By Chris Kloss
Ten years ago, we didn’t see much green infrastructure for water resources around our neighborhoods. It was more of a novelty than a focused approach to sustainable development and construction. A few cities started using and experimenting with green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The green was a complement to the gray infrastructure, the established system of underground tunnels and sewers. Together, green and gray infrastructure provided a holistic approach to manage stormwater for cleaner water.
As the word spread about the early successes of these communities, a growing cadre of public works pioneers joined the movement to apply its principles and techniques to managing their water resources. EPA joined in their discussions, providing support to these pioneers through our technical assistance program. Today, EPA is releasing a summary report of the results from this program that we hope leads to even greater growth in green infrastructure.
Many of the green infrastructure thinking and practices we see today are not new. Gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement were standard practices for harnessing and managing water hundreds of years ago. They were old-time technology that let water do what it naturally does —seep back into the earth where it can flow back naturally to streams and rivers, replenish groundwater, or be absorbed by plants and trees.
Communities are now relearning these techniques, and green infrastructure is working for communities across the urban spectrum, from smaller cities like Clarksville, Georgia to midsized, midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and large metropolitan regions like Los Angeles, California.
The summary document outlines how these and other community green infrastructure projects are successful. It also highlights benefits, offering examples for city managers to think creatively about how they can design their communities for better health, abundant water resources and improved quality of life.
We can all be part of better design for our communities. It just takes a different way of looking at things. When I’m out with my kids, I talk about how when it rains the water runs off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces and flows down the stormwater drains into the sewer systems where it can’t be used for anything else. Now armed with the information, they’re always on the lookout for the missed opportunities in our neighborhood for letting the water go where it wants to, where it can do the most good for the watershed where they live.
I hope this report contributes to a movement where green infrastructure becomes standard practice. Every time we set out to design or build, repair or remodel our water systems let’s remember to think green infrastructure and let water do what it naturally does.
About the Author: Chris Kloss is Acting Chief of the Municipal Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. The branch oversees the wet-weather permitting programs (stormwater, combined sewer systems, and sanitary sewer systems) and the green infrastructure program. Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in the clean water field including time in the private and nonprofit sectors prior to joining EPA.