WAIT To Flush Your Toilet During a Storm

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March has certainly come in like a lion. Torrential rains related to the nor’easter and high tides caused flooding in many vulnerable areas on the peninsula and Broad Channel last week. However, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says there are simple ways to do your part to mitigate flooding and sewage overflow. How? By simply, waiting…

The DEP asserts that you can be a hero by waiting to use water in your home when there’s a heavy storm. For example, thinking about doing laundry? Wait, until the storm ends. Want to take a long, luxurious shower or bath to warm up your bones — wait. What about flushing the toilet after a quick number one — wait.

Why? The DEP encourages New Yorkers to ‘wait’ because household sewage flows into the same underground sewer pipes that also collect rainwater runoff from rooftops and streets. According to the DEP website, “When there’s heavy rain, NYC’s sewers can fill to capacity and a mix of stormwater and wastewater can end up in our waterbodies. Think of it like rush hour on the freeway. There’s only so much road and when everyone’s trying to use it at the same time, it can get jammed.

“You can be a hero and help keep our waterways clean for our community and wildlife. All you need to do is wait to use water until after the heavy storm. When there’s heavy rain, rest the drain.”

Also, the DEP recommends to collect rainwater in barrels, which residents can use to water their gardens and plants, instead of using running pipe water.

In 2016, DEP launched the pilot “Wait...” program in Newtown Creek (Brooklyn), where the agency recorded a five percent decrease in the demand for water from residents who participated. This past Monday, March 5, the DEP announced that the “Wait…” program is expanding through western Queens. Participating homeowners and tenants will be sent text messages alerting them that they should minimize their water use in order to prevent sewer overflows from spilling into already polluted waterways. The pilot program area of Queens covers all neighborhoods north of the Jackie Robinson Parkway and west of the Van Wyck Expressway, as well as portions of Kew Gardens Hills and Briarwood.

When will it be coming to Rockaway? A DEP spokesperson said, “The expansion of the ‘Wait…’ Pilot Program extends only to those northern portions of Queens that drain to Newtown Creek, Bowery Bay and Flushing Creek and Bay. The Rockaway peninsula is not part of this expansion, although if the expansion is successful, we will look to expand it to even more neighborhoods.”

So while we are waiting, The Rockaway Times asked Don Riepe, the American Littoral Society's Jamaica Bay program director and official Jamaica Bay Guardian, if DEP’s “Wait…” advice is worth the wait before the program is officially introduced to the peninsula and Broad Channel.

Riepe said, “This is something certainly to consider. We all have to be responsible. In our area, we have a serious problem because we are in a low-lying coastal area with frequent coastal flooding, and it’s only going to get worse. We have to start taking both simple and severe measures to deal with the reality of flooding. DEP’s ‘Wait…’ plan is not a cure, but it’s a step towards changing people’s behavior. For example, you can’t take 20-minute showers, twice a day, especially during rainfall. If you do that, you are going to impact the bay and the local water treatment plant on Beach Channel Drive serving the entire peninsula and BC. It can only hold so much water. Also, locals need to clear the catch basins in front of their homes and backyard. The DEP has actively worked on water conservation for years with very intensive and costly capital projects. We’re supportive of the DEP’s ‘Wait…’ program because it will have some positive affect, only if people subscribe to it. However, it’s just one amongst many things we as a community will have to do to solve the problem of flooding, especially as we expect more and more people coming into our area, which inadvertently will impact our sewage system and water treatment plant.”

According to Riepe, thankfully Rockaway’s water treatment plant is one of the newer ones in the City, and can handle more water capacity than the older ones, which only have one pipe, instead of two, to funnel both sewage and water coming off the roadways. However, Riepe said, “We built these communities many years ago, and sea levels are rising. The tides are coming in higher and flooding the catch basins in the streets.”

Riepe encourages everyone to attend the next Jamaica Bay Task Force Meeting on April 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Broad Channel. “Folks needs to come out, learn from experts and ask questions about the future of the community and wildlife affected by coastal flooding and rising sea levels.”

For more information about DEP’s wait program, visit: www.nyc.gov/html/dep

Photos by Torey Schnupp and Kim Mannino.

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