Improving Urban Water Quality
Randall’s Island is a thin slice of land in New York City’s East River. It’s best known as the home of the busy RFK Bridge (formerly the Triborough), which links Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. It’s also the address of a well-used complex of recreational ball fields and the Five Borough Administrative Building, a municipal garage that’s become a model for urban conservation with the help of a NFWF grant.
In a pilot project, New York City Parks installed a 7,500-square-foot green roof on the Five Borough building this year. The living system of native plants effectively reduces water pollution by keeping more than a quarter million gallons of stormwater annually out of the East River and western Long Island Sound, absorbing rainfall that would otherwise pour directly into storm drains. Between storms, the vegetation helps to insulate the building and lessens the heat effect created by traditional asphalt surfaces. It’s another step towards improved water quality in Long Island Sound, an area in which NFWF has made significant conservation investments over the past five years.
Key to the Randall’s Island project was the involvement of the Green Apple Corps, a city-funded program that immerses young people in ecological restoration, urban forestry and environmental education work. The Corps has trained nearly 200 graduates who have gone on to share their commitment to stewardship and environmental responsibility. Additional hands-on help was contributed by NFWF corporate partner FedEx, which brought its employees to the site to prepare and assemble plant materials during its nationwide community service day in April 2010.
- 70–90% amount of rainfall retained by the five borough green roof
- 16 systems of plant materials and substrates used in the five borough green roof
- 85% amount of cadmium, copper and lead removed from rainwater by green roofs
Green Apple Corps director Brian Aucoin put the project on the fast track, assembling a design and plant supplies just months after the NFWF award was announced. “Our grant from NFWF covered all the materials, and we were able to utilize our in-house tech services — that really helped,” he recalls. “With our engineers’ help, we used hoists to get the raw materials to the roof top and installed the whole system in two days.”
The Randall’s Island project was awarded a grant from NFWF’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, a partnership with the EPA and other federal and state agencies. The success of the pilot at the Five Borough building has encouraged New York City Parks to apply for funding for green roofs at other recreation centers, and three additional projects are now underway.