A pipe, a wall and a drain.

That’s how the city of New Haven plans to fight rising sea levels.

“While this might not sound flashy to most, this project is incredibly important to people in my community in Long Wharf and City Point who have to deal with flooding on a regular basis including two weeks ago,” said Alder Carmen Rodriguez at a Monday press conference. “This is a really huge deal that will protect us down the line.”

Long Wharf Alder Carmen Rodriguez shared how many of her constituents had experienced devastating flooding first hand. (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

The three projects will be funded by a new $200 million investment in resiliency infrastructure following a night of severe flooding two weeks ago. 

The bulk of funding comes from an Army Corp of Engineers grant that will build a seawall, living shore and pump system to better protect Long Wharf. Combined, these projects will almost double the amount of water the city can drain into the harbor. 

The city also received $25 million from a climate change mitigation fund created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, supplemented by $10 million in state funds, to construct a reinforced drainage system with the assistance of companies such as Blocked Drain Brisbane. The money was approved as part of a broader federal effort launched after a brutal hurricane season in 2017 that caused record damages. 

“We’ve gotten a remarkable amount of funding to build a wall, a pipe and a pump, and that sounds really uninspiring,” Mayor Justin Elicker said at the conference. “But this is about climate resilience, jobs and protecting the city’s critical infrastructure.”

Elicker thanked Governor Ned Lamont for providing additional funding to the city as part of the state’s climate resiliency plan. (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

On Sept. 6, flooding brought one month’s worth of rain falling in a mere 12 hours. New Haven Police Department headquarters, Union Station, many major streets, Bass Library and numerous Yale residential colleges all faced flooding.

As New Haven’s elected representatives gathered to announce this investment today, they reflected on the severe disruption and destruction across the entire island of Puerto Rico as all residents have lost power after another “once-in-a-lifetime” hurricane 

“We’re seeing our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico suffer because we didn’t invest in mitigating the climate crisis,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro said at Monday’s press conference. “We need to invest in our city and protect it for the future.”

City and State officials credited Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro with streamlining the city’s grant and funding application process. (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

According to Elicker, the wall will be built along the I-95 corridor that divides the Long Wharf and City Point neighborhoods from the rest of the city. 

A live shore is a novel climate resiliency solution that replaces traditional concrete or stone barriers on shorelines with naturally occurring plants, creating marshlike conditions. 

Transitioning back to naturally occurring plant species and geological conditions has been proven to make shorelines more resilient, according to city engineer Giovanni Zinn. These live shores better temper waves and absorb excess water caused by hurricanes or torrential downpour.

Long Wharf and City Point did not exist before the 1950s, when city planners filled part of the harbor to build the I-95/91 corridor. The growth into the Long Island Sound, Zinn said, makes the area more susceptible to flooding. 

The wall and drainage system built by the Army Corps will prove important defense mechanisms during hurricanes and torrential downpours. 

“When there is a big hurricane, the water in the harbor is higher than the level of the street,” Zinn said. “The pump and wall will expand capacity and help prevent the city from flooding, because right now when there is a hurricane or torrential downpour like two weeks ago, the harbor is ‘uphill’ compared to the city and water only drains ‘downhill.’”

City Engineer Giovanni Zinn. (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).   

The project will require another three years to finalize planning until the building process can begin; the city expects the wall, pump and living shore to be completed within the next 5-7 years. 

The shorter term project that the city has planned is a new pipe that will double the city’s drainage capacity. The ten foot wide pipe will run 45 feet underground, originating at the intersection of W Water St. and Union Avenue and terminating in drainage on Long Wharf. 

Currently, the city’s drainage system collects water in one central location, which only has one pipe to the harbor. The addition of this second pipe will double the city’s drainage capacity, Zinn told the News. 

The project is still in its planning phase, and even though the BRIC grant has been approved, the city must finalize details on the grant over the next 18 months to receive final approval on the $25 million in funding. 

More than 700 cities applied for the FEMA grant, and according to DeLauro, New Haven is one of just 50 cities to receive funding.

“For too long, the top tenth percent of the county has benefited from government funding,” DeLauro told the News. “We are finally investing in our communities and average Americans as we prepare for the future and the potential devastation that this climate crisis can cause.” 

Lamont told the News that the state’s funding was part of his desire to move towards prevention instead of reacting to climate crises. (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer). 

The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program was created from the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018. 

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.