12:23pm

Tue November 15, 2011
Environment

Save the Rain protects Onondaga Lake from sewage

Reverend Jim Matthews says the streets outside St. Lucy's Church on the west side of Syracuse used to flood with every rainstorm.

"The sewage used to overflow and it was raw sewage and it was a mess," he recalls.

But now that the county has re-paved the church parking lot with porous asphalt, the flooding has stopped.

That improvement came after an epic court battle that resulted in Onondaga County being ordered to clean up its overflowing sewer system, to prevent the Metro sewage treatment plant from overflowing into Onondaga Lake.

And St. Lucy's is just one of 50 "green infrastructure" projects taken on by the county's "Save the Rain" initiative.

"We're going to be doing small to large-scale projects to mitigate stormwater by capturing it where it stands," explains BJ Adigun, who works with a county contractor, CH2M Hill, to oversee construction projects.

Khris Dodson of Syracuse's Center of Excellence leads outreach and education, hosting events and workshops to encourage household-by-household changes, like installing rain barrels.

"The less water that you have running off your roof, down your driveway, into the street," Dodson says, "the less goes into our sewer system."

Richard Baldwin is a case in point. He uses two rain barrels to feed a koi pond in his backyard.

"Every time it rains, I fill it up," he says. The rest of the time, a steady stream of water drains from the barrel to the pond through a plastic tube, keeping the water clear.

Dodson says the low-tech Save the Rain initiative has made Syracuse a national leader in green infrastructure.  Wednesday night the county will celebrate that success, with an update and reception at the Palace Theater.

St. Lucy's, meanwhile, held its own ceremony to bless its new parking lot this past summer.