Syracuse UREx Synthesis
UREx City Team: David Chandler, Cliff Davidson, Charles Driscoll, Courtney Gammon, Alex Johnson, Christa Kelleher, Babak Roodsari, Javad Shafiei, and Yige Yang, others to be added.
1. Existing SETs Conditions
In ancient times, the region now known as Central New York played a key political role in serving as the home of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, where five Native American tribes lived. Believed by many to be one of the first and longest lasting participatory democracies in the world, the Haudenosaunee included the Mohawks, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas, and the Oneidas. Their guiding principles are based on the concept that law, society, and nature all have equal importance in decision making. Their Constitution is said to have been one of the models for the U.S. Constitution (Haudenosaunee Confederacy, 2020).
The land currently occupied by Syracuse was the home of the Onondagas. The first European settlers to establish a permanent home here arrived in 1786. The village was named Syracuse in 1820 because of the presence of a major salt industry both here and in Syracuse, Sicily, as well as the similar hilly terrain of the two sites. The village was officially incorporated in 1825, and became established as the headquarters for the Erie Canal which was partially constructed by this time.
Syracuse is considered to be in the northeast portion of the Finger Lakes region and is roughly south of the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. Parts of the city, including the downtown area, were once wetlands that have been reclaimed for urban development, and there is a history of pluvial flooding downtown from heavy rains.
There are no major waterways in the city, although several small creeks flow into Onondaga Lake (total area about 12 km2), whose southern shore is a few km northwest of downtown Syracuse. The lake has a history of severe contamination. In the 1900s, industries along the western shore contributed large amounts of organic chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants; Virtually all plant and animal life in the lake ceased – fish, aquatic insects, birds, aquatic plants essentially disappeared. The lake was added to the EPA Superfund Program’s National Priorities List in 1994 (USEPA, 2020). Numerous cleanup activities began shortly thereafter, including dredging nearly 1.7 million cubic meters of contaminated sediment, capping with over 2 million cubic meters of sand, activated carbon, siderite, and stone, and restoration of natural habitat at many places along the shoreline.
With the reduction of industrial contaminants, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the lake became the dominant environmental concern. Effluent from the Onondaga County Metropolitan wastewater treatment plant (Metro) and associated CSOs caused considerable ecological damage, as flows from Metro are as much as 25% of the annual flow into the lake (Effler et al., 2013). Historically, CSOs became serious in the 1980s due to growth of the suburbs and increasing area covered by impermeable surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and buildings. The problem reached a critical stage in 1988 when a local NGO, the Atlantic States Legal Foundation, sued Onondaga County to stop CSOs from fouling Onondaga Creek, Onondaga Lake, and surrounding ecosystems. The US EPA stepped in, and after extensive negotiations over a decade, the first Amended Consent Judgment (ACJ) was signed in 1998. Fortunately, the County had already taken steps to remove 74% of the total CSO volume using sewer separation and other gray infrastructure solutions. The 1998 ACJ required additional reduction in CSO volume and lower contaminant levels in Metro effluents into Onondaga Lake. Other changes were negotiated in two subsequent ACJ’s prior to the election of a new County Executive in 2007.
The first five years of the 21st century included much local discourse about the CSO problem. The County organized discussions regarding solutions to the problem, but several stakeholder groups were excluded, with two key groups being the Onondaga Nation and residents of the Southside neighborhood (84% African American according to the EJ Atlas, 2020) where the Midland Treatment Plant was to be built (Perrault et al., 2012).
The Onondaga Nation, with a rich native American culture dating back more than a millennium, regards Onondaga Lake as a sacred site. The Nation has tried to protect Onondaga Lake from contaminant discharges for centuries, and it feels responsible for continued environmental stewardship of the lake. Members of the Nation were not included in decision making regarding lakeshore property dating back to early development by European colonists.
The Southside neighborhood near downtown Syracuse had previously experienced environmental injustices, including construction of an Interstate Highway through it, displacement caused by a hospital expansion, and deterioration of air quality by a trash-burning steam plant (Tauxe, 2011). The Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC) was organized as a citizens group specifically to argue for green infrastructure and underground storage instead of the planned Midland Treatment Plant. However, well-established relationships between the County and local construction firms ultimately led to the decision to build Midland as the first of several treatment plants. Although the plant was constructed in 2005, public protests by the POC and others eventually stopped construction of a major pipeline, forcing the plant to operate at reduced capacity (Flynn et al., 2014; Flynn and Davidson, 2016).
