Water issues in Central New York and the region

A major ongoing local engineering project implemented by Honeywell International and Parsons Engineering is the mitigation of mercury contamination in the restoration of Onondaga Lake. The lake restoration is complete; sediment capping was completed in 2016. We continue to evaluate long-term changes in the mercury content in the water column and biota of the lake. With Betsy Henry, a local consultant, we wrote an article on the restoration of Onondaga Lake (Henry and Driscoll, 2018) (Figure 1).  We are working on another article on the recovery of mercury in fisheries in the lake. I continue to work with Honeywell to communicate information on the restoration of the lake to the public.

Figure 1.  Annual mean mercury concentrations in small prey fish by sediment management unit (SMU) which represent different near-shore areas of Onondaga Lake. Lake dredging and capping was started in 2012 and capping was completed in 2016.  Note that mercury concentrations in prey fish have decreased below the target goals set for remediation (Henry and Driscoll 2018).


I am involved in analysis of a large mercury contaminated river/estuary ecosystem, the Penobscot River and Estuary in ME. This contamination occurred in the late 1960s and was the subject of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maine between the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) and a chemical company. I conducted a detailed analysis of the contamination and made recommendations to the court on remediation strategies, and was an expert witness in the case. A consulting firm has been retained to coordinate studies and analysis to guide the clean up. I continue to advise NRDC and the Court as a consultant on the Penobscot River/Estuary restoration effort.

Another major local water initiative is examination of the use of green water infrastructure to address problems of stormwater management in central New York.  Onondaga County has embarked on the “Save the Rain” program, to use green infrastructure to process stormwater runoff to eliminate combined sewer overflows while decreasing the cost of wastewater treatment, completing more than 200 facilities in Syracuse. With David Chandler and Cliff Davidson, we are investigating the use of distributed green infrastructure such as green roofs, rain gardens, porous pavement and constructed wetlands to treat stormwater discharge. Caitlin Eger and Dimitar Todorov are PhD students working on research to better understand the function of green infrastructure technologies. Todorov examined the hydrologic and water quality function of the green roof associated with the Syracuse Center of Excellence, finding that this facility is very effective in retaining both water and chemicals (Todorov et al. 2017, 2018). David Chandler (PI), Cliff Davidson and I were funded through an NSF Sustainability Research Network project on implementation of sustainable infrastructure in cities led by Arizona State University.

In recent years, the frequency, magnitude, and duration of harmful algal blooms (HAB)s events have increased in U.S. inland lakes. Cyanotoxins produced by HABs are known to pose significant threats to public and aquatic ecosystem health. The occurrence of HABs was reported for over 170 ponds, reservoirs, and lakes in New York in 2018 alone. Skaneateles Lake is the main drinking water supply of Syracuse with a filtration avoidance agreement. The Lake has recently experienced severe HAB episodes. We have initiated some research on nutrient inputs, from tributaries and atmospheric deposition, and dynamics in Skaneateles Lake.

Current Work on Water Resources in CNY


Henry, E. A. and C. T. Driscoll. 2018. Declining mercury concentrations in prey fish in Onondaga Lake following sediment remediation. Clear Waters Winter: 48-50.

Todorov, D., C. T. Driscoll, S. Todorova and M. R. Montesdeoca. 2017. Water quality function of an extensive vegetated and an impermeable, high-albedo roofs. Science of the Total Environment 625: 928-939 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.085.

Todorov, D., C. T. Driscoll and S. Todorova. 2018. Long-term and seasonal hydrologic performance of an extensive vegetated roof. Journal of Hydrological Processes, special issue on Urban Hydrology. 1-12. doi:10.1002/hyp.13175.