The Future of Westchester's Environment
Our inconvenient truths.
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“Because of the general disappearance of ice, sea-level rise is projected to be very serious in a relatively short period of time,” Nolon warns. “There is some disagreement about how much how soon, but there is no disagreement about the fact that it is happening and will be severe.”
What does that mean for Westchester? “Long Island Sound is directly connected to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Hudson River is a tidal estuary that’s affected by the sea level of the Atlantic,” Nolon says. “So, if the sea level went up six inches, for example, in the next decade or two, it would have a severe impact on the built environment along the river and the Sound, the recreation economy, the habitat, and a variety of other critically important public matters. New York City has actually mapped out those areas of the city where six inches or one foot of sea-level rise would go under water.”
To get a sense of how a rising sea level might affect Westchester, visit geology.com, which provides an interactive map allowing you to see what areas of land would hypothetically go underwater at various stages of sea-level rising (geology.com/sea-level-rise/new-york.shtml).
Bad news here too, thanks to overdevelopment and the changing weather patterns. “We’re tremendously advantaged on one hand, because a lot of our communities get their drinking water from upstate,” Nolon says. “But to the extent that we still have ground-water systems or watersheds that exist in the county, like the Croton Reservoir, those resources are threatened by impervious coverage,” which pollutes the run-off that feeds into such water supplies. “So looking forward, our existing land-use pattern is not favorable for drinking water.”
Okay, so we don’t really have the obvious, iconic type of pollution—the gunk going into our air from smokestacks, etc. While that’s definitely good news, we’re
not entirely out of pollution’s “choke” hold.
“The kind of pollution that is not regulated at the federal level, that’s up to local governments to deal with, is called non-point source, and that comes from the tailpipes of automobiles and from impervious coverage on the ground—driveways, streets, rooftops, tennis courts,” Nolon says. “Any time we cover vegetative areas, we increase surface-water pollution, because rainwater runs off these areas, which are made of petroleum products and hard metals, and that pollution gets washed into the surface waters, ending up in the Hudson or the Sound. We in Westchester are not doing a very good job on this score.”
To the contrary, “in Westchester, we have a pattern of development that emphasizes large houses with big roofs, with large driveways, with large garages, big parking lots, and, most important, many automobile trips. For most people in Westchester, products and services, schools, jobs, and recreation are all a drive—and sometimes a long drive—away. We’ve created an environment where some households take fifteen vehicle trips a day. And every one of those vehicle trips is producing carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere. And so we have created the most unsustainable form of human settlement pattern that one could imagine.” - Robert Schork