NY Officials Explore How Small Solutions Bring Big Results for Water Quality

Driving north from Pennsylvania to New York, the Chesapeake Bay is the last thing on your mind. It’s hard to believe that this woody, hilly part of ‘the Big Apple’ state is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Many of us associate the Bay with Maryland blue crabs and Virginia oysters. The Bay watershed, however, extends far north – farther than one might imagine, into the southern tier region of New York! In fact, New York plays a vital role in implementing upstream solutions for downstream issues. It is these upstream solutions that drew local elected officials together for the very first New York installment of the Wandering Waterways series.

What is the Wandering Waterways series?

Members of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), local elected officials appointed by their Governor (or District of Columbia Mayor), bring together perspectives of all of the Bay jurisdictions from Virginia to New York. LGAC’s mission is to enhance the flow of information about the health and restoration of the watershed amongst local governments and to share the views and insights of local elected officials with state and federal decision-makers. One way they fulfill this mission is through peer-to-peer learning exchange tours, or the Wandering Waterways series.

Tour attendees posing for a group photo

Hosted by LGAC and tailored specially for elected officials at the local level, the Wandering Waterways tours provide hands-on opportunities for local leaders to learn about regional conservation efforts, and empower them to take on environmental challenges within their own communities.

Wandering New York’s Waterways

On October 18th, the Wandering New York’s Waterways tour took 13 guests and 16 local officials and senior staff members, representing 12 municipalities from across the Southern Tier of New York to Broome and Tioga Counties to tour clean water and green infrastructure projects. In partnership with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, Southern Tier Central, and Southern Tier 8, elected officials and staff spent the day discussing how small solutions for clean water can lead to big results for communities. The tour was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The tour began by exploring the Bartle wetlands at Binghamton University. Formerly a grassy patch near the soccer and softball fields, the Bartle wetlands were constructed in 2018 to capture stormwater runoff and prevent salts, sediment, and harmful chemicals from flowing into the Susquehanna River. The Bartle wetlands also play an important role in the University’s environmental hydrology and environmental measurements classes, allowing students to study the role of green infrastructure in improving wetland salinity, hydrology, and plant life. Before heading to the next stop, officials snapped selfies at the wetlands’ Chronolog station, which uses visitors’ selfies to create a timelapse of seasonal changes in ecosystem processes at different sites.

Attendees tour the Bartle wetlands at Binghamton University.

Next, local electeds and staff tramped through trees to visit the vernal pools at Nuthatch Hollow. Under rustling leaves, flanked by cattails and irises bordering a tranquil pond, Nuthatch Hollow serves as a serene escape from the bustling city and Binghamton campus. It also serves as habitat for a diverse array of wildlife, including endangered species such as the tiger salamander, wood frog, and spadefoot toad. In 2021, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) installed two vernal pools, seasonal wetlands that dry up during the summer and fall. Vernal pools reduce erosion and create new territory for endangered amphibians. One of these pools is fully shaded, while the other sits in a sunnier spot to create two distinct ecosystems that support a range of species.

Attendees tour the vernal pools at Nuthatch Hollow.

The tour continued with a trip to Vestal Center Park with the Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to check on a freshly-planted Trees for Tributaries Buffer Site. In early October, the Broome SWCD and the USC Buffer Team planted nearly 200 trees along the park’s riparian area to provide canopy cover over the waterway and lower water temperatures for stream life. Elected officials and staff inventoried the plants, straightening tree stakes, resecuring protective shrub tubes, and checking for healthy green leaves.

Attendees see the newly-installed riparian forest buffer at Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The last stop of the tour was the impressive Water Infiltration Systems Exhibit (WISE) Project at the Waterman Education and Conservation Center. Each storm, the Watermen Center’s WISE Project can collect and filter over 14,000 gallons of stormwater. To divert and store all this runoff, the Center uses a series of green infrastructure installations including porous paving, a green roof, rain barrels, planted detention bays, and wetland retention ponds. By slowing and temporarily storing stormwater, the WISE Project helps lower flood heights and decrease erosion into the Susquehanna River. To wrap up the tour, local officials and staff learned about the Watermen Center’s green roof, examined bioretention practices, and tested out the porous paving.

Tourgoers test out the permeable pavement at the Waterman Education and Conservation Center.

After learning about the many successful stormwater and wetland restoration practices throughout Broome and Tioga Counties, many elected officials and staff left feeling empowered to address similar clean water challenges within their communities. Following the tour, one attendee stated that their favorite part of the tour was “getting to meet local stakeholders and partners implementing Best Management Practices.”

What’s Next for the Series?

Since its pilot in 2019, the Wandering Waterways series has gathered elected officials in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia to learn about topics including green infrastructure, innovative agricultural practices, clean water initiatives, and solutions to localized flooding.

In spring of 2024, Wandering Waterways is headed to the Eastern Shore to engage elected officials in Delmarva. With support from the Campbell Foundation, the Wandering Delmarva’s Waterways tour will bring local leaders together for dialogue around sustainable agriculture practices. The Local Government Initiative Team also has our sights set on a District of Columbia tour in 2024.

If you are interested in learning more about the Wandering Waterways Series, please email at lgac@allianceforthebay.org.