The recent deluge of rain and subsequent flooding in southeast Queens have prompted state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) to step up his calls on the city to expedite its plans to restart the water pumps that he said would alleviate the problem.
Scarborough toured the streets of St. Albans during the weekend of Sept. 3 and said many homeowners were struggling to deal with the water creeping into their basements and damaging their property. The assemblyman said the only solution is for the city Department of Environmental Protection to accelerate its plans to pump out the groundwater under the homes and lower the water table.
“Right now, our residents and businesses are suffering damage to their property and threats to their health due to daily exposure to flooding conditions, rain or shine. Any sizable rain can produce astronomical flooding in our area due to the already high-standing water level,” Scarborough said in a statement.
The Jamaica Water Supply Co. used to pump the groundwater from 68 ground wells to supply the neighborhood with drinking water, but those pumps were shut down in 1996 after it was discovered that the water was contaminated. As a result of the shutdown, the water table remained high, so when it rains in southeast Queens streets easily flood, Scarborough explained.
“When [Jamaica Water Supply] supplied water to southeast Queens, they pumped millions of gallons of water out of the ground daily, which kept the standing water at a level far beneath the surface,” he said.
In 2002, DEP began a pilot project at one of the wells — Station 6 at 167th Street and 108th Avenue — to get new pumps and water treatment filters to the area, but that program ended the next year. During a meeting with residents in May, DEP officials said the Station 6 project needed more time and planning. The agency is working on other ways to get the pumps back and running, however.
Two weeks ago, it announced a request for proposals to engineers for ways to restart the pumps and clean out the water to bring in 15 million to 35 million gallons of water a day to the city while an upstate aqueduct is repaired.
A 2015 start date is tentatively set for the Queens project, but Scarborough said that is too far into the future. During his tour, he met a resident who lived in a house at 112th Avenue and 178th Street and her basement floor remained wet, moldy and damaged due to the recent rains.
“She stated flatly that her problems began when Station 24, a [Jamaica Water Supply] well at 106th Avenue and 180th Street, was shut down,” he said.
A spokesman for the DEP reiterated that reactivating those pumps is a timely and costly measure and the agency wants to make sure it is done right. Even though the pump projects have been stalled in the past, DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov said the agency has done other projects in southeast Queens over the last 10 years to alleviate the flooding.
“DEP has invested nearly $242 million since 2002 to build out the storm sewer system and reduce surface flooding in southeast Queens,” he said in a statement. “Aside from that, DEP has no plans to permanently pump groundwater in Queens, a prohibitively costly and extremely energy intensive process.”