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Sewers on NYC streets are a growing problem for many people Many of them break with heavy rainfall and more sinkholes need to be fixed

Thousands of sinkholes have been identified this year in Columbus, which officials blame on soiled sewer systems that crumble under increasingly heavy rainfall due to climate change.

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Angelo Bastone knows firsthand that the ground New Yorkers stand on is deteriorating.

In the middle of July, Bastone heard a “thump” while he was cleaning the drain on the side of his house in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx. He sprang to the window and peered out, where he saw a gaping hole in the street large enough to swallow a van. This was on nearby Radcliff Avenue.

Bastone, 56, a lifelong resident of the area, has observed that many local roads are riddled with large potholes and are eventually doomed to sink.

A sinkhole opened up in Morris Park, the Bronx, in July, and repair crews were still working on it last week. I’m Luiz C. Ribeiro/.

Sinkholes like the one that opened up on July 19 and grew to be 15 feet wide, 58 feet long, and 20 feet deep are a growing problem in the city, which officials attribute to aging sewer systems that fail under the weight of more frequent and intense rainfall brought on by climate change.

Throughout the city’s fiscal year, which ended in June, 3,921 sinkholes were documented by the Department of Environmental Protection. That’s a 38% increase from last year’s total of 2,839.

DEP Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala testified before the City Council last Tuesday, explaining that cracks in century-old sewer systems are a major cause of sinkholes like the one near Bastone’s Bronx home.

The Bronx sinkhole at the intersection of Lydig and Mulliner avenues, after repair. /(Luiz C. Ribeiro)

According to Aggarwal, the Bronx borough president ordered the construction of the Morris Park sewers in 1916 using interlocking vitrified block, which is leakproof and was considered highly modern at the time.

While this may seem like a lot, the lines can actually withstand rainfall rates of up to 1.5 inches per hour. Aggarwala noted that this is lower than the current typical standard for sewers in the city, which is 1.75 inches of rain per hour. He continued by saying that the city is experiencing more frequent and severe storms as a result of climate change, and that the 1.75 inch per hour standard is not sufficient for dealing with these events.

The sinkhole Bastone discovered in July was the second one on Radcliff Ave. caused by the sewer since 2021. Aggarwala claims that the roof of the sewer beneath the street collapsed last summer as a result of the unprecedented rainfall brought on by Hurricanes Henri and Ida.

Aggarwala explained that soil was being washed away and sucked in from above. With more time passing, the failure grew to the point where a great deal of soil was tumbling down from above. The hole in the sewer’s ceiling was enlarged by the weight of the collapsing soil.

Crews working on fixing up the intersection of Radcliff Avenue and Pierce Avenue in the Bronx on a Wednesday. I’m Luiz C. Ribeiro/.

Another section of the Radcliff Ave. sewer failed, creating the sinkhole that sunk the van, during a second set of rainstorms that hit the Bronx on July 16 and July 18, dumping up to 1.88 inches and 1.64 inches of rain per hour, respectively.

Crews still have the entire block closed off a month after the cave-in while they repair the broken sewer and water mains. To prevent further cracking, DEP officials intend to install a new lining material within the sewer.

Morris Park’s sinkholes are the most visible sign of the strain on the sewer system, but they are far from the only issue. Ali Miah is one of many locals who has griped about flooding in their homes after a rainstorm. The 31-year-old Miah has been stranded in the building’s garage due to the persistent flooding caused by storms for the past month.

Several times after the big storm in July, and a few times after that, too, Miah’s place flooded. I was hoping things would improve, but each time it rains, the streets become inundated. My house has very gentle walls. As the saying goes, “mold grows on everything.”

A 31-year-old Bronx resident named Ali Miah was recently spotted near the intersection of Lydig and Mulliner avenues. /(Luiz C. Ribeiro)

On Friday, Morris Park’s councilwoman, Marjorie Velazquez, and MTA and city officials toured the area in preparation for the construction of a new Metro-North station as part of the Penn Access project.

Velazquez wants the entire sewer system in the area replaced, but she welcomes the MTA’s project as a way to reduce the amount of water that enters the sewers in the first place.

Velazquez stated, “The intensity of Ida really weakened the structure of the sewer system, and since then even the lightest rainfall will flood our communities.” “As the Metro-North Penn Access extension nears this area, we need to consider how we can build in a way that is greener, with asphalt that is more permeable to ensure that some water does not go into the sewer system.”