Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure Research All-STARs

by Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe

 

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its annual All-Star Game. This is a chance for the best players from across MLB to work together and showcase their talents. EPA recently had a chance to host an “all-star” event of its own. On July 24, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region and EPA’s Office of Research and Development hosted a kick-off meeting of researchers who received Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants. Since this was a kick-off meeting, it felt like less like a mid-season break, and more like spring training.

Like a baseball team focused on winning the pennant, these researchers are all focused on one goal: understanding the performance and effectiveness of green infrastructure in an urban setting. Five colleges and universities received a total of nearly $5 million from EPA to focus research on green infrastructure in Philadelphia. These research projects, announced on a snowy day this past January, will support the groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters Partnership agreement between EPA and the City of Philadelphia.

Why would the research teams meet when the research hasn’t yet begun? This type of meeting provides researchers with a full picture of all of the research that is planned, and allows researchers to identify opportunities for collaboration. In this way, the individual teams can better understand where, how, and what their peers will be investigating. Proposals were developed several months ago, and it’s important to discuss the plans, processes, and research sites that have been refined since the projects were funded.

While the research may be conducted by these “academic all-stars,” it is much more than an academic exercise: the research is happening on the ground in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and – by making it easier and cheaper to protect water quality through greening communities – the benefits will go to the residents of the city. In addition to the more than 30 researchers who attended to present their plans, dozens more people learned about the research plans by attending via webinar – maybe they will be inspired to pursue green infrastructure projects in their communities.

In research, as in baseball, with hard work comes important results. We’re certain that when we check back with these researchers in a few years, they will have many more insights to share.

 

About the authors: Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe work in the Water Protection Division of EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Willingness to Pay for Green Space

By Marguerite Huber

Bike trail through residential green space

How much are you willing to pay for the benefits of low impact development?

Have you ever taken an economics course? If so, you probably studied the concept of “willingness to pay,” or WTP. A person’s willingness to pay for something is the dollar value they have attached to it. For most of us, it’s easy to decide how much we are willing to pay for a car or new home. But what about environmental benefits? EPA researchers are exploring that exact question for green spaces and land development options.

Low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure practices reduce the amount of stormwater running off a particular site. So in places where stormwater runoff has become a significant source of water pollution, the use of these practices has become more necessary. Low impact development benefits and characteristics can include:

  • improvement in air quality
  • increased natural areas and  wildlife habitat
  • improved water quality
  • aesthetic benefits
  • minimized parking lots and other impervious surfaces
  • increased access to transit, shared parking, and bicycle facilities

EPA researchers have identified an additional benefit of such practices: increased property values. They and Abt Associates contractors found that property values increase for both new developments and existing properties when located near green spaces associated with low impact development.

The researchers analyzed 35 studies and focused on predicting how much people were willing to pay for small changes in open space. The investigation evaluated the differences in value between open spaces with and without recreational uses.

Results showed that the design and characteristics of a low impact development affects the level of benefits property owners could expect, and that effects on property values declined the farther they are from open spaces. For example, consider a plan that includes a 10% increase in park space or other green space. Property values are projected to increase by 1.23% to 1.95% when located within 250 meters of such a green space, but by 0.56% to 1.2% when located 250-500 meters away. For a homeowner, that could mean a lot of money.

Overall, researchers found that the proximity to and the percent change in open space determined a household’s willingness to pay for low impact open spaces, but it may be site-specific for type of vegetation and recreational use.

Additionally, many states are encouraging developers to use these practices through regulations, incentives, and educational campaigns, so knowing which low impact characteristics maximize the benefits can be useful for policymakers and developers.

You don’t need to have taken an economics course to understand the concept of willingness to pay. It can be applied to the value you place on increased green space and improved water quality. So just how much are you willing to pay for the benefits of low impact development?

