How Green Infrastructure is ‘Saving the Rain’ in New York

IJC staff
March 22, 2013

Cities and organizations in the Buffalo River and other New York watersheds are showing off stormwater strategies --- to slow down, spread out, and soak in precipitation and runoff. 

It’s an alternative to letting water flow unfiltered off of roofs and other hard surfaces and into streams, rivers, and ultimately the Great Lakes.

The methods were showcased at a recent green infrastructure forum put on at the University of Buffalo, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Featuring EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, the Western New York Green Infrastructure Forum was standing-room-only, and filled with sustainable water thinkers and doers from across the region. IJC Commissioner Dereth Glance of Syracuse, N.Y., was among those in attendance.

Green infrastructure has benefits for water quality and beyond.

New York state officials from the Environmental Finance Center shared the coordinated approach they use to provide financing support for communities investing in porous pavement, bioswales, rooftop gardens, and other stormwater projects.  

Architects, planners, and community leaders also shared how they are using integrated planning at the municipal level, tools available under the Clean Water Act, and old-fashioned elbow grease to realize a community vision that re-imagines abandoned property as green infrastructure, restores the Buffalo River with waterfalls to support healthy oxygen levels for aquatic life, and improves stormwater quality before it reaches Lake Erie and her tributaries.  

The Forum’s keynote address was given by the Matthew Millea, deputy county executive for Onondaga County.

Millea is responsible for Onondaga County’s award-winning Save the Rain program that slows, infiltrates, and captures rainfall before it flows into Onondaga Lake, carrying bacteria, debris, and other pollutants.  

To date, more than 100 projects have been completed, with 60 more ready to break ground, Millea said. He shared a moving story of seizing the opportunity to shift national water policy from “grey to green” when New York state was invited to testify to Congress in 2008 on stimulus funding for infrastructure in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

Ultimately, New York State received $425 million to invest in clean water infrastructure and was able to create the Green Innovation Grant Program to spur local community investment in cutting-edge practices to improve water quality. 

Sharing success and fostering healthy competition is integral to the widespread embrace of sustainable stormwater practices that become integrated into mundane local planning and construction decisions. 

Check out --- a comprehensive stormwater management plan intended to reduce pollution to Onondaga Lake and its tributaries --- for design specifications and additional information that may be applicable for your community. 

IJC staff