New York City is the place that everyone wants to visit at least once in their lives. The most prominent borough being the island of Manhattan, seeing as how its various waterways, have been used to its advantage in creating its transportation, and a commercial and social hub, all connected by the water. But now, its waterways are becoming a disadvantage as the effects of climate change are becoming more and more severe, New York City’s seaside location is on route to doing more harm than good. Catastrophic flooding in New York City like the destruction from Hurricane Sandy is going to become far more common in the coming decades, according to researchers in an article by USA TODAY. Studies by the Department of Environmental Conservation have shown that the sea levels along New York’s coast have already risen more than a foot since 1900 and New York’s rate of water level rise, which is about 1.2 in per decade, is almost twice the observed global rate, 0.7 inches per decade, over the same period. By 2050, the sea level is expected to be as much as 30 inches higher in New York’s coastal area, as compared with sea level averaged for the years 2000-2004. By 2100, New York’s coast could see up to 6 feet of sea-level rise. New York is very vulnerable to the impacts of sea-level rise, including storm surges and coastal flooding. The scary thing is that more than half of New Yorkers live in a coastal area. A lot of New York’s seaside private properties are only a couple of inches above the current sea level, which puts publicly and privately insured properties at great risk which can cost people billions of dollars. Even with the threat to various properties there is also another concern and that would be water quality. Along the coast, groundwater elevations are expected to rise at about the same rate as sea level. Sewers, drainage systems, and other important infrastructures have been designed with the normal annual water level changes in mind. The increases in the groundwater level will interfere with these systems, causing malfunctions and damages, and sustaining major expenses for the city and the state. One of the biggest impacts in a rising groundwater level is an increase in the number of cesspools and septic systems in seaside communities that are either sporadically or continuously submerged. This has serious implications for water quality both for the groundwater and in our coastal bays and inlets.
Most of the flooding occurs during the winter when the highest tides in New York occur, wintertime storms push more water to the coast, raising the high tide even higher. These tides are typically over a foot and a half higher than normal high tides. Add that to the 9 inches of sea level rise since 1950 and you end up with flooding even on sunny days. When Hurricane Sandy landed in the Northeast, parts of New York City were under as much as 9 feet of water causing dozens of casualties. The total damage cost of the storm was $70.2 billion. Anywhere from 5 inches to 11 inches of sea-level rise is likely in New York City between 2000 and 2030, studies have found. Researchers based their analysis on multiple models that considered the predictions for sea-level rise and possible changes in the paths of future hurricanes. Sea level has risen nearly 8 inches worldwide since 1880. With research showing that rising sea levels from man-made climate change could make the dangerous 8-foot floods that used to occur once every 500 years to happen once every 5 years by 2030 to 2045. With all this information, New York is preparing for a worst-case scenario. The New York Times reported that the risk of future flooding is changing the way that buildings are designed in the city. For example, top-floor penthouses are no longer a top priority, instead, now it’s emergency generators that won’t get flooded and can provide enough power for residents to remain in their apartment for as long as a week. Other projects include special drainage systems to channel water away within foundations, and ground floors are being built with materials that can endure floods. But that is just Manhattan, other boroughs, like Queens, are getting their street levels raised so sidewalks and roads stand taller than the nearby waters of Jamaica Bay. The town of East Hampton passed a harbor overlay district under its local waterfront revitalization plans which established additional standards to reduce adverse water quality impacts. Another plan to prepare for the worst came about when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, offered buy-outs to homeowners in some of the most vulnerable coastal areas in New York following the announcement of a Sandy recovery program. Properties that were acquired through this program, were to be returned before any man-made changes occurred in that area, thereby restoring coastal floodplains and reducing the number of people and infrastructure located in highly vulnerable areas. To make sure that the rising sea level is factored into the very first stages of planning to use land, some state and local governments have resulted in using executive orders to address the issue. In December of 2006, New York City implemented PlaNYC, a plan that includes a blueprint for citywide adaptation to climate change. This strategy focuses on controlling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and includes ways to strengthen areas vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. However, even with all these changes, it is still scary to think that 20 to 30 years from now our children or even our grandchildren might see parts of the city that we grew up in, and perhaps made eventful memories in, underwater if we don’t do anything about it now.