New Catch Basin Law Will Bring Much-Needed Relief To Neighbors Dealing With Flooding, Pols Say

New Catch Basin Law Will Bring Much-Needed Relief To Neighbors Dealing With Flooding, Pols Say
Today, Council Member Williams (center-right) joined Mayor de Blasio (center), the Council's Chair of Environmental Protections Donovan Richards (center-left) and others as the Mayor signed Williams' catch basin bill into law. Photo courtesy Councilman Jumaane Williams' office
Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, signed Councilman Jumaane Williams’, right of de Blasio, catch basin bill into law yesterday. Photo courtesy Councilman Jumaane Williams’ office

For neighbors who have long dealt with flooding in our area, a new law could bring some relief to our waterlogged streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday signed into law Councilman Jumaane Williams’ bill that will increase inspections and require expedited repairs for clogged or damaged catch basins throughout the city — a move that Williams said should translate to dryer roads and considerably less property damage in the five boroughs.

Specifically, the law mandates that the city Department of Environmental Protection inspect catch basins — a type of storm drain that’s meant to keep large objects out of the sewers but which can often become clogged with refuse and debris, leading to flooding — on a yearly basis. Currently, the 148,000 catch basins maintained by the DEP are inspected about once every three years — and those basins are frequently plagued by problems, with the Mayor’s Management Report stating the city received 53,350 catch basin complaints from 2010 through 2014.

Additionally, the DEP will be required to unclog or repair clogged catch basins within nine days after inspection, and the agency will have to report twice a year to the mayor and Council speaker about inspections, maintenance and repairs.

“For parts of this city — including several residential roads in my district — the rain causes larger headaches than it should because of frequently clogged catch basins,” Williams said of his bill that had widespread support, passing the Council unanimously on May 14. “It’s an issue that not only inconveniences neighborhoods, but can cause significant water damage to property. Though the Department of Environmental Protection checks these drains every three years, we know that’s not enough to adequately ensure that problematic drains are cleared.”

Flooding on Lake Avenue (Photo by Missy Haggerty)
Flooding on Lake Avenue (Photo by Missy Haggerty)

As Williams stated, the flooding stemming from catch basin issues can cause considerable property damage — and lead to significant payments by the city to homeowners as a result. Queens Councilman Donovan Richards, chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, pointed out during the public hearing on this bill (a transcript of which you can find here) that city Comptroller Scott Stringer reported 1,000 complaints for sewer overflow-related damage were filed against the DEP between 2012 and 2013, resulting in an average payout of $4,000 per complaint.

Brooklyn and Staten Island are particularly prone to sewer problems, with 42.2 percent of these 1,000 complaints coming from Staten Island residents, 41.9 percent from Brooklyn, and 15.1 percent from Queens. Meanwhile, just 0.6 percent of the complaints were for the Bronx and less than 1 percent were in Manhattan.

While the law has received praise from legislators throughout the city — there were 33 co-sponsors of the bill, including Brooklyn Councilmembers Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch, among others — not everyone was pleased.

James Roberts, the DEP’s Deputy Commissioner at the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations, submitted testimony criticizing the legislation.

“Our work includes hydrant maintenance and repair, and water and sewer repair work that includes leaks and blockages — all of which are critical to the life of the city,” Roberts testified. “In this context, we prioritize our activities in an effort to maintain acceptable levels of service while remaining ever conscious of the water rate paying customer. Redirecting resources necessarily shifts them from other priorities. We are, regrettably, concerned that the legislation in its current form will have this negative impact and further, in doing so, we do not believe it will have a tangible benefit on what we believe is its real goal, namely reducing flooding.”

The DEP also testified that catch basin complaints dropped 24 percent in 2014, compared to numbers in 2010, and the catch basin repair backlog has decreased by 45 percent since 2010.

Despite the DEP’s analysis, nearly everyone else, from legislators to civic leaders, who testified said they believe the new law will make a dramatic improvement in curbing flooding throughout the city.

“We all know how important it is, particularly with extreme weather cases like Sandy,” Williams said, referring to better maintaining catch basins and mitigating flooding. “But just in many areas like mine… and many of ours, a heavy rain provides a lot of distress for many of the homeowners in our districts. And I think it’s up to us to try to make sure that they know we are hearing their complaints, and dealing with them.”

This law will take effect on July 1, 2016 and sunset on June 30, 2019.


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