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Just in time for those spring showers, PUSH Buffalo and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper have launched a collaborative initiative to promote stormwater management, green infrastructure and green jobs creation in the West Side’s Green Development Zone.
The new program, PUSH Blue, will capitalize on the organization’s land bank of vacant lots to address some of the more critical environmental issues caused by combined sewer overflow. Over the next two years, PUSH Blue will transform 25 different sites within the GDZ into green infrastructure.  
“When PUSH started, members identified vacant lots as one of their primary areas of concern in the neighborhood,” said Jen Kaminsky, PUSH housing director. “So we started with creating some community gardens and did some “clean and greens” where we just cleaned up lots, graded them and seeded them. We did some rain gardens as well and I think people were excited about those. They just really cleaned up some eyesores in the neighborhood and turned them into more vibrant assets.”
But the benefit of increasing the number of rain gardens in the West Side goes far beyond adding aesthetic appeal. Because of its proximity to the Niagara River, the neighborhood that the Zone encompasses is constantly dealing with the consequences of sewer overflow. “We have a stormwater system that was designed when there were fewer impervious surfaces in the city and if there was a significant rain event, instead of having it back up into our homes, it overflowed into the river,” Kaminsky said. “If you’re here on a wet day, you can smell some of the problem. You’ll see kids jumping off into the Black Rock Canal, you’ll see families fishing, and all of those toxins going into the water is something that is a concern for the neighborhood.”
PUSH Blue will focus their efforts on green infrastructure projects, such as rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales, and catchment systems. PUSH has already gotten its feet wet with rain garden construction, having completed four gardens in their zone. The gardens are designed to maximize water absorption, with native plantings that are both water-loving and drought tolerant and a soil design that incorporates layers of compost, soil and stone. 
“We also plan to disconnect downspouts from adjacent properties, taking water that’s coming off those roofs,” Kaminsky said. “Right now, that water would be piped into the sewer system or often it’s just going into a yard and maybe into someone’s foundation. We’ll be piping that water into the gardens and taking it out of the sewer system.”
^133 Chenango rain garden construction
The project is being funded primarily by the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation, which has a program focusing on stormwater management. Contributions from local foundations and donors will also go towards installing the systems. PUSH is collaborating with Riverkeeper and the Buffalo Sewer Authority to ensure that their methods will be successful. Riverkeeper already assisted PUSH with designing and engineering for their rain garden located at Grant and Lafayette. “Riverkeeper has done similar projects more in the public right-of-way. They have a lot of knowledge and expertise that they’ve been kind enough to share with us,” Kaminsky said. “Because we’re doing projects that overlap, they’re distinct and different, but we’ve been figuring out how we can work together.” 
PUSH Blue will start their first projects this spring, with hopes of completing 10-12 projects this year and 25 total within the next two years. The first will involve incorporating a parking pad with permeable pavement into the rain garden near their office on Massachusetts Ave. 
^ 460 Massachusetts rain garden
“In addition to being a project to improve vacant lots and to address critical environmental issues for the neighborhood, we do want to make sure this has a workforce component,” Kaminsky said. PUSH intends to expand their landscaping crew and provide training opportunities for local landscape contractors. Kaminsky believes that with the instatement of the new Green Code and the Sewer Authority’s long-term control plan, the demand for this type of stormwater management contracting will only increase in the future. 
“There are a few folks who already have experience in this, but some of the other contractors–this is not something that they’re familiar with, but they’re really excited about it,” she said. “A few of the people we’ve been talking to have said, ‘We want to learn this, we’ll donate some of our time and equipment to work on your project so you can teach us.'” 
PUSH has also done research and initiated conversation with groups involved in green infrastructure projects in other cities. According to Kaminsky, projects in Onondaga County around Syracuse, Philadelphia, and several groups collaborating through the Cleveland Botanical Garden have provided solid examples for them. “Because we do own a number of buildings and vacant lots in the neighborhood, we thought we had a unique opportunity to try out a bunch of the green infrastructure methods that people are talking about around the country, create some best practices and also just do something to improve the environment in the neighborhood.”
Lead photo: 14th Street garden

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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