From The Editor | July 19, 2016

'Green Streets' Program Offers Lessons In Stormwater Management

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

'Green Streets' Program

The U.S. EPA, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources are supporting 17 local projects to protect Mid-Atlantic watersheds and inspire the adoption of green infrastructure and effective stormwater management.

Rain inevitably ends up in surface waters. It seems straightforward and at one time it was, but today’s extensive network of urban sprawl has diluted the process and rerouted stormwater through avenues where it struggles to reach the larger supply and picks up pollution on its way.

Few places are as emblematic of today’s stormwater management problem as the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the largest in the Atlantic Seaboard including most areas of the Mid-Atlantic states. Stormwater runoff contributes 16 percent of the bay’s nitrogen loads, 16 percent of its phosphorus loads, and 25 percent of its sediment loads, according to Chesapeake Bay Program. All of these contaminants require extensive treatment from regional facilities.

Concerned parties have taken notice of the problem and are working on solutions. In one such effort, the U.S. EPA, Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT), and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources are supporting 17 local projects to protect Mid-Atlantic watersheds and inspire the adoption of green infrastructure.

Grants totaling over $800,000 will be donated through the “Green Streets, Green Town, Green Jobs” initiative launched in 2010. To date, the initiative has awarded nearly $7 million in grants and over $12 million in matching funds to reduce and treat stormwater in urban areas. This includes over 75 acres of impervious surface area treated, 92,500 square feet of rain gardens, 37,500 square feet of bioretention, 110,000 square feet of porous pavement, and over 11,000 native plants and street trees planted, according to Jennifer Kley, the communications and development coordinator for CBT.

“These funds contribute to a sustainable green economy by supporting a continuous cycle of pollution prevention, water retention, and job creation, leading to a better quality of life for the people living in these communities,” said David Sternberg from the EPA’s Office of Communications. “By keeping rain water from coming into contact with pollution in the first place, green infrastructure improves the health of our waters, while effectively reducing flooding, and helping our communities adapt to the challenges of climate change.”

Of the 17 projects selected in June, most involve greening urban spaces, revamping streets, and implementing stormwater management plans to identify problem areas.

“All of these projects are chosen based on their ability to incorporate proven green infrastructure practices into existing or planned gray infrastructure,” said Kley. “One of our major hopes from this initiative is that local governments and others see the value of adding green infrastructure elements to regular infrastructure projects, and change their practice and policy as a result.”

The grants are really offered as an incentive for local governments to incorporate green infrastructure and stormwater management elements on their own in future projects, explained Kley.

“When you are repaving a stream, or renovating a sewer system, or re-engineering an intersection… take the extra small initial investment to add green infrastructure into that design,” she said. “The cost is minimal at that point and the ultimate benefits in managing and treating stormwater over the long term quickly make up for those initial costs.”

While the sponsors’ aim is that at least some aspects of each project will offer lessons to other communities interested in improving green infrastructure and stormwater management, there are three in the latest group of 17 that are vetting truly novel technology.

In Chevy Chase, MD, the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States will be awarded nearly $50,000 to install and maintain a showcase rain garden at a local nature sanctuary. It will utilize newly developed, permeable berms that minimize the need for soil excavation, which would usually harm the roots of nearby trees.

In Berkley Springs, WV, the town of Bath will receive $20,000 to utilize Silva Cell tree pit technology, a new modular suspended pavement system that supports large tree growth and onsite stormwater management through absorption.

In Washington, DC, the Environmental Law Institute will receive $20,000 to prepare a white paper drawing on newly available data sets and climate adaptation tools in the region so that local governments can design green infrastructure more effectively.

If these new technologies prove successful and the projects inspire wider adoption, perhaps what has become a cluttered system can one day return to its natural simplicity.