Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today joined together to announce landmark revisions to a 1998 judgment governing the cleanup of Onondaga Lake. The agreement will make Onondaga County a national leader in the use of new, cutting-edge, “green” infrastructure approaches to combat longstanding environmental management problems.
The new agreement – approved by a federal judge this week – replaces a 1998 consent order that mandated the construction of a number of large-scale water treatment systems to reduce sewer overflows into the tributaries of Onondaga Lake. Instead, the County will use a decentralized approach to hold, infiltrate and clean polluted runoff in a manner that mimics nature. The same money that would have been deployed to build three concentrated industrial structures and massive pipe storage systems will now go toward a mixed “green” and “gray” infrastructure system that includes installing vegetated infiltration basins, roof gardens, tree boxes, cisterns and pocket wetlands (known as “rain gardens”). These new measures will be designed in a way that reforests and beautifies Syracuse.
“Since my first day in office, I have made it my personal mission to change the course of the Onondaga Lake cleanup,” County Executive Joanie Mahoney said. “I am proud to be here today to announce that we have been successful. Judge Scullin’s signature allows our community to move forward in a responsible way that all County residents should be proud of. I am grateful to Commissioner Grannis and the EPA for their support. Without their support this agreement would never have been possible.”
“This can make the Syracuse area one of the national leaders in the emerging green infrastructure movement,” Commissioner Grannis said. “It completely changes the direction of the cleanup plan by using proven engineering alternatives that are not just a lot of greenery. The new approach will clean the water, generate jobs, limit community disruption and promote economic revitalization by creating desirable neighborhoods -- all while restoring a water body that is sacred to the Onondaga Nation.”
Environmental Facilities Corporation Acting President Matthew Millea said: "I would like to congratulate Onondaga County on their tremendous victory and also applaud their efforts to incorporate "green" approaches to managing storm water into their long-term planning. Governor Paterson is a strong proponent of providing funding for innovative projects that use natural, green approaches to treat storm water and we are thrilled to provide Onondaga County with resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to further this shared vision."
The County has been under court order since 1998 to reduce pollution flowing into Onondaga Lake from combined sewer overflows (CSO). Sewer pipes that operate as storm drains when it rains can be overwhelmed by runoff from roadways, rooftops, bare soil, and sloped lawns, causing overflows into Onondaga Lake tributaries. Since the original consent order, significant progress has been made nationally and internationally in the use of green infrastructure to control CSO pollution. Green solutions can be used in lieu of, or in combination with, traditional gray infrastructure. Additionally, many green infrastructure projects have the advantage of being smaller and more easily constructed. Congress has encouraged this new approach by setting aside 20 percent of federal clean water funds for green innovation approaches.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin’s approval of the settlement allows Onondaga County to begin an aggressive program to incorporate this new combined technology on a large scale, making it one of the first counties in the nation to implement such a plan. In addition to storm water management, green infrastructure will provide several benefits to the community including: improved environmental and economic development benefits, reduced costs for construction, operation and maintenance, and the inclusion of green elements that will add aesthetic character to Central New York communities.
Onondaga County reached the agreement announced today with the other parties of the 1998 consent order - DEC and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation - and with the participation of the Onondaga Nation.
United States Senator Chuck Schumer said, “This agreement is a win-win that will save taxpayers money and speed the clean-up of Onondaga Lake; it represents a new future for wastewater and pollution reduction. I commend the hard work of County Executive Mahoney to reach a settlement with the DEC, Atlantic States Legal Foundation, and the Onondaga Nation to put Onondaga Lake on the forefront of innovation to reduce pollution. I look forward to working with the County to support this project and hold it up as a model for other communities.”
Congressman Dan Maffei said, “Since taking office, County Executive Mahoney has been a true leader in challenging the way we think about the issues facing us here in Onondaga County. Today’s announcement is especially significant because it represents a new way of confronting a problem by incorporating green technologies to control pollution and improve the overall health of Onondaga Lake. These kinds of innovative solutions will help move us forward and I am proud that Onondaga County is becoming a leader in green infrastructure.”
“I am pleased to have this historic agreement in place so that we can continue the very important work of cleaning up Onondaga Lake, one of the most valuable assets in our community,” said Senator John DeFrancisco. “Each step brings us closer to a clean Onondaga Lake.”
Syracuse Mayor Matthew J. Driscoll said, “One of the very first options the City proposed for handling the combined sewer overflow was an underground storage method. We are pleased that this technology along with green infrastructure will be incorporated throughout the City’s neighborhoods.”
“The very positive change of plans illustrates what leaders can accomplish when they work together and follow a principle of our Great Law of Peace: that everyone bring their good minds together to find the best solution for all and the natural world,” said Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons. “The Nation is please to have played an active role in this change and we are very relieved for our Onondaga Creek which will be cleaner and better restored with this acceptance of green infrastructure into the planning for our community.”
Atlantic States Legal Foundation President Samuel Sage said, “This agreement puts Onondaga County on the cutting edge working with nature not against nature to handle storm water while saving money and creating local jobs.”
County Executive Mahoney concluded, “This is a great day for our entire region as we proudly become leaders in green infrastructure. Onondaga Lake is tremendous asset in our community and this new agreement will help it reach its fullest potential.”
This is just the latest of many clean water, drinking water and green infrastructure projects recently announced for the Syracuse area. Earlier this year, Governor David A. Paterson announced $21 million in grants and low-interest loans for clean water projects, $2.1 million in “green innovation” grants for various area communities and a $237,500 grant to the Central NY Regional Planning and Development Board for planning activities to address phosphorus levels in Onondaga Lake.