Among the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy exactly a year ago today was Sayreville, New Jersey and its wastewater pumping station. As the super storm pounded the East Coast, untreated sewage from a pump station for the Sayreville station began flowing into the Raritan River and Bay system – a source of drinking water for many in the area.
In order to stop the toxic flow, two highly-trained EPA contractors were called in to install a six thousand pound gate under water. They performed extremely dangerous dives into 25 feet of raw sewage in a confined space with no visibility and hazardous debris.
They succeeded in installing the gate, which accelerated the restart of the Sayreville Pump station and prevented the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of more raw sewage into local waters. This critical work is just one example of countless EPA efforts rising to the occasion during one of nation’s most destructive natural disasters.
Hurricane Sandy devastated more than 200 wastewater treatment plants and over 80 drinking water facilities across the East Coast. It caused extensive damage and power failures that released over 10 billion gallons of raw sewage into local waters and shut down drinking water plants in dozens of communities across multiple states.
Over 200 EPA employees worked with federal, state, and local leaders to assess damage to drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, bring wastewater treatment facilities back into service and evaluate conditions at hazardous waste sites.
And the work didn’t stop there. EPA employees repaired damage at local Superfund sites and supported clean ups following hazardous releases from underground storage tanks. As part of the intergovernmental Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce EPA is working closely with our federal partners to continue the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
It’s clear that our nation’s infrastructure and climate change resilience simply aren’t built to manage the record-breaking storms that are becoming ever-more frequent. That’s why EPA and our federal partners are committed to enhancing climate resilience to future storms across the country.
And it’s why we’re leading the way to implement President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to help modernize our infrastructure and ensure that our communities benefit from resilience planning. It makes key investments in innovative green infrastructure to manage future flooding and help rebuild local economies. We’re working with municipalities to plan for impacts of extreme storms, especially in vulnerable, low-income communities.
We know that no single weather event is attributable to climate change, but enhancing our preparedness and resilience to storms like Hurricane Sandy will protect the public’s health and our environment. It will safeguard our natural resources and strengthen local economies across the country.
And it will help the ongoing recovery efforts for the communities, families, and businesses that are still reeling from the storm. We owe to them and future generations to do no less.