New Stormwater Management Research Engages Students and Public

When SyracuseCoE Executive Director Ed Bogucz was trying to recruit Cliff Davidson from Carnegie Mellon University, he told the environmental transport expert it was the perfect time to come to Syracuse because of Onondaga County’s commitment to sustainability.
 
Today, Davidson is the Thomas and Colleen Wilmot Chair in Engineering at Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. He conducts innovative research in stormwater management using green infrastructure in a public-private partnership with local government and SyracuseCoE.
 
Davidson and his research team—graduate and undergraduate SU engineering students—have installed equipment to monitor stormwater capture on the 60,000-square-foot green roof on Syracuse’s Oncenter, one of the largest green roofs in the Northeast and one of more than 100 green infrastructure projects that comprise Onondaga County’s nationally recognized “Save the Rain” program. The comprehensive stormwater management plan utilizes sustainable initiatives to decrease stormwater runoff from the county sewage system. While green roofs are increasingly popular, little research has been completed to understand their efficacy.
 
Davidson and his team have installed monitoring equipment on the convention center roof to measure how much rain is collected, how much water is stored at any given time, and how much evapotranspirates through the plants and soil. “There are other research projects that have looked at pieces of this problem, but this is one of the few times there’s been an attempt to look at the complete mass balance of water on a roof,” he says.
 
The research intends to improve understanding of how green roofs retain precipitation and reduce stormwater runoff, as well as evaluate equipment used for monitoring green roof performance.
 
Davidson credits SyracuseCoE with forging the partnerships that make his research possible, research that could have significant commercial applications in the near future. “There are more than 700 cities in the United States that have problems with combined sewer overflow during storm events,” says Davidson, who is also studying stormwater runoff over and through permeable pavements that have been installed throughout Syracuse.
 
“When it rains, stormwater goes into the sewer, mixes with the sewage, and greatly increases the volume of flow. During heavy rain, the water treatment system can’t handle the capacity, ultimately overflowing untreated into Onondaga Lake,” he explains.
 
Davidson says he was attracted to Syracuse because of Onondaga County’s use of green infrastructure. “The county has made a big investment in environmental sustainability,” he says, efforts resulting in Syracuse and Onondaga County being named one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 10 green infrastructure partners.
 
“We need locations like Onondaga County and Syracuse whose leaders are willing to be progressive and try new concepts,” says Davidson. “If we continue on the current trajectory, I expect this area will be a leader in the country on stormwater management, and SyracuseCoE is a conduit for making that happen.”