Case Study

Smart Cities Tech

Brooklyn, NY: Hi-Tech Garden Controls Stormwater Flow


Sensors and weather-prediction algorithms determine when heavy rain appears likely, and drains the retention basin to allow more storage.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden relies on the “cloud” to handle heavy rain.

Brooklyn, NY

Warm, temperate with frequent precipitation


35.7% non-Hispanic White, 31.9% non-Hispanic Black or African American, 10.4% non-Hispanic Asian, 0.4% from some other race (non-Hispanic) and 1.6% of two or more races (non-Hispanic).

Superstorm Sandy rang the bell.  After coping with 7 inches of rain in a few days, all of New York City was swamped.  Sewage overflow topped 5 billion gallons.  Total damages ballooned to more than $19 billion. Leaders at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden feared another major storm might overflow the garden and damage adjacent surface water.

In response, they designed a “smart” garden.The “smart garden” uses sensors and cloud-based analytics to track rainfall and adjust water levels accordingly. When rain is anticipated, water is discharged from the garden into into the sewer system before any overflows might occur.

The garden relies on an automated system called OptiNimbus that uses an algorithm to track rainfall and adjusts its water levels accordingly.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is just the latest public venue to embrace tech to run more efficiently or offer more services. From the California Academy of Science’s Living Roof, which helps control the museum with weather stations, to the 49ers’ high tech stadium and even whole cities like Amsterdam, facility managers are turning to the “cloud” to improve performance and reduce costs.

“We’re discharging in advance of rain so we’re not putting water through the sewer system.  It’s that simple.” — Scott Simpson, the project manager for Opti.

The garden relies on an automated system – with embedded sensors, real-time data collection and cloud computing to track rainfall and adjusts its water levels accordingly.

The system was built by Opti, a Boston-based company specializing in cloud-based solutions to stormwater management, in consultation with the Botanic Garden’s landscape consultant, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.


Lessons Learned
  • On-site sensors provide real-time data on current conditions
  • Algorithms can be written to anticipate future stormwater impacts
  • Storage facility levels can be adjusted, before the fact, to avoid combined sewer overflow.
  • Installation costs a fraction of traditional monitoring and maintenance
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