When it comes to dealing with rainstorms, the Bronx River Houses are on the cutting edge.

On Wednesday, November 16, the city Department of Environmental Protection and New York City Housing Authority unveiled a pilot green infrastructure project that is intended to add green space to the Bronx River Houses housing development, while reducing pollution in the nearby Bronx River.

The infrastructure includes basins both on the rooftops of the houses’ community center and underground in its parking lot to catch rain water and regulate its entrance into the sewer system. Often sewers overflow during rainstorms and release a combination of water and waste into nearby waterways. The Bronx River Houses were chosen for the pilot program in part because of its proximity to the Bronx River.

Water is also funneled into green space around the housing complex to facilitate the growth of plant life. Bronx River Houses residents were also offered temporary, part-time jobs as part of the infrastructure’s installation.

The DEP installed several different types of basins to test which work best for when the infrastructure is installed in other housing developments. The Edenwald Houses are expected to be the next NYCHA development to receive the installation, possibly as soon as spring 2012.

The $1 million Bronx River Houses project, which began in Summer 2010, is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s city-wide Green Infrastructure Plan.

Cecilia Rivera has lived in the Bronx River Houses for 31 years. When the DEP and NYCHA first told tenants about the program at a meeting two summers ago, she was skeptical.

“I thought they weren’t going to do anything,” she said.

The best parts of the program, from Rivera’s perspective, are how it has reduced flooding throughout the development, and that it is resulted in more vegetation.

“Flooding has been an issue, even in the buildings, and we have a lot of puddles,” she said. “Also there’s the greenery. We need trees and plants so we can breath better.”

The jobs component of the program are a bonus to the primary goal of reducing pollution in the Bronx River.

“We think this will be a template for other programs,” DEP commissioner Carter Strickland said.

The DEP will mainly be paying attention to what components of the infrastructure do the job the best, for the cheapest.

“We’re looking for how cost effective it is…and we’re monitoring how much water is absorbed over the next two years.”

But the DEP will not wait two years to expand the program. And to NYCHA commissioner and environmental coordinator Margarita Lopez, the more green infrastructure projects, the better.

“By putting this project in place we are going to have better control over financial issues associated with the sewer system,” she said. “I’m ready for the next one.”

Bill Weisbrod can be reached via e-mail at bweisbrod@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394.

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