Over The Hill

8 January 2013

This October marked the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, legislation enacted to regulate the discharge of pollutants into the waters in the US and establish water quality standards. It made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters without a permit. As a nation we’re much better off, with cleaner lakes, rivers and other waters, as an industry, underground construction has fared well, too. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) roughly 772 cities across the US have combined sewer systems and therefore combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and are expected to clean up their act.

The EPA touts the progress made in 40 years, and warns of further challenges. One that can no longer be over looked is climate change. New York City has now dealt with two tropical storms two years running, with the recent Hurricane Sandy bringing the city, from Wall Street to Grand Central Station to an eery standstill before flooding subway and road tunnels. It's time to accept climate change and rethink how a city like New York designs and builds its subway and other infrastructure.

A new study, released in October, by Munich Re shows that North America has experienced the largest increases in weather-related loss events in recent decades. On our continent the number of weather-related loss events quintupled in the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. The overall loss burden from weather catastrophes was USD 1,060bn, and some 30,000 people lost their lives due to weather catastrophes.

In another 40 years' time will we watch a city withstand a hurricane and then return to work shortly after, or deal with the uncertain timing of pumping and electrical inspection?

Tunnels would like to acknowledge all of the MTA and other workers dealing with the flooded subway and road tunnels, public transport and other infrastructure. A week after Hurricane Sandy, headlines adjusted from 'Manhattan in the dark' to 'expect commuter delays'. While it's easy enough for professionals like me to work from home or a coffee shop, or adjust working hours to off-peak travel times, an entire city is depending on these crews to show up and get to work. There is no telecommuting in a tunnel