Newark Mayor Addresses Flooding In City, Sewer System Complaints

By Thursday morning, Ida had dropped a total of 8.41 inches of rain on Newark, its wettest day on record. Flooding from the storm prompted rescue efforts for hundreds of people, causing many to abandon their vehicles while others witnessed floodwaters stretch sidewalk-to-sidewalk in some areas.

As residents and business owners awoke to the aftermath of the storm on Thursday morning, many streets remained flooded in waist-deep waters. In the Ironbound neighborhood, vehicles were flooded up to their wheel wells, scattered along Malvern and Adams streets. 

While business owners and residents waited for waters to recede, many voiced their grievances with the city's infrastructure. 

“The sewers are clogged up,” said Manuel Lopes, owner of Lopes & Sons Hardware Inc. on Ferry Street. “There are more people who live here now than 50 years ago, but they’re still using the same pipes... But if the pipes were working, it would be a lot better." 

“Look at this,” said another resident pointing to debris piled atop a stormwater drain. “That’s the reason right there.” 

Newark has both separated and combined sewer systems. A separated sewer system consists of two different pipes running on top of the other, or “piggyback.” Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. 

When Newark's sewers reach full capacity with stormwaters, the excess gets pushed out to the Passaic River. In the event of severe weather, the water gets pushed back. 

In neighborhoods like the Ironbound that already sit below the water table, the effects of flooding can be even worse as stormwaters flow down into the East Ward. 

Although the city's water and sewer utilities include more than 1,000 miles in pipe dating back as far as 100-years-old, the mayor said that alongside what can only be described as a historic amount of rainfall, the city’s amount of impervious surface plays a role in flooding as well. 

“Obviously, there’s water in the Passaic already, so when the tide rises, it adds to the issues of our system," said Baraka. "There’s nowhere for the water to go because we have impervious surfaces.” 

The solution, the mayor said, will be investment in more infrastructure to handle stormwater runoff. This could include the installation of more absorbent surfaces like parks with trees and rain gardens on top of buildings, he said. 

In order to address the city’s existing infrastructure, millions of dollars worth of assessments have already been completed in recent years, officials said. So far, approximately $40 million has been spent in infrastructure assessments, according to Baraka. 

City officials said that about 280 miles of infrastructure needs to be assessed. To date, the city has completed 160 miles of infrastructure assessments. 

“We found out that about 15 miles of that 160 miles we did needed to be repaired. We repaired 12 of those 15 miles already, which means the city has done incredible amounts of work already in less than five years,” said Baraka. 

However, even if the repairs come, the mayor said Newark’s flooding won’t just go away.

“It does not mean that we will not get floods. That is not why you’re getting floods,” he said. “Will it help? Absolutely.”

Another big obstacle standing in Newark's path like so many others across the globe is climate change. With frequent, severe storms directly linked to drastic changes in climate perpetuated by global warming, cities and towns will have to adapt unless the issue is left unchecked.  

When Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan joined U.S. Sen. Cory Booker for a visit to the Ironbound in August to see how neighborhoods were impacted by severe weather and pollution, he said Newark will have to accommodate for changes in climate. 

“We got an up-close viewpoint of just how many issues are facing these communities, and when we looked at the fact that there’s a significant amount of flooding that occurred with just the most basic rain, we have to think about climate adaptation and what does that mean,” Regan told TAPinto Newark. 

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-09-04 03:17:33 -0700