For This Smart Garden In New York, No Worries When It Rains And Rains


The Brooklyn Botanical Garden in New York is using the cloud to handle too much rain. New York got hit hard when Superstorm Sandy dumped more than 7 inches of rain across the east coast in 2012. The city sustained up to $19 billion in damages and saw 5 billion gallons of sewage overflow. Those volumes worried the staff of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which had been planning a Water Garden with a pool that doubles as storage for rainwater but feared another overflow. As a result, the mixture of excrement, sewage and rainwater streaming into New York’s waterway played a part in the city’s first “smart garden.”

The Botanical Garden in Brooklyn is the latest public locale to embrace tech to offer more services and run more efficiently. Right from the California Academy of Science’s Living Roof, which helps in controlling the museum with weather stations, to the 49ers’ high-tech stadium and even whole cities like Amsterdam, many are grasping the idea of connecting their infrastructure to the internet or letting more bits of code handle their operations.

‘Storm Tracker’

OptiNimbus program is created by Opti in 2007 to stem water flow in a salt marsh using a web server on the valve’s controls. Since then, it’s expanded to connecting water systems to the cloud from Washington, DC to Oregon. For the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, OptiNimbus holds data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecasts and National Weather Service and couples it with an algorithm to automatically find out if it should drain the pond based on how much rain it expects to come. It recomputes the weather forecast once a minute. Staffers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden can control it from devices anywhere by connecting the valve online and managing through a web dashboard.

That means if it rains three inches on any given day, the valves below the Water Garden could automatically discharge the same amount of water from its pond, keeping the water levels steady after the downpour. By doing so, the Water Garden doesn’t overflow from the rainfall, preventing excess water from splashing towards the storm drain and compounding with the sewage.

‘Getting It Right’

The algorithm has already made the right call in cases where people would have trouble deciding. When New York expected flooding and heavy rain on January 23, conventional wisdom might have been to drain the pond in anticipation of the heavy influx of water expected. The day before the storm, the pond’s water levels had been pretty low, and OptiNimbus opted not to drain. It was the right decision.

The first phase of the project was revealed when the Brooklyn Botanical Garden opened the Water Garden to the public last September. It’s expected to be completed by 2018 when the pond’s water can be recirculated and used in its Japanese Garden pond. Completing the next phase would mean the garden could stop relying on 22 million gallons a year for the Japanese pond, dropping down to only 900,000 gallons annually.