(Stormwater stories interviews at Paterson Falls. Sheila Baker Gujral interviewing Eva Razak)

“My problem is every time it rains, I get water in my basement, and then the sewers smell,” said Yolanda Mateo, a Paterson resident. “This last time, the flow looked like a river coming down and into my basement where I have the line of the electric. I was scared.”

Yolanda was one of many Paterson residents who shared her story at the Dec. 4, 2021 Stormwater Stories Open Mic at Paterson Falls. Struck by the devastation of Tropical Storm Ida, The Paterson Green Team, Waterspirit, The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, and Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers collaborated to record firsthand accounts of how Paterson residents are impacted by flooding. These stories revealed that although Tropical Storm Ida severely impacted residents, it was not the first flood and will not be the last one. The flooding issues in Paterson have been occurring for decades.  

We are compiling these stories into a video and will share the video and clips in our upcoming newsletter, on the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers website, and on social media. Here are some excerpts from the stories we gathered.

Frances Harrison:

“I’m here at the fabulous Great Falls and the Passaic River running behind us to talk about the problems that Paterson has with flooding. This river, which was introduced to the city from Alexander Hamilton, was a lifesaver 200 years ago. Now with the infrastructure and overflow of sewage of the city, this river has become a very big problem for Paterson. Ida came through, and the neighbors a block away from me—their basement was flooded up to the knee. I went to my neighbors—I got a little water in my house, but to see water up to the knees of a full basement of five rooms, it was just horrendous.”

Julio Hernandez:

“It’s a problem, and every time I’m fixing the driveway—it cracks our driveway and it’s an unending repair. Our foundation is getting mold from all the water coming in. It’s a big problem and it happens all the time. We don’t know what to do anymore. We talked to the City, and they told us there’s a drainage problem in our street. It’s cracking our sidewalk, and we don’t know what to do anymore.”

William Priestley:

“I’ve been a resident of Paterson for 75 years and a resident of People’s Park for 75 years. This problem has been going on since I was a little child. We used to play in these puddles years ago because we didn’t know about polio and all that stuff. But today, all these germs and diseases have come around, yet the kids are still in the streets playing. So it’s very dangerous with all the floods and conditions in Paterson. It should have been done 75 years ago. It still exists today in Paterson. We don’t need so many other things. We need this issue done. And really, it’s a shame. With all the money we have in the city of Paterson, nothing has been done and I’m sorry for that. The falls are beautiful, and the city is beautiful. Let’s keep it beautiful! The City of Paterson and State of New Jersey should fund the people who have all these disasters, basements being flooded out—they should fund them. Either for a sump pump, winterization, or something. It’s a real shame. They can afford it. Let them get it done. Thank you!”   

Martha Arencibia:

“Where I live, with my neighbors we hear lightning and thunder and we go into activation panic mode. We have to leave our homes, because we can’t stay there. All we can do is take our cars and locate them to higher ground so they don’t flood. We then come back to find the neighborhood in disarray. Cars all over the place. With Ida, September 1st, this year 2021, I had five feet of water in my basement. I lost everything: two furnaces, two hot water heaters, and personal belongings. I mean, it’s not even about the money. It’s about the effect of the disaster and the health hazard with no resources. You can’t fix something that is not covered by insurance. How do you recover? This is something that needs to be addressed. I can’t express it enough. How it affects us. If it doesn’t happen to you, you’re blessed. I’m so happy for you! But it happens to some neighbors, it happens to some bodegas, stores with food in it, our schools, our houses of worship, so we’re affected no matter what. Paterson is one of 21 municipalities in this area that has a combined sewer system, and I can’t express enough that there’s so much federal money to be had. Let’s tap into that money so we could give Paterson the resources that we need for our community because this is injustice, what we have going on here. If our elected officials do not push this subject, we have a serious CSO problem in Paterson and all the other municipalities that have this issue. We really have to work together as a community—bring more partners to come into a platform that we could actually tap into the resources that are now available. This is a crisis for humanity. It’s time that we talk [about] CSO.  It’s time that we address this problem, because I’m a flood victim. I’m not just a resident of Paterson. I’m a flood victim. I can’t even swim! But anyway, that’s it.”                              

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