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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EPA Releases Resource to Help Guide Green Infrastructure

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Rain barrel captures roof runoff in Santa Monica, CA. (Copyright Abby Hall, US EPA)

Imagine you are a municipal sewer system operator in an urban area. You probably would be well aware of the millions of gallons of untreated water that enter your combined sewer systems creating a big old mess in your local water bodies. But what if there was a cost effective solution available? And even better than low-cost, what if the solution made your community pretty and created a great community for people to live, work and play? You would jump on it, right?

Well, many communities with combined sewer overflows have been using green infrastructure – rain barrels, rain gardens, greenways, green roofs etc. – as an attractive way to reduce the stormwater runoff that goes into a sewer system. (We have blogged about it many times before.)  Green infrastructure helps reduce capital costs – traditional grey infrastructure made of pipes and other systems is often cost prohibitive – and has been shown to also reduce operational costs at publicly owned treatment works.

EPA scientists helped develop a resource guide to help more communities manage stormwater and wastewater with green infrastructure. The resource, released Greening CSO Plans: Planning and Modeling Green Infrastructure for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control (pdf),” will help communities make cost-effective decisions to maximize water quality benefits. The resource explains how to use modeling tools such as EPA’s Stormwater Management Model to optimize different combinations of green and grey infrastructure to reduce both sewer overflow volume and total number of overflow events.  The guide also has relevant case studies to showcase how different communities are using green infrastructure.

Hopefully using this resource can help you plan green infrastructure solutions and provide a variety of tools that can help you measure and reduce stormwater runoff.

For more information about green infrastructure at EPA, please visit: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/index.cfm

You can also learn more about green infrastructure research and science here:

http://www2.epa.gov/water-research/green-infrastructure-research

 

About the author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team, drinks a lot of water and  communicates water research to anyone who will listen.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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The Art of the Natural Garden”

example of a native plant

example of a native plant

 

by Todd Lutte

  It’s once again time to experience that first “breath of spring” at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  A local tradition with international recognition, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been a prelude to spring for more than 150 years with EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region being a part of that tradition for more than two decades.  As one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, the Flower Show brings thousands of garden enthusiasts to the floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March.

The theme for the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show is “ARTiculture…where art meets horticulture”.   The EPA exhibit is titled “L’Art du Jardin Natural” which translated is “The Art of the Natural Garden”.  The display showcases native plants, wetlands and sustainable landscaping techniques in a passive setting

Art and the natural world have forever been intertwined in the human imagination but our scientific understanding of the complexity of these beautiful places has only become its own field of study in more modern times. Through this study, we have learned that our rivers, streams, and wetlands are not just pretty pictures—they are dynamic ecosystems that continually respond to cues from climate patterns, local hydrology, invasive species, human disturbances, and many other factors.

The beauty of these wild places is founded upon resilience as an amazing number of plant and animal species have evolved to fill special ecological niches across very different habitat types. While these native species benefit from clean waters, they also enrich the whole ecosystem through functions that control and abet plant cover, sediment supply, water quality, flood control, and biodiversity.

The use  of native plants has many benefits, including relatively low maintenance, which saves both time and money.  Pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat, and invasive species are less likely to colonize an area with an established native plant community.

If you’re in the area, stop by and experience “L’Art du Jardin Natural”.  The 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 1st   through Sunday, March 9th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

 

Todd Lutte is an EPA environmental scientist who works to enforce laws and regulations for the protection of wetlands. Todd is a key partner in creating EPA’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Take Cover! (With Vegetation)

By Marguerite Huberbuffer

Take cover!

It’s a phrase you yell to protect against something headed your way. But did you ever think that phrase could be applied to pollutants? Well, it can – vegetative cover acts as a defense against non-point source (NPS) pollutants, protecting our lakes, streams, and water bodies.

Vegetative filter strips and riparian buffers  are conservation practices that help control the amount of sediment and chemicals that are transported from agricultural fields into water bodies. They slow down the speed of runoff and capture nutrients, keep more nutrient-rich topsoil on farmers’ fields, and reduces impacts on downstream ecosystems.

To improve water quality in large watersheds, conservation managers need to know what the problems are, where the pollutants originate, and what conservation practices work best.  However, investigating all of these factors at the watershed-wide level is a very difficult and complex task. This is why EPA is working with partners to supplement an existing watershed simulation model to estimate the efficiency of riparian buffers.

