Report Shows Benefits of Green Infrastructure's Impact on Clean Water
By Noah Garrison
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new report called Rooftops to Rivers II: Green Strategies for Controlling Stormwater and Combined Sewer Overflows. The report discusses the considerable problems that stormwater runoff, which carries pollution to our rivers, lakes and beaches and causes sewage system overflows, poses for our communities, and ways that cities are using green infrastructure practices to clean up their waters, literally greening their cityscapes in the process.
My colleagues David Beckman, Jon Devine and Rebecca Hammer have pointed out that green infrastructure is a simple and powerful solution to water pollution that makes cities function, from a water perspective, more like the natural landscape by reducing the amount of hardened, paved surfaces that generate rainfall runoff; that cities that use green infrastructure practices to capture rain where it falls have improved their ability to manage stormwater and reduce runoff pollution while saving money and beautifying neighborhoods at the same time—success stories that should encourage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local officials to adopt policies to drive similar approaches and outcomes nationwide; and, provided specific examples of initiatives cities are taking to stop flooding, reduce pollution and use green infrastructure practices to take on their own unique water management challenges. Overall, Rooftops to Rivers II profiles the approaches taken by 14 cities in the U.S. and Canada (as well as provides examples from several others), revealing just how far the use of green infrastructure has spread and just how adaptable it is to different regions and climates, to changes in geography and geology, and to the various issues faced by each city. Green infrastructure works everywhere.
For example, Pittsburgh, whose metropolitan area’s 4,000 miles of sewer pipes and 450 combined and separate sewer overflow structures release 22 billion gallons of untreated municipal waste into surrounding waters every year, has enacted a stormwater ordinance that requires development sites larger than 10,000 square feet in size to retain the first one-inch of rainfall from any storm event on-site, using practices that infiltrate, evapotranspirate with plants, or capture and re-use the rain. Publicly funded projects are required to retain 1.5 inches of rainfall on-site. The city has also begun a “Green Up Pittsburgh” initiative that offers support for community greening efforts. The effort has led to more than 120 vacant city lots being transformed into functioning green spaces, removing blight and safety hazards, inspiring community pride and providing environmental benefits.
Toronto stands out for its investment in and long-term vision for green infrastructure to clean up and protect Lake Ontario, which was listed as an “Area of Concern” in a 1972 agreement between the U.S. and Canada. In 2003 Toronto adopted its Wet Weather Flow Master Plan, a 25-year, $1 billion comprehensive strategy to use both traditional and green infrastructure to eliminate the adverse impacts of stormwater runoff. Both separately and under the plan, Toronto has taken a multitude of steps to incorporate green infrastructure into city planning and development, including:
- Establishing specific runoff volume reduction targets to encourage infiltration and rainwater harvesting
- Initiated a voluntary pilot downspout disconnection program for property owners whose downspouts were directly connected to the city’s combined or separate sewer systems. Based on the success of the program, in 2007 the City Council voted to make downspout disconnections mandatory throughout the city
- Formed a Green Roof Task Force to investigate and promote the benefits of green roofs. A 2005 study estimated that if green roofs were installed on every flat roof in the city, Toronto would save $270 million in municipal capital costs and nearly $30 million annually in benefits. In 2009 the City Council adopted construction standards requiring all new buildings and retrofits with more than 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) of floor area to include a green roof in their design.
And Kansas City, M0., which created a stormwater utility in 1999 that assesses fees based on the size of a property’s impervious, or runoff generating surface area, has recently broken ground on a 100-acre pilot project that represents the largest focused installation of green infrastructure as the sole control for combined sewer overflows in the nation. The Middle Blue River Basin Pilot Project, located in the city’s Marlborough neighborhood, will potentially save the city $10 million in capital costs relative to what would have been spent if only traditional stormwater infrastructure was used.
Dozens of other cities across the country have begun incorporating green infrastructure in a similar manner:
- Indianapolis has completed a Green Infrastructure Master Plan for the city and is using green infrastructure practices like tree plantings, rain gardens and other techniques that absorb rainfall to meet the terms of a federal consent decree that requires a reduction in combined sewer overflows, achieving significant cost savings relative to traditional infrastructure in the process. Cleveland and Cincinnati are likewise looking to green infrastructure as a means of meeting the terms of consent decrees that require those cities to reduce the amount of combined sewer overflows that send polluted sewage into their waters.
- Minneapolis has a stormwater ordinance requiring public and private development sites of 1-acre or more to include on-site stormwater management, and is greening a 143-acre, formerly underserved community now known as heritage park in a project that will create a system of interconnected ponds and trails and bring park-like amenities to area residents while using natural systems to treat stormwater runoff
- Jacksonville, Fla. has partnered with the EPA to focus resources on its neglected downtown urban core, using green infrastructure to reduce runoff and add open space for its residents. The city is in the process of developing a green infrastructure guidance manual as a tool for developers, architects, engineers, government employees and anyone seeking clear permitting specifications for green infrastructure construction
- Tucson, Ariz., which receives an average rainfall of only about 11 inches per year, has embraced rainfall as a valuable resource, and now requires rainwater harvesting to supplement other available water supplies. The city adopted the nation’s first municipal rainwater harvesting ordinance for commercial projects, which took effect on June 1, 2010 and requires facilities subject to the ordinance to meet 50 percent of their landscape irrigation water demand using harvested rainwater.
Green infrastructure works. It works everywhere. And it provides benefits that extend well beyond water quality. As these, and other cities profiled in Rooftops to Rivers II demonstrate, there’s a wide array of approaches, practices, and ultimately, solutions to the problems caused by stormwater runoff that green infrastructure can provide. And if your community hasn’t embraced the practice yet, then Rooftops to Rivers II provides plenty of examples for how green infrastructure can be used in your city, and how it can help clean up waters while saving your city money and creating a greener, healthier landscape.
For more information, click here.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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