Thousands of residents in southeast Queens are sinking deeper into the sewage that now engulfs their homes.
Mold spores and flooding have become and remain a constant problem for homeowners after the city took over the area’s water supply in 1996.
“It smells terrible. You see feces in the water and black stuff. It’s just terrible,” said Lurline Williams, 73, of Jamaica.
Prior to 1996, the southeast Queens community received water from the Jamaica Water Supply Company, according to Assemblymember William Scarborough. The private company pumped, purified and distributed water from 68 wells.
When the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took over, it stopped draining and pumping water out of the ground, making the water level rise higher than certain basements in the area, he said.
“These are people’s homes that are being ruined,” Scarborough said. “They’re spending a lot of money year after year for water pumps and they still can’t make their basements fully dry. Their floors and furniture in their basement are ruined. Some of them can’t even go into their basements anymore.”
Williams, a homeowner in Jamaica for 43 years, said that despite extreme damages, she still has to go down to her basement frequently to use her washer and dryer.
“I feel terrible. It’s heart breaking,” she said. “I just pray to God that something or someone will step up and go on and help us with the problem we’ve been having.”
The DEP has invested nearly $242 million since 2002 to build out the storm sewer system and reduce surface flooding in the southeast Queens area, said spokesperson Farrell Sklerov. The department also plans to invest $124 million in sewers over the next five years to help reduce further flooding.
Aside from that, the DEP has no plans to permanently pump out the groundwater due to a “prohibitively costly and extremely energy intensive process that would have to be paid for by increased water rates.”
City Councilmember Leroy Comrie told The Courier that the issue needs to be addressed immediately.
“I’m not happy that the DEP has not really dealt with the issue. It came up in meetings that they’ve kind of given up on a groundwater solution,” he said. “They don’t want to answer any questions or deal with it. It’s creating a major problem for the community.”
Scarborough also expressed concerns for the health of the residents.
“People are working hard to keep these properties nice and — to no fault of their own — their property is being damaged and their health is being threatened because of constant exposure,” he said. “That is unacceptable. People are suffering.”