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Green Infrastructure Planning in Central New York

Using Green Infrastructure to Manage Stormwater

Stormwater flowing to a drain
Stormwater is water from rain or melting
snow that doesn't soak into the ground.

Like many waterbodies in New York, various forms of pollution, including pollutants carried by stormwater runoff, affect those in the Central New York region. Stormwater is water from rain and melting snow that runs off into nearby waterbodies rather than soaking into the ground. This runoff collects debris, chemicals, sediment, and other pollutants as it flows over land and impervious surfaces. If left untreated, runoff will carry those pollutants into lakes, rivers, and streams where people swim, fish, play, and draw drinking water. Stormwater that flows into sewer systems can overwhelm the sewer, sending untreated waste into nearby waterbodies.

Green infrastructure (GI) practices, such as vegetated buffers, rain gardens, porous pavement, and vegetated swales, can improve water quality by removing pollutants from stormwater and reducing the amount of runoff that ends up in sewer systems and local waterbodies. GI practices can be less expensive than building or expanding stormwater and sewage treatment systems to handle runoff. They also have a number of secondary benefits not associated with traditional treatment methods including aesthetic improvements, cleaner air, energy savings, urban cooling, and climate change mitigation.

Project Overview

In 2009, the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board (CNYRPDB) received a $237,500 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from DEC to identify opportunities to use green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff in the Syracuse Urbanized Area (SUA) and the five counties that make up the planning region.

An Urbanized Area is an area with a central place (such as the City of Syracuse) and a densely populated surrounding area. Urbanized Areas have at least 50,000 residents and a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile. The impact from stormwater runoff in urban areas is one of New York State's top ten water quality issues, since urban and developed areas tend to have a higher rate of impervious surfaces that prevent precipitation from seeping into the ground.

CNYRPDB expects the use of green infrastructure practices to reduce the amount of pollutants (such as phosphorus and sediment) that are carried by stormwater runoff into local waterbodies. Fewer pollutants mean fewer water quality problems and healthier waterbodies for fishing, boating and swimming.

Project Status

part of a green infrastructure conceptual design developed for this project
GI conceptual designs, which show where GI could be used
to help manage stormwater, were developed for ten sites in
need of improved stormwater management. This image shows a
portion of one of the designs, which are part of the "Green
Infrastructure Planning for Improved Stormwater Management in
Central New York" technical report prepared by CNYRPDB.

CNYRPDB finished work on this project in February, 2012. The project had two main parts:

  • CNYRPDB identified areas in the SUA that could benefit from green infrastructure practices or updated stormwater controls.

  • CNYRPDB hired consultants who developed green infrastructure design plans for five sites in Central New York counties.

To identify areas in the SUA that could potentially benefit from green infrastructure practices, CNYRPDB began by reaching out to individuals, organizations, and local governments that might have an interest in the project. Following this outreach effort, they worked with local officials and other stakeholders to identify specific communities, watersheds, and sewersheds where erosion, pollution, flooding, and general stormwater drainage problems are common and contribute to water quality issues in local waterbodies. Using this information, CNYRPDB created a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based database of over 100 sites in the SUA that are in need of improved stormwater management. CNYRPDB analyzed site conditions using GIS and field investigations and prioritized the 33 sites that would benefit most from green infrastructure. They then identified potential green infrastructure practices for each of the sites and developed conceptual design sketches of GI practices for the ten top priority sites. A technical report detailing this part of the project is available on the Plans, Reports and Studies section of CNYRPDB's website (see right hand column for a link).

Bullhead Point parking lot at Lake Neatahwanta in the town of Fulton.
A vegetated buffer was designed to be installed
between the Bullhead Point Pavilion parking lot
and Lake Neatahwanta to filter stormwater runoff.
Image courtesy of CNYRPDB.

In parallel with the work in the SUA, CNYRPDB worked with county planning departments, municipal officials, and county soil and water conservation districts in each of the five counties in the CNYRPDB region to identify construction projects near water bodies with water quality or drainage problems that would benefit from stormwater controls. CNYRPDB contracted with design consultants to develop construction plans for implementing green infrastructure stormwater controls at five different sites. The image at left shows the Bullhead Point Pavilion parking lot at Lake Neatahwanta in the City of Fulton, one of the project sites. Additional details about this part of the project can be found on the News & Highlights section of CNYRPDB's website (see right hand column for a link).

Final Progress Report

When each ARRA 604(b) project is complete, DEC requires a final report summarizing the entire project to be submitted. The report includes a description of the project's goals, work accomplished, and final project outcomes.

To view the final progress report for this project, click the following link:

Green Infrastructure Planning for Improved Stormwater Management in Central New York - Final Report (PDF) (162 KB)

Regional Demographic Information

The CNYRPDB five-county planning region is centrally located in upstate New York and includes the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego. The five counties encompass over 3,600 square miles and more than 780,000 residents.

Contact Information


126 North Salina Street, Suite 200, Syracuse, NY 13202-1065