Water Woes Aqua Miseria
It is important to understand that nothing humans may do can completely counter the far reaching effects of a mother…Mother Nature that is. We have once again come to face the knowledge that our human inventions and interventions are but a mere instant away from destruction, in the face of something as powerful as the recent Hurricane Sandy. But that hasn’t stopped us from exercising our futile desires to rebuild in the face of repeating history, repeating the same mistakes, and only within a generation or two.
On a Sept. afternoon, in 1938, a category 3 hurricane decimated parts of this same region of New York as the recent Hurricane Sandy. Called the Long Island Express, it took 690 lives, brought wind gusts of 186 mph, a wind storm over 600 miles wide, with costs over 6.4 bill (in today’s dollars), as seismographs as far as Alaska registered the impact of the storm when it hit.
This time, Hurricane Sandy took the lives of over 50 people along Westhampton Long Island, winds were whipping at over 90 mph, reaching over 900 miles wide, and costs across New York City alone are estimated at 18 billion. Hurricane Sandy reenacted a similar indiscriminate residential reshuffle, whilst making new inlets through barrier islands and coastline towns such as Mantoloking, New Jersey. Once again, there was absolutely nothing we could do in view of such great magnitude and structure as a category 3 hurricane.
It is time to rethink how we design for the world around us. Let’s consider that there are possibly areas of the world in which we should tread lightly, (not to mention areas where we should consider to not tread at all) or at least tread with more resilience than current greening efforts put forward to gain the buildings’ construction “points”. Why build a giant sea wall, postured by the current bureaucrats as being “better and stronger”, only to have it overcome in a generation or two, because it was based on antiquated methods? We also can certainly suggest moving above and beyond simple code mandated efforts to mitigate future potential threats to individual structures and infrastructures. It is time to raise the bar and put forth answers that are more ecologically assimilating, and less confrontational than building walls and construction codifications.
Every habitable locale has its environmental sensitive aspects which preclude finding solutions that vary, place to place. For New York City, some responses have emerged with more credibility. To build streets that accept the reality of flooding, reduce the force of incoming water, and absorb the occasional rise in tides…this concept incorporates networked land-based parks, wetlands and tidal salt marshes covering islands of geo-textile tubes. Along with the prescriptive greenery would come roads made of porous concrete and planned runoff toward the collecting marshes or ponds. Or a soft-infrastructure solution such as the construction of an oyster reef bed, in scale, to mimic past geologic coastal islands that once protected the inland areas. Not only would it buffer but also filter the water, (one oyster can clean 50gal water/day) and create a living aquaculture. And in more exposed areas that touch the Atlantic itself, tidal gates below the water’s surface that open and close as needed, in concert with tidal generators that can produce electricity.
Is there a sound and watertight answer to our desire to continue to live on coastal waters? No. But we should continue to investigate more ecologically responsive systems that are better able to counterbalance the possible impacts and effects of our dear Mother.