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Buffalo to spend hundreds of millions on EPA-required sewer upgrades

Buffalonians could worry less about sewer pipe overflows if storm water never gets into the sewer system. The city is spending millions on green infrastructure to do exactly that.

To fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Buffalo Sewer Authority is spending what will eventually amount to hundreds of millions of dollars to get rid of the overflows that occur when sewers overload during storms, dumping the excess into city waterways and eventually going to its treatment plant on Unity Island.

It is going to take years, with projects each year. This year, Sewer Authority General Manager Olulowole McFoy says the spending plan is $20 million.

"Our Pratt-Willert green infrastructure project, so that's going to be a streetscape where we're going to be basically taking, I think it's about 12 acres of impervious surface runoff through the use of green infrastructure," McFoy says. "That is really going to transform that corridor of William Street."

Other projects include green infrastructure as part of the next stages of the re-building of Niagara Street and retention ponds installed as part of the massive Northland Avenue project.

"We're going to have vegetative swales in that area, as well as a stormwater catchment area that's going to be almost like a park," he says. "You won't be able to tell the difference. It's going to look like a part to you, but really what it's doing, it's not only treating the stormwater, but it's holding and capturing it."

That stormwater is held until the storm flow into the treatment plant has eased and then sent for treatment. Some of that water will also soak into the ground or help specially planted vegetation grow. McFoy says the plan will also be relying on warm weather to evaporate some of that water in those retention ponds.

"Not only do we want evaporation to happen - evapotranspiration - but we're looking for those plants and those soils to absorb that and recharge the groundwater table there," McFoy says. "So we want to make sure that the stormwater doesn't make it into our system, then we don't have those combined sewer overflows."

McFoy says this technique of keeping wastewater out of the system has already proven to work along a re-built Ohio Street, with a system of gauges measuring rainfall and flow into the sewer system.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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