R2G in Action

Green Infrastructure

Towards Ecological and Green Infrastructure

Questions we need to be asking...

How can we repurpose vacant lands in our cities to provide ecological services and replace grey infrastructure?

How can we reconnect people with nature and natural systems?

How can we foster environmental stewardship?

How can we design our environment to safeguard our water and land resources over time?

How can we network communities and activities so we think and act like a watershed?

One of R2G NY’s agendas is to increase awareness and knowledge among decision makers of alternative urban design strategies for addressing stormwater and mitigating pollution caused by discharges from a city’s combined sewer/stormwater system.  R2G is creating green infrastructure proposals to retrofit and redesign city streets and parking lots, as well reimagine vacant lots, parks and open spaces. The City of Utica Department of Public Works along with its Parks and Planning and Engineering Departments are working with R2G to develop and enact sustainable design practices in Utica, New York.

What is Ecological Infrastructure?

Ecological infrastructure is a concept that emphasizes the importance of natural systems in land use planning and design. The concept of Ecological infrastructure can apply to a range of things. Parks that provide places for relaxation and recreation create an infrastructure of social spaces that increase quality of life. Most commonly however, ecological infrastructure is a term that is used in connection with the management of stormwater in an urban environment. When stormwater management is properly integrated into the ecological infrastructure of a town or city, it can mitigate flooding and improve the quality of water entering local waterways.

What is Stormwater?

Rainfall in and of itself is not a problem, however, it accumulates toxins and other harmful substances on the ground and moves these into waterways such as lakes and rivers. In Utica, stormwater runoff drains into the Mohawk River before moving into the Hudson and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally Utica, like many cities, has a combined sewer and stormwater system. This means that stormwater and sewage are disposed of using the same pipes and infrastructure. During a large rainstorm, a mixture of stormwater and raw sewage are dumped into the Mohawk River to prevent overloading of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.

Common Stormwater Toxins

Nitrogen and Phosphorus

Nitrogen and phosphorus are needed by plants to grow, but in excess amounts they can be harmful to water quality. They can lead to the growth of algae and surface scum and can lead to dangerously low levels of oxygen in from plant decay which can kill off fish and other aquatic life. Some forms of algae are also toxic to humans.

Fecal Coliform Bacteria

Fecal coliform bacteria in water may indicate the presence of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Pet and other animal wastes, failing septic systems, and combined sewer/stormwater systems can all contribute fecal coliform bacteria into waterways. This can be a problem for treatment of drinking water and can affect recreational use of a water body.


Sediments in stormwater can cloud water making it difficult for plant and animal life and can destroy aquatic fish and insect habitats. Sediments also clog drains, leading to increased maintenance costs and potential flooding problems.

Petroleum Compounds

The most common source of petroleum compounds in stormwater are automobiles. These compounds are generally toxic to humans and animals in low doses and can also clog drains leading to increased maintenance.

Metals - Lead, Copper, Zinc, Cadmium

Metals in stormwater are toxic to humans and animal life. Many “bioaccumulate” in animal tissue meaning that they increase in amount as they travel up the food chain, making foods we eat (particularly fish) toxic. They can also interfere with reproductive cycles of certain animals and contaminate drinking water. The source of these metals is most often automobiles and machinery.

Rust to Green Green Infrastructure Projects in Action


Biofiltration and water quality.

Biofiltation areas, such as this one built by R2G civic interns, clean harmful pollutants out of stormwater using natural processes and alleviate demands on the city's overwhemled combined sewage system.