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Buffalo's sewer system is getting greener, smarter, more equitable

A "road closed" sign sits behind a Buffalo Sewer Authority construction project sign for Smith Street at Eagle Street
Mike Desmond
This installation project at Smith Street and Eagle Street in Buffalo is one of many underway by the Buffalo Sewer Authority.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority originally estimated it might cost a half a billion dollars over many years to get rid of the sewer overflows that have polluted the waterways. Tens of millions of dollars are still being spent on getting rid of the overflows, but now it's increasingly computerized and greener.

That's according to General Manager Oluwole McFoy, who said these new ways of running an old sewer system are actually working better and cheaper than anticipated. Across the city, there are construction sites underway, completed or planned.

McFoy said the new computerized systems can deal with local weather quirks.

"You know, it could be raining here and downtown and not raining in South Buffalo. So we're trying to get our system to a place where we actually utilize our smart sewers to not only prevent combined sewer overflows, but actually to move water from areas that are having rain, so moving the water in our pipes to other areas," he said.

McFoy said that's accomplished with a mix of the computer sensors now being installed in the 850 miles of sewers across the city and storage pipes, like those running under Hertel Avenue, which hold contaminated water until it can move to the treatment plant on Bird Island without overflowing. This also keeps some neighborhoods from being flooded when the sewer system can't drain, an equity issue to the sewer authority GM.

"So this is really about our green solution, which we'll be looking at a number of ways of mimicking nature in dealing with storm water, whether that's street trees and bumpouts and permeable pavement," McFoy said.

Sewer construction project at Smith Street and Eagle Street
Mike Desmond

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.