New Report Finds Striking Ways to Prepare for Future Storms

January 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Although just a preliminary assessment, the recommendations of the NYS 2100 Commission could cause substantial changes in how the region looks and operates.

After three months of deliberation, a task force set up by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has released its findings on how New York can better prepare for future storms.

Cuomo established the task force two weeks after Superstorm Sandy ravaged tri-state communities, requesting a “comprehensive blueprint” for advancing the state.

“Over the past two years, New York State has been hit by some of the most destructive storms in our state’s history, causing untold damage and the tragic loss of many lives,” Governor Cuomo said in a November 2012 press release. “Regardless of the cause of these storms, New York State must undertake major reforms to adapt to the reality that storms such as Sandy, Irene, and Lee can hit the state at any time.”

One section of the report could cause dramatic changes in the way Manhattan looks – a revisiting of the city’s coastline and storm surge protection.

The Commission’s first suggestion involves cultivating a “soft” infrastructure on coasts that includes natural ecosystems and structures made from sand, earth and even sea creatures. One of the more economical options includes building sand dunes. Dunes are found across many area beaches and preliminary findings suggest that communities with strong dunes, like Bradley Beach, sustained less damage during Superstorm Sandy.

Soft infrastructure also encompasses barrier islands, like the ones featured in the design below. The islands act as a buffer against strong surges.

Architecture Research Office and DLANDSTUDIO

Oyster reefs and other types of living shorelines can be nurtured in coastal areas of New York City. Oyster reefs and mussel beds stabilize waves. Living reefs were a historical part of the New York coast but have been destroyed by urbanization. New York lost almost all its natural 200,000 acres of oyster reefs during city expansion, according to the NYS 2100 report.

Kate Orff/SCAPE

Some evidence suggests oyster reefs assist with the creation of natural tidal wetlands by helping marshes grow. Wetlands help absorb the strength of strong storm surges. Wetlands have also disappeared. Over the course of New York’s urbanization, 80% of historic tidal wetlands have been lost. Other ideas include developing riverine floodplains through innovative design, like porous pavement, grass sidewalk drains called swales and roofs that catch rain water.

The report also recommends stronger actions be taken.  Because of the rise of greenhouse gases, it suggests that New York start looking at the cost and structure of potential storm surge barriers, like the one on the Thames River in London. New York’s would have to be much more complex and regionalized. A barrier protecting Red Hook or Staten Island would help, according to the report, but one on the Long Island Sound could cause extra flooding since the Sound acts as a natural channel.

Read or download the entire 205-page report produced by the Commission contains recommendations on topics ranging from transportation to insurance processes.