Like a broken record

Intensifying storms have led to a recurrence of record flooding in Mamaroneck, NY and elsewhere around the Long Island Sound region.

On a corner storefront in the Village of Mamaroneck, about a block from where the Sheldrake River turns away from I-95 and splits the neighborhood from commercial to residential, the wall is wrapped with three horizontal blue stripes in paint and painter’s tape.

The lowest line, several feet above street level, is marked by red print on a white sign: Nor’easter, 4/16/2007. It’s the height the floodwaters reached during a rare spring storm that broke rainfall records throughout the region and required hundreds of Mamaroneck residents to evacuate their homes.

The next line, a foot or so higher, reads “IRENE, 08/28/2011,” the hurricane that delivered its own record-breaking rain, which preceded Superstorm Sandy by a little more than a year. The topmost line, unthinkably high when you realize what it represents, is the big one: “IDA, 9/2/2021.” The rainfall in Ida wasn’t just record-breaking; it was historic. Between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m. on September 1, 2021, 3.15 inches of rain fell in Central Park – New York City’s wettest hour, exceeding the 1.94 inches dumped in an hour by Hurricane Henri just 11 days before. Meanwhile, the flood waters in parts of Mamaroneck, according to some reports, rose as high as 14 feet.

After all these storms, these hundred-year weather events that seem to happen almost annually, reports of rainfall records are starting to sound like a broken record.

“It’s the unnamed rain events – they’re just rain events now – creating situations that threaten our homes and our business,” said Westchester County legislator Catherine Parker.

One of those unnamed rain events hit the Long Island Sound region on September 29, dumping more than half a foot of rain in Westchester County, on Long Island, and across New York City (including 8+ inches at John F. Kennedy Airport, another single-day record rewritten). That Storm with No Name, which came just a week after the region braced for the potential aftermath of Tropical Storm Ophelia, resulted in the now-familiar news of states of emergency issued, highways flooded, service suspended on subways and railroads, and flights delayed (LaGuardia’s Terminal A flooded and was closed for most of the day). In Queens, a baseball game was rained out, which is not unusual, but a preseason hockey game was cancelled because of the weather – and those are played indoors! It simply wasn’t possible to travel to an arena at the corner of the Cross Island Expressway and Hempstead Turnpike.

As month after month in New York and Connecticut challenge record levels of rainfall and rising temperatures, so does the need for a proportionate response. Which is why steps taken during those first bright, sunny, dry days of October feel particularly significant.

On Monday, October 2, the Westchester County Board of Legislators announced significant investments in stormwater management (including a $300,000 Intermunicipal Agreement for a study in the Town of Mamaroneck) and flood mitigation (more than $6 million in bond acts toward projects in multiple communities across the county).

Our vice president of water protection David Ansel spoke at an event celebrating the signing of the Living Shorelines Act, a vital piece of legislation cosponsored by State Senator Shelley Mayer (with glasses) and Assemblyman Steve Otis.

The following day, New York State Senator Shelley Mayer and Assemblyman Steve Otis gathered with local municipal leaders, key partners from environmental groups (David Ansel, our vice president of water protection, among them), and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation to celebrate Governor Kathy Hochul signing the Living Shorelines Act into law.

“Save the Sound,” said Senator Mayer, “originally educated me about the necessity of a bill to change the presumption in favor of this much smarter approach.”

It was shortly after Ida when Senator Mayer and Assemblyman Otis, Mamaroneck’s two representatives in the New York State legislature, initially conferred with Save the Sound about potential legislative solutions. The “much smarter approach” that resulted is now law in New York State and empowers the DEC in the project permitting process to prioritize green infrastructure over gray in protecting New York’s coastline from the flooding and erosion that result from disastrous combination of rising sea levels and stronger, more frequent storms.

“Due to climate change, the frequency and severity of storms, floods, coastal erosion, and storm surge are all accelerating at a dangerous pace, which is putting our property and our people and our communities at risk,” said David, speaking at the press event, held on a piece of property in Larchmont showcasing green infrastructure improvements made by the owners. “We know that marshes, tidal wetlands, shellfish reefs, and other nature-based solutions are more resilient and will grow and do a better job than hardened surfaces like seawalls.”

Passing legislation at the state level and investing in infrastructure at the local level are critical next steps in preparing communities for the inevitable next storm, named or unnamed.

“Climate change is here,” Legislator Parker said at the Living Shorelines event. “And if you talk to many people in the Village of Mamaroneck, they will tell you that climate catastrophe is here. We have to do everything in our power, through actions big and small.”

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