If you’d like to get a good picture of New York City’s struggle against sea level rise, head to Hamilton Beach and stand in the middle of the road.
Every month during the highest tides, the streets of this small Queens community are flooded by the waters of Jamaica Bay. At first, as the saltwater starts to trickle in from Hawtree Creek, the small puddles forming around curbs and storm drains don’t appear to be so bad. But as the tide continues to rise, the roads are quickly submerged.
Soon, tiny fish begin to swim across the concrete, and the water is above your ankles. Then swans start to paddle into empty lots, and the water has reached your calves. Suddenly, the flooding is knee high, and the nearest dry land is much too far away. It is a deeply disconcerting feeling, to be standing in seawater in the middle of a neighborhood.
Yet for those living in Hamilton Beach, and in many other neighborhoods around the city, street floods like this are a regular, everyday occurrence. “This is nothing,” says Ginny Dunker, looking out from her front door at a recent six-and-a-half-foot high tide that had flooded midway up her block. “Come back on a rainy day, and then you will see something.”
Hamilton Beach is just one of several New York City communities that are regularly flooded by high tides. Many of these neighborhoods are clustered around Jamaica Bay, including nearby Broad Channel and Howard Beach, and in each of these areas, saltwater has come up into the streets every month for decades. In recent years, however, residents have reported a dramatic increase in the frequency and volume of these floods.