USDA’s watershed simulation model, Annualized Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AnnAGNPS), is used to evaluate the effect of farming and conservation practices on pollutants and help decide where to put these practices.  AnnAGNPS also predicts the origin and tracks the movement of water, sediment, and chemicals to any location in the watershed.

To supplement this model, researchers from EPA, USDA, and Middle Tennessee State University developed a Geographic Information Systems–based technology that estimates the efficiency of buffers in reducing sediment loads at a watershed scale.

With the addition of this AGNPS Buffer Utility Feature  technology to the USDA model, researchers and watershed conservation managers can evaluate the placement of riparian buffers, track pollution loads to their source, and assess water quality and ecosystem services improvements across their watersheds.

Riparian buffers and other vegetative cover, such as filter strips, are considered an important, effective, and efficient conservation practice that has been shown to protect ecosystem services at a local level. However, their full impact on a watershed-scale is still subject to ongoing research.

 

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Helping Cleveland Communities

By Marguerite Huber

Vacant lot with dug out section for a rain garden; rest of the area covered with straw to prevent erosion.

Turning a vacant lot into a rain garden.

EPA researchers are turning vacant lots in Cleveland, Ohio into field research sites for exploring the effectiveness of tapping green infrastructure (GI) techniques for reducing stormwater runoff and improving local waterways.

Over the last few years, the research has focused on the feasibility of re-using land left vacant after home demolition to answer questions such as: does the lot have soil that can absorb excess stormwater runoff? Can it provide ecosystem services? And how does the re-use of the lot benefit the local community?

To find out, the researchers initially looked at tree cover, the amount of rubble left after demolition, and ease of water movement on the lot. The cost of preparing the lot for re-use was dependant on the type and quality of demolition.

This research then paved the way for additional projects where EPA researchers have been studying stormwater management through GI installations, such as rain gardens and bioswales, in the vacant lots of Cleveland’s Historic Slavic Village neighborhood.

An ORISE fellow working on the project, Olivia Green, says “green infrastructure allows us to invest in natural capital and nature’s ability to absorb and redistribute stormwater. If we tap into natural capital and ecosystem services, we could manage stormwater to a high degree of quality for potentially less cost.”

Green and her colleagues are gathering baseline hydrologic and ecosystem services data. They will then use this data to collaborate with the neighborhood on a plan to use GI elements throughout the community. With continual monitoring, researchers can estimate the impact of GI implementation and identify where modifications need to be made.

Through the research, scientists hope to find a way to reduce stormwater volume, increase habitats for bees and other pollinators, and increase ecosystem services. But the data is starting to show that local streams and watersheds aren’t the only elements reaping the rewards. Reductions in violent crime and increasing property values have been recorded in the same neighborhoods where green space has replaced former abandoned, unattractive lots.

“We may create a culture that is more connected with the environment in the long term,” Green explains. The results of the research will not just benefit the residents of Cleveland, but could ultimately benefit communities everywhere, inducing a national culture that is more in tune with our environment.

About the author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Calculating the Future with Green Infrastructure

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By  

 

NCSE - Gina - 3

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at the National Council for
Science
and the Environment. Photo credit: John Mcshane

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said “the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” He made the point that science and research are critical to keeping that competitive edge—but also to protecting our public health and our environment. I couldn’t agree more.

Science has always been at the heart of our mission at EPA. In the State of the Union address, President Obama doubled down on his commitment to using science to address a changing climate and carry out his Climate Action Plan—which aims to curb carbon pollution, build climate resilience in our towns and cities, and lead the world to a sustainable, clean energy future.

EPA science is critical to each part of the plan—and one of those ways is through our newly updated National Stormwater Calculator to help build climate resilience in our towns and cities.

Read the rest of the post…

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Braving the Weather to Promote Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia

By Bob Perciasepe

Crossposted from EPA Connect

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

Yesterday, I was up in Philadelphia joined by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Mayor Nutter to announce nearly $5 million in EPA grants made possible through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. These investments are going to five universities, and aim to fill gaps in research evaluating the costs and benefits of certain green infrastructure practices.

