About 30 people could be seen pedaling their bicycles around Onondaga County this weekend enjoying nature...but also learning about how green infrastructure is saving it. The Save the Rain program was showing off some of the things the county is doing in its Downtown Bike Tour.
Our first stop on the Save the Rain Green infrastructure bike tour was not exactly a big park or nature setting...it was on Water Street adjacent to the Erie Canal Museum. Teenager Chris Grenga of the Onondaga Environmental Corps explains how he's an advocate for the rain garden he maintains here...when he used to ignore them.
"If I walked by I wouldn't pay attention to any of this. But since I've gotten the job, I've been here since summer, the fall and now it's the spring, it just opened me up to tons of different things and I share that with people that I know."
The county is investing in jobs for young people, coordinator Greg Michel explains, for a few reasons.
"They've (the county) been looking at, o-k now all these installations are in, how do we maintain them. So these guys get trained to do it. They come out to the lots and they're actually getting paid, getting a first work experience and learning about environmental science."
The rain gardens and porous pavers at the museum are part of the save the rain project, to keep excess water out of the sewer system and instead have it seep back into the ground. That in turn cuts down on sewer overflows that can dump raw sewage into streams and Onondaga lake.
Our next stop? The corner at the OnCenter and War Memorial...where a number of green infrastructure projects have been built. Ride coordinator Amy Samuels explained what might be planted in rain gardens aside parking lots and on the OnCenter's Green Roof.
"There are plants in there that can tolerate getting wet, really wet and maybe sitting in water for a day or two. But then they don't require water, like a cattail, or something like that, to grow."
The parking lot here also uses porous pavement to let some water seep through instead of just run off. Later in the ride, we tour the rain gardens near the entrance to the zoo, as well as a basketball court at Skiddy park that drinks up rainwater.
We then pedaled to three basins near skunk city with beds of plants.
"Storm water and raw sewage from our homes and businesses altogether, are treated by this constructed wetland. This is the first constructed wetland of its type in the nation," Coordinator Khris Dodson explains.
He points out how sewer overflows are diverted here
"As that water comes in, the wetland fills up, those mats will float with the level of the water. Plants love nutrients. they'll eat those nutrients, take up those nutrients through their roots."
This sewer diversion and the other Save the Rain projects are pretty unique ways to try and keep waterways and Onondaga Lake clean. Events like the weekend bike ride and others are trying to bring the public on board.