The Save the Rain Program is Onondaga County’s award-winning initiative to improve the water quality of Onondaga Lake and its tributaries. To date, the County has advanced more than 220 distinct green infrastructure projects, on public and private property. Onondaga County is a national model for the implementation of a balanced approach to stormwater management – a combination of smart gray investments with innovative green infrastructure solutions. Onondaga Lake has seen tremendous improvement in water quality and the ecosystem is thriving!

DSCF4143The Save the Rain program started as a comprehensive stormwater management plan intended to reduce the amount of pollution that flows into Onondaga Lake and its tributaries and is quickly becoming a way of life in Onondaga County. During wet weather events, stormwater flows into the local combined stormwater & sewer system, causing heavy flow periods that can overload the system. During times of stormwater overload, the existing combined sewer system is designed to release the combined sanitary flow and stormwater into local tributaries, including Harbor Brook and Onondaga Creek both of which flow into Onondaga Lake. Such an event is known as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). When certain combined stormwater & sewer systems overflow during major storm events the water quality in each local tributary as well as Onondaga Lake is impacted. (Click here for a map of the local impacted sewersheds and CSO locations). Syracuse is one of about 770 communities in the nation with a combined sewer system.

Amended Consent Judgment Lake In 1989, a Consent Judgment was reached settling litigation between New York State, the Atlantic States Legal Foundation, and Onondaga County in connection with alleged violations of state and federal water pollution control laws. Its conditions required the County to perform a series of engineering and scientific studies to evaluate the need for upgrading the Metropolitan Sewage Treatment Plant (Metro) and for providing treatment of the combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that occur in the Metro service area. Based on the results of those studies and in consultation with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the County established a framework for upgrading Metro and addressing the CSOs. The result was the execution of the Amended Consent Judgment (ACJ) which was signed in January 1998 by all the parties—NYSDEC, the State Attorney General, ASLF, and the County. For more information regarding the ACJ and a copy of the agreement, please visit: http://www.ongov.net/forms/images/ACJ.pdf

A New Way of Thinking

The 1998 ACJ, focused on conventional grey infrastructure improvements including:

  • Improving and upgrading of the County’s main sewage treatment plant (Metro)
  • Eliminating and/or decreasing the effects of the combined sewer overflows on the lake and its tributaries
  • Designing a lake and tributary monitoring program to evaluate the effects of the improvement projects on the water quality of the lake and tributary streams

When elected to office, former County Executive Joanie Mahoney was determined to find a better way forward for the county to meet the water quality goals of the ACJ and have beneficial impacts on the community, socially and economically. Rather than building more sewage treatment plants in neighborhoods and in Armory Square, County Executive Mahoney took a bold step and put a temporary hold on ACJ construction projects to determine the feasibility of incorporating the use of green infrastructure in combination with smart gray infrastructure. Onondaga_Lake_ParkThe County Executive has been a pioneer in the implementation of green infrastructure to prevent CSO occurrences. The County worked with a variety of stakeholders to develop a more sustainable solution that would include a combination of green and gray solutions to improve the water quality in Onondaga Lake. The 4th stipulation of the ACJ, which was approved by the Court in November 2009, includes the combined use of gray and green infrastructure solutions and sets forth an aggressive initiative to develop green infrastructure to reduce CSO pollution. This plan is the Save the Rain program. Due to the success of its Save the Rain program, Onondaga County has become a national leader in the use of environmentally sustainable solutions to reduce CSO pollution. More importantly, the water quality of Onondaga Lake continues to improve and as such, Onondaga Lake is the true beneficiary of this successful program.

Why Green Infrastructure? Green infrastructure is a sustainable solution for capturing stormwater runoff. The use of these natural or engineered systems enhance overall environmental quality by capturing rainwater where it lands. Green systems can reduce the amount of stormwater that flows to storm drains, which will prevent overloading the sewer system and reduce CSO’s. Reducing the volume of stormwater entering the sewer system will lead to improved water quality of Onondaga Lake and its tributaries. Not only do these green systems improve water quality, but they enhance the aesthetic value of our local streetscapes. Many streets which were lined by concrete sidewalks are now lined with street trees and other plantings that capture the rain and add value to the pedestrian’s experience walking or biking along the street. Additionally, green infrastructure provides several secondary benefits such as improved:

  • Air quality
  • Neighborhood aesthetics
  • Habitat and biodiversity
  • Recreational and transportation opportunities
  • Property values
  • Community health and vitality

Through the Save the Rain Program over seven different types of green solutions has been implemented throughout the county. These solutions include:

Combinations of these green solutions have been utilized to create green streets, green parks, and myriad environmental and property improvements throughout the community. For more information please visit the following links: www.ongov.net www.ongov.net/environment/lake.html