Be a Hero and Wait…

Be a Hero and Wait…



The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is tasked with many, many responsibilities. It “manages and conserves the City’s water supply; distributes more than one billion gallons of clean drinking water each day to nine million New Yorkers and collects wastewater through a vast underground network of pipes, regulators, and pumping stations; and treats the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce each day in a way that protects the quality of New York Harbor.”

About 60 percent of New York City is serviced by a combined sewer system. In a combined sewer system, wastewater, stormwater and street runoff are collected in the same pipes and sewers and conveyed together to treatment plants. Sometimes, during intense rain events or heavy snow storms, the City’s combined sewer system receives higher than normal flows that can exceed the system’s capacity. When this occurs, a mix of excess stormwater and untreated wastewater is discharged directly into the City’s waterbodies. This is called a combined sewer overflow (CSO), and CSOs can impact water quality.

To help combat CSOs, the DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis launched the “Wait . . . You Can Be a Hero” Pilot Program in May 2016 to encourage New Yorkers to delay their household water use during heavy rainfall, including showering, doing laundry, dishwashing and flushing toilets. By delaying, pilot participants can help free up capacity in the sewer system and reduce the concentration of wastewater in CSOs.


More About “Wait . . .”

The Wait . . . Pilot Program uses a text message system for registration purposes and to alert pilot participants during and after heavy rain events. Interested individuals text-to-join to enroll in the pilot program and are then prompted to provide their contact information to DEP, including address and phone number. Individuals verified to live within the pilot area are alerted via text both at the start and end of a heavy rain storm.

The first text message is sent at the beginning of a CSO event and encourages participants to delay water-intensive activities.  The second text message is sent at the end of a CSO event and thanks participants for waiting and informs them that it is ok to resume normal water use.

At this time, the pilot program is limited to East Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn within the Newtown Creek watershed.


How I Fit In

My role is to help compile information gathered during the pilot, develop a survey for pilot participants and brainstorm
strategies to potentially expand the program citywide. My graduate work at Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy has primed me for work at an interdisciplinary organization like DEP. Many of the agency’s projects require coordination across disciplines and between different bureaus. Bard CEP has helped prepare me to comfortably express my ideas and work effectively in this type of setting.

The interesting and innovative nature of the “Wait . . .” program is that it is voluntary and encourages participants to alter their day-to-day behavior. At the end of the pilot, it will be interesting to learn how effective it is to merely ask participants to wait.




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