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Program to ease pollution launched

Residents in a section of the Hamlin Park neighborhood will be helping the city ease water pollution problems caused by an overburdened sewer system.

Under a pilot program announced Monday, up to 150 homes on four streets will either have their downspouts disconnected and channeled into a green area of their yard, or they'll get a 60-gallon barrel to collect rainwater to use for watering plants.

The goal is to reduce the amount of rainfall and snowmelt that flows into the city's sewer system and, in cases of heavy precipitation, directly into area waterways when the sewer system is beyond capacity.

The program -- which is happening through a partnership between the Buffalo Sewer Authority and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper -- is also being tried in the Old First Ward, with the potential for citywide implementation in about a year.

Residents, who will participate on a volunteer basis, will save about $34 per year on their water bills, city officials said.

Many residents in Hamlin Park deal with wet basements during rainy weather, said Stephanie Barber Geter, president of the Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association, an organization that includes 60 block clubs.

"This will make a big difference to us," Barber Geter said.

About 50 to 60 residents have already agreed to the installations, which are being done by Sewer Authority crews over about the next week. Additional outreach, including door-to-door solicitation, is being done to reach the goal of 150 participating homes on Blaine, Hughes and Meech avenues and Hedley Place.

Overall, the pilot program will cost about $15,000, said David P. Comerford, Sewer Authority general manager. The city is purchasing the barrels at a discounted rate from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which also sells them to the public for $100 each.

The Sewer Authority will measure the amount of rainwater that reaches the sewer system in the test area and compare it with a "control" area on four streets south of East Delavan Avenue.

If the program were to be implemented citywide and have a 60 percent participation rate, the city estimates about 59 million gallons of water would be diverted from the sewer system annually.

The Sewer Authority is in the midst of a $60 million capital-improvement program, approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, to deal with raw sewage overflows that end up in area waterways.

In cases of heavy rain or snow, the city's aging sewer system is designed to overflow out of drains and into waterways, to prevent sewer backups, as well as damage to the sewage treatment plant.

Mayor Byron W. Brown touted the initiative during Monday's news conference.

"This new program is part of the city's continuing commitment to provide green infrastructure solutions as a cost-effective way to divert sewer overflows from water systems in the City of Buffalo," Brown said.

The neighborhood, which includes the mayor's Blaine Avenue home, was selected because of strong involvement by residents, Comerford said. Barber Geter sits on a stakeholder panel at the authority, he said.