To the Editor:
On Aug. 17, you printed a letter from Vincenza Terrinoni’s questioning why Onondaga County permits sewage over flows into Onondaga Lake and its tributaries. It is an issue the county and more than 400 communities are working to address.
At the turn of the 19th century, communities began to install ”modern” sewage collection systems. More than 50 percent of the city of Syracuse’s sewer system was constructed prior to 1930. At that time, engineers designed sewers that conveyed sewage and storm water from streets and homes in a combined system. This was more cost-effective than building a separate system for storm water. This decision left future generations with an environmental challenge we are working to address via the county’s Save the Rain program.
When heavy rains affect the city’s combined sewer system, it is designed to overflow, ensuring that the sewage and storm water do not back up into homes and businesses. Save the Rain is a comprehensive program that limits sewer overflows in the city through the use of green infrastructure and storm water storage systems. Our goal is to reduce combined sewer overflows by 95 percent during a storm event in which one inch of rain falls over two hours.
Onondaga County is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to implement Save the Rain program and reduce CSO events. In 2009, the county abandoned plans to build sewage treatment plants in the city, relying instead on green infrastructure and large storage systems to mitigate CSO events. In areas where it is cost-effective to separate the sewers, we have done so.
More importantly, the county now has over 80 green infrastructure projects complete or under construction, all of which help to keep rainfall out of the sewer system all together. These projects stand in stark contrast to sewage treatment plants that would now be in place, had the county not opted to change course.
In the absence of replacing the city’s entire sewer system, which would cost billions of dollars, overflows will occur when heavy storms hit the city. Thus, the county is investing in a public notification system. Those who wish to know when a CSO event may occur can visit a public website or receive emails or text messages informing them of likely overflow.
One of the key elements of Save the Rain is transparency. Every project advanced through the program has a unique web page where the public can review the project design elements, cost and storm water capture objectives. Likewise, the notification system will provide the public with an access point to be better informed of overflow events when they occur.
Onondaga Lake is cleaner today than it has been in generations. Through Save the Rain, sewer overflows and their harmful effects will be reduced substantially by 2018.
For more information on this important program and to see what you can do to help, please visit www.SaveTheRain.us.
We also invite you to join us for a day of tours and clean water education at Onondaga County’s Save the Rain, Clean Water Fair Sept. 22 at the Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Facility on Hiawatha Boulevard in Syracuse.
Joanie Mahoney is Onondaga County executive.