Superstorm Sandy and a Few Nexus Lessons

Nothing good came from Superstorm Sandy. Over 100 people died, tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, and losses have risen to over $60 billion and climbing. However, the countless stories of neighbors helping neighbors through this crisis have at least helped to dull the pain. We thought we'd take a moment to consider a handful of the food, water and energy implications of both Sandy and the ongoing recovery. As could be expected, there are examples of how creative, sustainable solutions are making a difference in hard-hit areas, while other examples of aging and outdated infrastructure have compounded problems.

Stay tuned because we'll be providing more in-depth updates on the recovery, and the lessons learned, from Superstorm Sandy in 2013.

Food Rescue

City Harvest has been going on "food rescues," picking up excess food from all segments of the food industry and distributing it to hungry New Yorkers, for 30 years. The NYC-based organization has delivered hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to areas impacted by Sandy, and in so doing has fed people in need while at the same time avoiding food waste and the embedded water and energy within.

Disaster Relief Rides

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy, gas was hard to come by and blackouts remained widespread. Bikers associated with Time's Up pedaled into storm-struck areas to deliver supplies and even set up bike-powered generators that allowed hard-hit residents to charge their cellphones and regain contact with the outside world.

Solar Sandy

Among many relief initiatives, the "Solar Sandy Project" has helped bring some electric power to communities in Sandy affected areas. So far five solar energy generators have been deployed through a partnership consisting of Solar One, SolarCity, Consolidated Solar and NYSERDA. The solar generators are strategically located at places that are offering warm clothes, food and basic medical services.

Contaminated Rivers

Reporters from Democracy Now went out with Captain John Lipscomb on the Hudson Riverkeeper boat as he toured New York Harbor, Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal to take water quality samples after Superstorm Sandy. It was an eye-opening look at how contamination gets into the New York waterways. "The amount of pollution released by this storm is staggering," said Capt. Lipscomb, who weathered Sandy aboard Riverkeeper's patrol boat. "Instead of it being one product like crude oil, it's a thousand different products and floatables, and instead of being from one source like a tanker, it's from a thousand different locations."

Sewage Hijinks

Sandy exposed the vulnerability of low-lying wastewater treatment plants as five New York and New Jersey plants were completely inundated by the surge, emptying hundreds of millions of gallons of dangerous raw and partially treated sewage into surrounding waterways. Damage was so bad that two major metro area plants - one in Newark and another on Long Island - continued to leak sewage and tainted water weeks later. Not only will it cost billions simply to fix the wastewater treatment plants, but with the new normal of higher sea levels and more intense weather events, billions more must be spent to raise infrastructure and install waterproof circuitry.

How Do We Become More Resilient?

In the wake of Sandy, ICLEI USA, a recognized leader in local sustainability, climate protection and clean energy, has pledged to share the stories of impacted communities with federal decision makers as well as national media to raise awareness on what local governments are contending with, how they are responding, and what they need. The organization - which includes 1,000 local government members worldwide - offers "a vision and a plan for how to help cities and counties become more resilient in 2013."