NYC’s sinkhole surge due to ‘climate crisis’: DEP Commissioner

The increase in pits suddenly opening in city streets is tied to the fate of the Earth. 

Borough sidewalks are rupturing at record rates, and elected leaders say there’s not a ton to be done — as the problem is far larger than New York. 

“The issue right now is we don’t know exactly what we would do with more money that would systematically reduce the likelihood of sinkholes,” Rohit Aggarwala, NYC’s chief climate officer and the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said at a City Council meeting this Tuesday, referring to the recent uptick in gaping voids appearing where cement was moments earlier (also known as a sinkhole) and its connection to global warming, Crain’s reported. “If something is random, you could fix whatever you want and it may not have any impact.”

This past fiscal year saw a 38% rise in sinkhole sightings to a total of 3,920. Among other factors, including infrastructure issues, climate change is significantly to blame, Aggarwala said at the meeting. 

sinkhole surge global warming
Workers repairing a sinkhole on First Avenue in 2017 in New York City.
Getty Images

Virtually all pavement cave-ins are a result of water leaks, with 45% due to city water mains and sewers, and 23% officially “undetermined,” but generally a result of natural drainage, the Department of Environmental Protection told Crain’s. Inconsistent sewer infrastructure across boroughs in addition to the uncontrollable forces of nature make predicting where the next collapse is going to be more or less impossible. 

“We just can’t pinpoint that this location is more vulnerable to a cave-in than another location,” Department of Transportation assistant commissioner for highway inspection and quality assurance Vincent Maniscalco told the publication. “We’ve seen brand-new streets develop cave-ins and older streets that have none at all.” 

Thus, New York is unfortunately in a “defensive position versus a proactive position,” vice president of energy and environment for the Regional Plan Association Robert Freudenberg said. “I think what’s playing out is how the climate crisis is hitting the city in ways that we might not have even considered.”

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