Highway Water Quality Improvement
Monroe County, NY

Grantee: Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District
Basin Program Funds: $24,557
Non-federal Funds: $8,621
Project Duration: 06/1998 - 12/1999
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Roads and road construction contribute significant sediment and other pollutants to the Rochester Embayment of Lake Ontario which is designated an Area of Concern under Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Monroe County Department of Transportation requires technical support in order to design water quality protection features into county highway projects.

The Rochester Embayment of Lake Ontario is one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern designated under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Urban stormwater and/or construction site erosion are known sources of pollutants, responsible for 8 of 112 use impairments in the Embayment. Additional sources of sediment and pollutants, however, are roads and road construction.

The Monroe County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) owns and operates over 650 miles of roads in the county. Approximately $15 million is spent annually on repairing, rebuilding or maintaining these roads and 4 associated bridges. Given the size of MCDOT's operations, a full-time water quality professional is required to review plans and inspect construction sites in order to identify and mitigate nonpoint source pollution associated with roadway construction.

In 1994, a group of staff from the MCDOT, Monroe County Department of Health, the municipalities and the Monroe County Conservation District addressed water quality concerns related to road construction. The group developed a “Highway Project Water Quality Improvement Strategy” which was designed to include water quality objectives in road construction projects. The strategy integrates water quality concerns early in the design phase of all highway projects that could have a potential impact on water quality.

MCDOT has already begun to implement water quality initiatives. These include improved construction-phase erosion and sediment control practices during county highway construction, incorporating stormwater management practices, such as the use of stormwater wetlands, into county highway projects and active participation on the county's Water Quality Coordinating Committee. This project will provide MCDOT with the additional technical support it requires to ensure water quality initiatives continue to be incorporated into road repairs and new projects. A civil engineering intern will be trained in roadway erosion and sediment controls and water quality by the certified erosion control technicians from the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Monroe County Conservation District met with the county Director of Transportation to discuss the scope of the project and role of the water quality highway engineer. The conservation district began the process to hire the engineer to fill this position. In the interim, conservation district personnel reviewed the status of current highway projects in the county, toured recently constructed projects and met with county DOT personnel to discuss maintenance issues related to water quality. Conservation district personnel also attended three county Water Quality Committee meetings and attended a water quality seminar sponsored by local soil and water conservation districts. In house, conservation district staff reviewed proposed best management practices for practicality and implementation and reviewed standard details used on MCDOT projects.

To date, project personnel have reached 160 highway designers and consultants in field and office meetings as well as a two-day workshop. They discovered that highway personnel are not well versed in the need for compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The primary construction issue appears to be the need for controlling erosion and developing an understanding about the importance of timing, sequence and scheduling as it affects construction erosion control. Best management practices need to be expanded or modified because the traditional practices, such as straw bales, silt fences and check dams, are the only ones being employed when alternative practices are now available. These include channel protection down stream of culvert pipes and directing water along the toe of fill slopes.

Project personnel estimate that their efforts have affected 60 acres of land. Over the year they estimate that 600 tons of soil with an associated 6,000 tons of phosphorus and 1,200 tons of nitrogen have been saved. They anticipate that almost 140 additional highway designers and consultants will be contacted through outreach efforts.

Contact: Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District, (716) 473-2120


Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150.  projects.glc.org. Join the Friends of the Great Lakes GLIN Partner