Holding back the floods - The New York Times

How do you keep water out when it seems unstoppable? It’s the question that keeps Carrie Moore glued to her phone every time it rains, ...


How do you keep water out when it seems unstoppable? It’s the question that keeps Carrie Moore glued to her phone every time it rains, scanning weather radar apps to try to determine if the basement of her Sunset Park townhouse will be flooded.

That’s why sandbags now line her back door and why she and her husband, Ryan Moore, 42, stayed awake until 4 a.m. the night Hurricane Ida dumped a historic amount of rain over New York. They spent the next night and early in the morning flushing out the sewage and storm water that had overflowed from the basement toilet and shower, rushed through the sump pump, and seeped through the foundation. .

Despite their efforts, their finished basement filled with a foot of water.

“With the intensity of the rains that we are receiving, the situation is gradually getting worse, so the flooding seems to be happening regularly,” said Ms. Moore, 42, architect and president of the 37th Street Block Association, which includes homes between the Fourth and Fifth Avenue. “I know I can’t win when it comes to water entering our house. Water will win.

Ms Moore blames a sewer line on her block for backups that damaged her home and many others. Until Ida, the Moors, owners of their home for five years, had been able to limit sewage overflows to the basement bathroom, even as storms grew stronger and more frequent. But now, as they rip drywall and rip off their ceramic tile floors in the main basement living room, they are grappling with a question shared by many people across the region: What can they do? , if so, to prevent this from happening again?

Despite the damage caused, their block did not experience the worst floods in town. The storm killed dozens of people in the northeast, including more than a dozen New Yorkers, most trapped in basement apartments. Yet several basements in Ms Moore’s block were flooded with two to three feet of sewage, costing those homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in cleaning and repair costs.

As their basements dry up, homeowners like those on this block on 37th Street in Brooklyn face a new reality. They live in houses built when sea levels were lower, in communities with aging infrastructure and stormwater drainage systems ill-equipped to absorb the volume of water that accompanies a rapidly changing climate. As the area braces for wetter and stronger storms, homeowners are paying to consolidate basements which are at the mercy of municipal sewage systems that were not built for this type of assault.

Fixes aren’t cheap or straightforward. Waterproofing a home with French drains and a sump pump can cost, on average, $ 10,000 to $ 20,000, with no guarantee that the upgrades will work in extreme conditions. More aggressive solutions mean spending more money. Do you have a second sump pump? Do you dig and seal the outside of the foundation? Do you raise your hands and move?

Sealing companies have been inundated with calls from frantic homeowners. Some say they are booked two to four months later and calls have not abated in the weeks after the storm.

” This is unheard of. It’s worse than Hurricane Sandy, the volume of calls we receive, ”said Vincent Boccia, third generation owner of Petanque, a waterproofing and masonry company serving New York City and Long Island. In the past, a homeowner “might have said, ‘OK, I can handle this by sponging it up here and there.’ Now you don’t clean it anymore – you need pumps, and it’s not once every three years, it’s twice a year, three times a year.

Home waterproofing solutions work by adding drainage and pumps that keep water from flowing out of a home. But a homeowner cannot control how water moves on the street or whether it drains properly underground.

“Stormwater management in an urban environment like New York City is complicated,” said Edward Timbers, spokesperson for the city’s environmental protection department, in an email.

According to Mr. Timbers, the number of sewer backups in the city has fallen 66% over the past decade “thanks to a scheduled cleanup and aggressive responses to 311 reports.”

Among the calls to 311 were those from residents of 37th Street in August, prompting the city to clean up the sewers near the bottom of the block, and ultimately fix a rupture – work that ended on September 3, two days ago. after Ida flooded the city. Mr Timbers suggested homeowners install check valves on sewer lines, which can prevent water from backing up into a home.

Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the city has invested $ 20 billion in a climate resilience plan which includes stormwater management. However, the work carried out so far has not been able to absorb the volume of rain that fell on the city on September 1 in record time.

That night, Lois Aronow, who lives in the same block on 37th Street as Ms Moore, saw a waterfall spilling onto a concrete wall surrounding a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus depot on the Fifth Avenue. In the videos she recorded, water can be seen spitting up the wall and out of the drainage holes. The basement of her three-bedroom townhouse was inundated with two feet of water, destroying a third of her living space. “I know it will happen again,” said Ms Aronow, 62, a potter, who rented the house for five years.

Ms. Aronow’s owner hired contractors to repair the damage and restore the property. But she worries about the long term. “It’s traumatic. How do you treat it? ” she said. “You can move to a skyscraper, I guess, but moving isn’t without problems either.”

Ms Moore is reluctant to renovate or waterproof her basement until she is satisfied the sewer problem has been adequately addressed. The check valve that the previous owner had installed broke during Hurricane Henri in late August. Replacing it could cost $ 5,000, she estimates. And restoring his basement to its previous state could cost $ 30,000. His home insurance policy only provides coverage of $ 5,000 for damage caused by sewer backups.

Ms Moore is concerned that town sewer repairs at the bottom of the block won’t solve the problems for her, since her house is at the top of the block. But according to Mr. Timbers, repairs should fix issues along the street, and city engineers inspected the sewer after Hurricane Ida and found it to be functioning properly.

But Ms. Moore is not reassured. “You think of your home as that safe place where it is yours and you are invested in it,” she said. “Now that this has happened, knowing how bad it can get in our house, I think of our house completely differently. I just feel like we risk damaging our own property. All of our stuff. I can never be well when it starts to rain.

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