It's not quite a solution—more like a suggestion. But at least the dumpster rain gardens coming to Brooklyn later this year are a step in the right direction.
Dumpster rain gardens, you ask? That's right: Alloy, a New York City development company, plans to site six 2,000-gallon refuse dumpsters curbside near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, using the dumpsters as giant planters that can detain excess rainfall before it falls into the local storm sewers. The reason for stopping the water before it goes into the drains is that New York, like many East Coast cities, has a sewer system that handles rain runoff and sewage using the same set of underground pipes. That means that even a half inch of rainfall can overwhelm sewage treatment facilities, forcing operators to dump untreated sewage into area waterways—such as the Gowanus Canal.
The Brooklyn Paper has a report (see: "Developer plans to install tree-filled dumpsters in Gowanus parking spaces," by Lauren Gill). "Currently, storm runoff flows into a sewage tank underneath the canal, but it often gets overwhelmed and the waste seeps into the fetid waterway," the paper reported. "The city is installing more tanks as part of the federal canal cleanup, but those won’t be ready for years, and one of Alloy’s honchos says the dumpsters — which can each absorb 2,000 gallons of water at a time — will put a small dent in the stinky problem. The trash-can gardens will also direct passersby to a website about Gowanus’s infamous struggles with storms." Alloy will foot the bill for the dumpsters, the paper reports, and at the end of the summer, the dumpsters will be moved and their vegetation will be re-planted in other locations.
“Water management is a critical issue for Gowanus,” said AJ Pires, Alloy’s executive vice president. “We hope the project can help draw attention to the issue while we wait for the larger remedies the government is planning.”
New York's combined sewer overflow problem is huge, but that hasn't stopped grassroots organizations from working on small-scale initiatives like Alloy's "2000-gallon project" (website coming soon, Alloy promises). For more on the local effort to clean up the Gowanus Canal, see the Gowanus Canal Conservancy website.