewhere as the remnants of Hurricane Ida clogged the pipes in September. And it did, causing some of the city’s worst flooding and flooding a roadway, the Major Deegan Expressway, trapping dozens of automobiles, buses, and trucks.
Restored streams act as a form of “natural infrastructure” in cities, according to Ms. Hoffner, lowering sewer overflows, saving energy and money at wastewater plants that treat pristine water unnecessarily, generating more green space, and boosting local quality of life.
Many of New York’s tidal creeks and freshwater streams became open sewers for sewage, trash, and industrial chemicals as the city grew, especially in the 1800s, according to Eric W. Sanderson, a senior conservation biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society who has studied these secret waterways. Many of them were cleaned up by being buried.
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