Plans unveiled to ease Camden flooding, improve quality of life

Plans unveiled to ease Camden flooding, improve quality of life

Dr. Mahbubur Meenar presents draft green infrastructure plan at Camden's Fireworks Gallery Sept. 9.

Built more than 100 years ago, the City of Camden’s combined sewer-stormwater (CSS) system often floods parts of the municipality with an unsanitary mix of rain runoff and untreated sewerage.

Decades-long development, including light and heavy industry and the wholesale paving of green space, has added to the problem, forcing runoff from heavy rains to overfill drainage systems and swamp areas of the city.

On Sept. 9, researchers from Rowan’s School of Earth & Environment unveiled a draft green infrastructure plan for Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood that could ease flooding for one section particularly impacted and improve the quality of life for residents.

Led by project director Dr. Mahbubur Meenar, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Sustainability, the plan proposes a system of green spaces, plantings and drainage redesigns to capture and slow excess storm runoff and beautify the neighborhood.

“The goal is to keep rainwater from ending up in an overburdened stormwater system,” Meenar said.

The research project involved students, faculty, alumni and residents, many of whom attended the Sept. 9 presentation at Camden Fireworks Gallery on S. Broadway and who displayed maps and photo collages illustrating the flooding, standing water and sewerage problems affecting the neighborhood.

Meenar teamed with Rowan researchers Jennifer Kitson, Ted Howell, and Megan Bucknum, students and alumni as well as consultant Susan Harris from Cerulean LLC, an Exton, Pa., environmental firm, in a yearlong project sponsored by Rowan University and the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA).

May graduate Giavanni Rizzo, who double-majored in environmental studies and planning, said the research team sought solutions to a long-term problem without a mandate to focus on the cost to implement them, which ultimately will be borne by the CCMUA. A final plan will be presented to the authority in about one month.

“As a public institution, we at Rowan have the ability to use our resources, our knowledge and our influence to help others,” Rizzo said.


Heavy flooding

The CCMUA reported in 2017 that, on a typical rainy day, it can process up to 50 million gallons of stormwater from Camden County and up to 10 million gallons from the city itself. During heavy storms, stormwater from the city’s share alone can increase ten times that amount.

Unable to handle it all, the system returns some of that effluent, a mix of stormwater runoff and untreated sewerage, to the city’s streets.

Fourth Street resident Lula Williams, who’s lived in the neighborhood since the early 1970s, said recommendations made in the green infrastructure plan to address the issue are sorely needed.

“There are so many empty lots, and so many cars,” Williams said. “When it floods, it’s really bad, and the children have no place to play.”

She noted that over the past few decades, truck traffic also increased dramatically and vacant lots now dot the city where homes once stood.

“We need more green space,” she said.


Addressing quality of life issues through research

Among recommendations made in the draft green infrastructure plan:

  • Subsurface intervention, which would retrofit designated parking lots with tanks to capture and slowly release stormwater runoff;
  • Downspout planters where grasses, flowers and shrubs would absorb rainwater from roofs;
  • “Tree trenches” to capture and filter runoff with aesthetically pleasing landscaping;
  • Rain gardens, with deep-rooted grasses and other plantings genetically designed to catch excess rainfall;
  • And “green roofs” to turn flat roofs into gardens.

Harris, the consultant, said plantings in front of storm drains called stormwater bumpouts can slow the flow of stormwater runoff and filter it before it reaches the sewer.

“Even the smallest areas can be impactful,” she said.

Meghan Wren, who graduated in May with her Bachelor of Science in Community & Environmental Planning, a minor in Geography and a certificate in Geographic Information Systems, said the plan may be implemented in stages for maximum impact on flooding and quality of life.

"The project team followed a bottom-up approach and engaged community residents and stakeholders in every stage of plan preparation,” said Wren, an assistant project manager for the plan. “Residents took 900 pictures to document environmental issues and the project team included a number of recommendations suggested by them."

Meenar said about 50 projects, including some retrofits, were proposed in the draft plan.

“Recommendations and suggestions will be used by the CCMUA to reduce the burden on the CSS and offer recreational opportunities to the residents,” he said.