The projects to be invested in, led by Temple University, Villanova University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire, will explore the financial and social costs and benefits associated with green infrastructure as a stormwater and wet weather pollution management tool.

From rain gardens and permeable pavement to using absorbent landscape materials to soak up rainwater and more, the knowledge we gain will pay dividends not just for Philadelphia, but for cities all across the country. Green infrastructure can save money, promote safe drinking water, and build more resilient water systems—especially in the face of climate change.

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair,   Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair, Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

Results from these university research teams will supplement a growing body of knowledge that EPA’s own researchers are uncovering. From monitoring and performance evaluation to creating models and a toolbox of green infrastructure resources for decision-makers, this research will be valuable to the city of Philadelphia and beyond.

We’re especially proud of the great work going on through Philly’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Our ongoing partnership between our researchers, EPA regional staff, academia, and the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Michael Nutter is a model for others to follow. We’re helping make real progress at the community level. Community progress isn’t just what guides our actions—it’s a measure of our success in fulfilling EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment.

And we’ll continue to rely on that kind of collaboration—especially when it comes to climate change. Luckily, Philadelphia has made major progress, thanks to Mayor Nutter’s efforts in cutting carbon pollution and preparing the city for climate impacts. As a member of President Obama’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Mayor Nutter’s advice will be critical to make sure  our climate preparedness and resilience policies respond to the needs of communities. The advice we get from the Task Force is an important component to our national Climate Action Plan to combat climate change broadly.

We have come a long way in the 40 years since the Clean Water Act. But with new challenges like climate change—we need push forward with community-focused, innovative solutions. That’s why locally focused partnerships like Green City, Clean Water, and ground level solutions like green infrastructure, are paving a pathway for progress.

I’m confident that through our STAR program, investments in these projects will go a long way to developing innovation solutions to stormwater management, wet weather pollution, and building more resilient, safer water systems for all.

Bob Perciasepe is the EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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A High-Tech Approach to Watershed Management

By Marguerite Huber

Close-up-of-waterfallTechnology amazes me.  It seems like every day new technologies are being developed, and we are suddenly able to do things faster and easier.  And I am not just talking about the latest smartphone or app, but a new tool created by EPA scientists, too!

EPA researchers studying green infrastructure (using vegetation, soil, and other naturalistic techniques to reduce stormwater runoff) collaborated with colleagues in the Agency’s New England office (EPA Region 1) to develop a new public-domain software app called the Watershed Management Optimization Support Tool (WMOST).

The goal of the tool is to help water resource managers and planners identify cost effective, sustainable green infrastructure options for their local jurisdictions. After users enter information about their watershed, water utility infrastructure and constraints related to management objectives, the tool will identify the optimal (lowest cost) long-term solution.

EPA scientist Naomi Detenbeck, who has been working on the tool for the past two years, describes WMOST as “a user-friendly tool that allows communities to meet their water use needs in the most cost effective manner.” It can even be used to evaluate land use and climate change scenarios!

WMOST can easily evaluate more than twenty potential management practices and goals related to water supply, such as surface water storage and non-potable water reuse. The tool requires some specific community inputs such as watershed characteristics and management goals. With this information, WMOST can simply calculate the optimal solution.

Local water resources managers, such as municipal water works managers and consultants, can use WMOST to evaluate projects related to stormwater, water supply, wastewater and more.  At this time, it is designed for small watersheds, single communities, or multiple communities within a small watershed.

Detenbeck explains that WMOST will help communities complete a more comprehensive evaluation of watershed management issues. It will also allow communities to look holistically across their stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water programs.

Some of our favorite technologies, such as our smartphone or tablet, provide us with instant gratification and updates. On the other hand, technologies like WMOST are more focused on the long run. Results may not be instantaneous, but in time they will provide a meaningful environmental impact that all of us will get to benefit from.

The WMOST download can be found here.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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