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Louisville Turns Over a Green Leaf

2010 January 22

Growing up in Louisville I was accustomed to a home town with a few things that were world class: college basketball, a premier horse racing event, a great bluegrass festival, and even good bratwurst at Oktoberfest. Meanwhile, Louisville was hardly known for progressive environmental protection. In fact, Louisville was rather notorious on the water quality scene, better recognized for disaster than innovation. I grew up in the Beargrass Creek Watershed, which was permanently posted as unsafe for body contact activities because of sewer overflows. We played in the creek anyway, and in retrospect I wonder if any of those ‘stomach bugs’ we occasionally suffered were related to exposure to pathogens in untreated wastewater. I was in high school in 1977 when Kentucky Liquid Recycling dumped a toxic mix of chemicals into the sewer system effectively shutting down city-wide wastewater treatment; untreated sewage was discharged directly to the Ohio River for months while the plant and the sewer system were decontaminated. I was at the University of Louisville in 1981when Ralston Purina released hexane into the sewer system and blew up miles of streets in the downtown area, including on campus directly in front of the dorm in which I was living. I still recall being awakened by the explosion, and sitting in a dark hallway with the rest of the woman on my floor anxiously speculating about what had happened.

I’m happy to say that I can now be cautiously optimistic, a little proud even, of how Louisville is responding to their federal and state mandates to finally resolve their water quality problems. While most cities with combined and sanitary sewer overflows continue to take traditional grey infrastructure approaches by building large storage, conveyance and end-of-pipe treatment systems, Louisville is among a few notable cities who have decided to “go green”. Unlike grey technologies, green approaches provide a multitude of benefits in addition to water quality improvement. They generally are also more cost-effective over the long-term. However, because most wastewater engineers are still tentative about technologies other than pipes, pumps, filters and flocculants, green approaches still aren’t mainstream. Louisville has undertaken the necessary environmental and economic analyses, and determined that green infrastructure makes a lot more sense for the community. They have committed to spend millions of dollars on wide-spread implementation of green roofs, green streets, urban reforestation, and other elements of a comprehensive green infrastructure program. Yes, that’s lots of money, but consider that they’ve determined that these solutions will actually SAVE them millions of dollars compared to grey technologies, while providing ancillary benefits that pumps and pipes could not. Though I’m not necessarily expecting to see a vegetated roof on the twin spires of Churchill Downs the next time I visit (though how cool would that be), I do expect to see Louisville transform itself with greener streets, campuses, roofs, parks, and alleys over the next decade or so. That’s good news for Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River, and great for the Louisville community as well.

About the Author: Jenny Molloy is an aquatic biologist currently working in Washington DC as USEPA’s green infrastructure coordinator. She was raised in Louisville, Kentucky.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Al Bannet permalink
    January 22, 2010

    Is the population of Louisville growing? How is the city dealing with its trash collection? What percentage is being recycled into usable products?

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    January 22, 2010

    If I am not wrong, Lousville identifies with Cassius Clay who famous legendary boxer called Mohammad Ali, Parkinson patient. I think, Earth also Parkinson Patient which suffered by anything causes. Earth is pregnant now. She is hope the new era by her baby. Next, her daughter will be bring lucky man to do to green this planet. Why not?

  3. Kelven Goodridge permalink
    January 23, 2010

    Kudos to Louisville. I’m sure many people know in Toronto they’ve made green roofs mandatory on new construction. Maybe Louisville will be the first US city to do the same!

  4. Barbara permalink
    January 24, 2010

    That is why Louisville into a green leaf because there so much of population in this place..

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    January 25, 2010

    Green technology to deal with water pollution and problems with the sewer systems are certainly a better way than expanding pipes and headworks, will cost alot less, and will be as or more effective than the older technologies. There are a few places implementing the green technology now. Orange County is one. More should and sooner or later come on board too. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  6. Al Bannet permalink
    January 27, 2010

    With peaceful, gentle family planning a smaller human population could have plenty of resources for everyone.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    March 10, 2010

    The last I heard about this issue, Louisville had decided to not go the green route. Where can I find more information about their commitment?

  8. ncrdisabled permalink
    March 31, 2010

    I grew up in that area in the 70s and rember fishing in the beargrass
    creek all the time I would catch Carp and sunfish never any other type of fish . The best spot was across from the entrance of the cherakee pond the creak emtied into a small pond then continued to flo. There was a concreak storm drain that also emtied into this area . I wander now what kind of problems it has caused since now I have mental isuses that can not be traced back thru my family . Back then no one
    stopped me from fishing in the creak I used to sell the fish downtown also. On a good not I caught a 16lb catfish in the willow
    pond that used to be called chreakee park lake. The fish in that lake were rumered to also come from the creak at times thru a undergrond passage from the creak to the lake. Back in the 70s they drained the lake and it refilled a few days later with carp as the only fish in the lake, they killed the carp and restocked with catfish sunfish trout and bass.

    Man those were the days!!!!

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