Jacob Fox

Jacob Fox ... owns Closed Loop Systems

Town of Geneva Climate Smart Coordinator Jacob Fox answers your questions about recycling, composting, lawn care, etc.

Today’s question: How do we deal with our stormwater problem?

Answer: When we talk about climate change or natural disasters, we almost always hear the phrases “flood risk” or “flood damage.” However, we hardly ever hear the phrase “flood resilience.” This term refers to an individual’s or a group’s ability to get flooded and to survive intact, and even prosper.

Improving resilience is all about improving systems and making them stronger rather than waiting till they become outdated, weak, and eventually fail. Improving flood resilience is all about being pro-active as opposed to being reactive.

When people think about stormwater, they often think, “How can I create a conduit for this excess water to get to the existing stormwater pipes, and into the lake ASAP?” This idea is called a “Grey Infrastructure Solution.” This solution does not hold water, but rather allows it an unimpeded pathway downhill. This grey infrastructure does nothing to slow the volume of organic and inorganic pollutants from eventually entering the fresh water bodies. These pollutants could be as poisonous as leaked gasoline or as nutrient-rich as dissolved soil particles.

Long story short, we do not want ANYTHING entering the lake unless it is clean H2O. All of this extra water volume and pollutants can create blue-green algal blooms, unsafe drinking water, and eroded hillsides. These damages end up costing tenfold in water treatment costs, flood cleanup, healthcare costs, reduced farm viability, decreased property values, etc.

In the Town of Geneva, we are addressing stormwater from a few different angles. We are including stormwater retention language in our zoning codes, so that all new developments have stormwater ponds and plans. Approved by our town board — and with the help of soil and water and town resources — we have installed upland retention ponds on public and private lands.

Our residents have engaged in a “Lake Friendly Living” program, that incentivizes residents to improve their water holding capacity through rain gardens, rain barrels, and other lake-friendly best management practices. Our farmers are involved in the town-sponsored “lake friendly farm program” that incentivizes farmers to improve their environmental stewardship. We have engaged in a community-wide information gathering quest to learn from our residents where there are particularly troubling areas of stormwater runoff. Our process is to engage with residents to identify problem areas, work with Ontario County Soil and Water to determine solutions, gather funding, implement projects, measure outcome, and communicate to the public the impact.

We can all play a role in making Geneva a #spongecity. This hashtag is a global challenge to improve the permeability of our cities by increasing the use of “Green Infrastructure.” This type of natural “soil-based” infrastructure is ideal for holding water, filtering contaminants, and reducing erosion.

Everyone who owns land has a role to play in our collective stormwater situation. Smaller landowners have the opportunity to input rain gardens and other “Lake friendly Living” practices to capture the runoff from roofs, driveways, and other impermeable surfaces. Larger land owners can host bio-retention ponds. Car owners can make sure they do not have oil or fluid leaks.

This stormwater problem is a community problem that is threatening our great shared natural resource, Seneca Lake. Please reach out, foxjacob@mac.com, if you know of any particular stormwater problems in the City or Town of Geneva, and hopefully we can continue to implement green infrastructure projects to “slow the stormwater, spread it, sink it, and store it.”

Jacob Fox is a Geneva city resident. He works with the Town of Geneva as a Climate Smart Coordinator, to help the town reduce waste, improve stormwater infrastructure, reduce energy usage, and more “climate smart topics.” He also runs a business called Closed Loop Systems that operates vermicomposting facilities in upstate NY. His Climate Smart column runs the third Saturday of every month. With a question or topic for Fox, contact him at foxjacob@me.com.

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