Assessing Wetland Capacity to Provide Flood Control Benefits

Staten Island, New York

Featured image for the project, Assessing Wetland Capacity to Provide Flood Control Benefits

Photo Courtesy of Gabriella Velardi-Ward


Hurricane Sandy was a tragic event for Staten Island, one of New York City’s 5 Boroughs. More than half of the deaths that occurred in New York City during the storm occurred on Staten Island. The storm resulted in extensive flooding, power outages and downed power lines across the Borough. Once home to an extensive network of tidal wetlands, nearly two-thirds have been filled in and developed. Of the remaining wetlands across Staten Island, estuarine emergent wetlands, or tidal salt marshes, predominate. Palustrine emergent and forested wetlands (inland freshwater wetlands that lack flowing water) are also found spectacled across the landscape. It was these wetlands that protected some residents from flooding during Hurricane Sandy.

Residents of Graniteville, a predominately African American and Hispanic neighborhood in the north west section of Staten Island, attribute coastal flood protection during Hurricane Sandy to a 30-acre wetland known as the Graniteville Swamp and Forest on South Ave. The wetland has both freshwater wetlands and tidal influence from Arthur Kill. The residents living on the east side of the wetland did not flood and point to the functional benefits that the wetland provided, including water retention, wind blockage, and reduction in the energy brought on by high storm surges. Future flood maps produced by New York City government, including New York City Planning and FEMA, show increased risk to the neighborhood—a mobile home park with approximately 120 homes sits just to the west of the wetland is at total risk of inundation under future flood scenarios. Residents are concerned about high tide flooding, storm surge flooding and heavy rain events. Adding to this worry is a pending proposal to build a BJ Wholesale Club and additional retail on 18 acres of the Graniteville Swamp. Currently, applications for permits to allow the builder to proceed are currently being reviewed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Initial permits applied for prior to 2012 were denied as NYSDEC identified the area as wetland. In August 2012, two months before Hurricane Sandy, a subsequent lawsuit settled in favor of the developer that the land is a forest and can be developed.

The Coalition for Wetlands and Forests was established to raise awareness about the proposed destruction of the Graniteville Swamp and how its loss will impact residents. The group is comprised of residents, civic associations, condo associations and environmental groups. Together, they rally every Saturday morning, canvass to talk to residents, write letters to their local elected officials, and organize educational forums on topics such as environmental racism. Residents fear what will happen to the important wetland benefits they receive if the development moves forward. The Coalition of Wetlands and Forests would like to find a scientific partner who can determine whether the Graniteville Swamp is in fact a wetland and provide written evidence to document that classification. They would also like documentation of the flood risk that Graniteville is facing. The goal of this Thriving Earth Exchange project is to bring scientific evidence and understanding to the questions and priorities of local residents, so that residents can use that science to make decisions and take actions.

This project has been conceived and designed in partnership with community leaders at The Coalition for Wetlands and Forest and with our national partner, Flood Forum USA.

About the Community

Gabriella Velardi-Ward is the founder of Coalition for Wetlands and Forests in Graniteville, Staten Island, NY and will serve as the lead on this project. Gabriella commits to engaging with the scientific partner by providing local knowledge and strategic direction over the duration of the project.

Scientist Wanted

Gabriella seeks a scientific partner to help the Coalition for Wetlands and Forests investigate the 18-acre wetland known as Graniteville Swamp. The scientist will also work with the community leads to prepare recommendations for presentation to residents and local government entities.

As an initial first step, a scientist is requested for 2-3 months to work with Gabriella to:

  • visit the neighborhood and wetland with the community leaders,
  • examine and aggregate existing hydrological assessments and maps,
  • summarize the flood vulnerabilities

These initial steps will provide a foundation and refined scope upon which to shape the remainder of this TEX-FFUSA project. If a wetland delineation is deemed necessary, Thriving Earth Exchange and Flood Forum will work with the team to seek additional funding to support this next stage.

TEX asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators.


Timeline and Outcome

Work will begin as soon as possible (September 2018). The first phase of this project will take approximately 2-3 months. Once a refined project scope is identified, the remainder of the project is expected to last 12-16 months.


Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in wetland science, hydrology, environmental engineering, or soil science
  • Knowledgeable of global environmental change, specifically climate change in coastal areas
  • Certified wetland delineator preferred but not required
  • Experience working on projects that address urban stormwater management
  • Experience working in environmental justice communities preferred but not required
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology for a lay audience
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person and able to observe the neighborhood with community leaders



Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of TEXs’ new cohorts. TEX has partnered with Flood Forum USA which supports grassroots flood groups across the country by helping them develop strategies for a sustainable future. TEX is working with twelve of their grassroots groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better characterize neighborhood-level flood risks and work effectively with local decision makers to mitigate those risks.