A new County Executive who advocated Environmental Justice and proposed expansion of GI was elected in 2007. Shortly after being elected, Joanne Mahoney organized several committees which included the Onondaga Nation, the POC, and a broad contingent of other stakeholder groups. Plans for several wastewater treatment plants in the County were halted, and a fourth ACJ was signed in 2009. According to the new ACJ, Onondaga County was authorized to use both gray and green infrastructure to achieve 95% CSO volume reduction. Although other communities around the country included green infrastructure in their consent decrees as supplemental environmental projects, the Onondaga County ACJ was the first time that GI was listed as a direct legal requirement to reduce CSOs in the U.S. (Garrison and Hobbs, 2011).
The County also created the Save-the-Rain Program to provide funding for GI projects on private property, educate residents about the benefits of green infrastructure, and publicize completion of successful GI. Since 2009, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have implemented more than 220 GI projects to reduce CSOs and improve water quality. The terms of the fourth ACJ have been satisfied, with 97.7% reduction at the end of 2018. Onondaga County was awarded the U.S. Water Prize in 2013 from the U.S. Water Alliance for its Save-the-Rain program (Save-the-Rain, 2020).
The Onondaga County experience shows the importance of accounting for social, ecological, and technological systems together in understanding solutions to managing stormwater to reduce CSOs. Folke et al. (2005) uses the term “adaptive co-management” to combine the dynamic learning present in adaptive management with the linkages present in co-management, where users share management power and responsibility, and enable links between organizations. This is clearly what led to success in the case of Onondaga County (Flynn and Davidson, 2016).
2. Urban Flooding and Combined Sewer Overflows
- Onondaga County Convention Center –Green Roof
UREx has enabled progress on research involving the green roof on the Convention Center in downtown Syracuse. The green roof retrofit was completed in 2011, with several types of sensors installed during and after construction. Temperature sensors were installed in different layers in the roof to enable temperature profiles and estimates of heat flux through the roof on a year-round basis (Squier and Davidson, 2016; Yang et al., 2020). Electromagnetic flow meters were installed on selected roof drains, and precipitation monitors were placed on the roof so that the capture of stormwater by the green roof could be quantified (Squier and Davidson, 2020). Soil moisture sensors were buried in the growth medium at locations around the green roof to enable estimates of the components of a water balance for the roof, i.e., inputs by rain and snow, outputs by flow down the roof drains and by evapotranspiration, and water storage in the growth medium and vegetation on the roof as a function of time.
- (Urban Flooding Work of Dave related to UREx, i.e., Babak Roodsari’s work)
- Onondaga County Convention Center –Green Roof
3. Heat waves
4. Water Chemistry
Use of Green Infrastructure to reduce Air Pollution
Besides stormwater management, green roofs can offer a number of addition benefits. One of these is the capture of air pollutants by vegetation growing on the roof. To quantify this effect, a project underway is attempting to estimate the amount of dry deposition on the Convention Center Green Roof through a series of experiments. These involve measurements of selected pollutants in dry deposition on controlled surfaces, pollutant concentrations in fresh rain, and pollutant concentrations in runoff from the green roof. Some of the methods used in this work are described by Johnson and Davidson (2019).
5. Community Partnerships
- Scenarios Workshop
A successful Scenarios Workshop was held on May 31, 2019 in Syracuse. With attendees in leadership positions in local government, business, NGOs, and research institutions, the workshop facilitated discussions about Central New York State aspirations for the year 2080. A summary of the workshop has been prepared by Lloyd et al. (2020).
- Education on Hydrologic Cycle and Carbon Cycle in Middle Schools
A radio link transmits the data from the green roof instruments back to the Syracuse University campus in real time, and the data are used to draw graphs of rainfall and runoff on an educational website used in SU courses. The website will be opened to the public in late 2020, and will enable public schools to use the green roof data in middle school science classes. This work is described in a UREx blog post entitled Syracuse, Green Infrastructure, and K-12 Learning Opportunities. The lesson plans are being developed as part of the UREx REU program and the UREx Graduate Grant program (Cultra et al., 2020), based on the Next Generation Science Standards (2020).
- Scenarios Workshop