Green Infrastructure

Braving the Weather to Promote Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia

Reposted from “EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership

 

CEQ Chair and EPA Deputy Administrator brave the snow.

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe brave the snow in Philadelphia.

 

By Bob Perciasepe 

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.

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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

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.

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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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Street Trees: More than Meets the Eye

By Marguerite Huber

Tree-lined street

There is more to street trees than meets the eye.

Ever since I took an urban forestry course in graduate school, I can’t help but always look at trees. I look at their bark, their roots, and their leaves. But when I look at trees, I am not just seeing their physical attributes. I also see all the conceptual benefits they provide to our communities.

Trees are not just a pretty fixture in your backyard. They provide many ecosystem services to our cities and towns, including: improving air quality, absorbing and storing carbon, supplying privacy, reducing noise, increasing property value, and decreasing building energy use. Trees are an important aspect of the green infrastructure that helps reduce storm water flow.

Amazingly, you don’t have to be an arborist to calculate tree benefits; you can use i-Tree, a USDA Forest Service model that uses sampling data to estimate street tree benefits.

In the fall of 2013, EPA scientists began research on “street trees” (trees growing in the public right-of-way, usually in between the street and the sidewalk) in nine communities in the Cincinnati, Ohio metropolitan area. The randomly selected communities all differ in geographic setting, socioeconomic characteristics, and street tree management practices.

Their research aims to answer such questions as: Can street tree structure and benefits be explained by management practices, socioeconomic conditions, or historical or geographic factors? How might invasive pests affect street trees and their benefits? How will existing street tree structure and benefits change in the future under various scenarios of tree growth and mortality, management practices, and pest outbreaks?

Researchers sampled more than 53 miles of street right-of-way along more than 600 street segments and inventoried nearly 3,000 trees. The street tree benefits were estimated using i-Tree Streets.

At this time researchers are still analyzing street tree benefits and their relation to community characteristics such as management practices, socioeconomics, and geographic setting. So far they have found management practices to be particularly important, with Tree City USA participants gaining greater benefits than communities that do not participate. Since analyses are still continuing, the findings on the other community characteristics will be released in the coming months.

When the project is completed, the researchers will have deliverables such as street tree inventory data that can be shared with community officials and an understanding of which community characteristics influence street tree structure and ecosystem services.

I invite you to check out i-Tree for yourself; I suspect as you’ll realize there are more to street trees than meets the eye.

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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A Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

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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Infrastructure is Going Green in Communities Across America

When I released the Water Technology Innovation Blueprint last spring, it framed the top ten opportunities to help solve current water resource issues. Green infrastructure is one of my favorites in the top ten, and it is rapidly expanding across the country. Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems. Green infrastructure tools and techniques include green roofs, permeable materials, alternative designs for streets and buildings, trees, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems.

Green infrastructure is also a critical tool for addressing climate change and mitigating its impacts by making communities more resilient. Green infrastructure can increase the capacity of sewer systems by reducing the flow into them, making the systems more resilient.

This fall I attended the first national Community Summit on Green Infrastructure, co-hosted by the Syracuse Environmental Finance Center and EPA in partnership with Onondaga County, NY  and the City of Syracuse. The summit provided an opportunity for communities across the country to share experiences and innovation in green infrastructure, while also strengthening the EPA Green Infrastructure Community Partnerships.  The pioneering cities who attended this community summit are ahead of the curve, paving the way for more natural stormwater controls through the use of green infrastructure.

Green roof on top of Syracuse University’s LEED Platinum certified Gateway Center. Photo Credit: Caitlin Eger, Syracuse Environmental Finance Center

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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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A Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Creating a Green Urban Oasis

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Design concept for Green Infrastructure Plan in Philadelphia

By Matthew Marcus

After interning in the Office of Environmental Justice this summer, I reflected on how environmental justice issues affect my beloved home city of Philadelphia.  There are pockets of communities throughout Philly that face challenges such as poverty, unemployment, a lack of educational opportunities and crime. They also face many environmental concerns such as foul air from cars and industry and polluted streams disproportionately affecting poorer neighborhoods.  However, Philly is rising to this challenge in unique and creative ways, and deserves praise for its efforts.

Untitled-3For instance, Philadelphia is addressing waterway pollution in innovative ways. Philly has old water infrastructure that combines storm water pipes with sewage lines, and during periods of heavy rainfall or snow melt, the volume of wastewater in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or wastewater treatment plant. When this happens, combined sewer overflow (CSO) and discharge sewage goes directly to nearby water bodies. These overflows can contain not only storm water, but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris.

To address this problem, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), with support from the EPA, developed a strategy called Green City Clean Waters (GCCW) to mitigate this problem while remaining in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Traditionally, this would be done by building more “grey” infrastructure: bigger pipes underground that do nothing for the community.  The PWD has instead opted for a green infrastructure approach that simultaneously addresses many community needs. Howard Neukrug, PWD commissioner, told me that environmental and economic justice issues in poor urban areas are so closely related that they must be understood and tackled together.

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Proposed design for rooftop in Philadelphia

Green Infrastructure (GI) consists of designing urban buildings and spaces that allow storm water to permeate into the soil rather than runoff into the pipes.  Usually this takes the form of bioswales, rain gardens, or green roofs that convert impervious surfaces to pervious ones.  This green process/technique improves water quality and protects community residents from exposure to raw sewage, which is a long-term investment in public health and clean water. So far, more than 100 construction projects have been completed, converting more than 600 acres of impervious surface to green infrastructure. The result of this project will include 5-8 billion gallons of CSO avoided per year, as well as the restoration of 190 miles of wetlands, and 11 miles of streams that flow adjacent to surrounding low-income communities.

The projects’ benefits transcend water. GCCW is attempting to integrate all aspects of community planning to produce a favorable outcome to the environment and people. One can see these benefits emerging in the New Kensington neighborhood.  A large block was turned into a beautiful GI site, a LEED platinum high school was built; and now a grassroots movement has begun to make this area the greenest point in Philly.  Students’ work has improved in the new school, and the community has something to cherish together.

Another example is the Herron Park Spraygound.  Formerly an old dilapidated pool, it’s been transformed into a green square with sprinklers throughout the playground.  Children run through the fountains safely in this beautiful green oasis on hot summer days, and on rainy days, the water infiltrates into the soil.  To the community, the sprayground adds beauty and a safe recreating spot, and to the PWD, it reduces river pollution. GCCW’s approach to sustainability is beginning to affect all parts of life, and environmental justice is addressed. I am hopeful that this great work will continue in Philly and provide an example nationally to address urban EJ challenges.

About the author: Matthew Marcus interned with the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice the summer of 2013. He is currently studying his Masters of Applied Geosciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

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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Rain Barrel Workshop Provides Educational Fun

By Kevin Kubik

Painted Rain Barrel

Painted Rain Barrel

My wife and I attended a rain barrel workshop in Eatontown, NJ.  The workshop was on teaching people about water conservation and reducing storm water runoff in our communities and making rain barrels. The best part of the workshop was that they gave us everything we needed to make our own rain barrel including the barrel, a spigot and all the fittings.

It was a lot of fun hearing about the program and making the rain barrel. Special instructions were given on how to connect two or more rain barrels in a series to make greater use of big rain events, what to water with the collected water (lawn and garden watering) and what to avoid (consumption). Everyone was also shown a couple of ways to avoiding mosquito breeding in the rain barrel.

I was so impressed with the presentation that I asked the instructor, Sara Mellor, if she could come to our next divisional “All Hands” meeting to give us a short presentation. She even gave us our own rain barrel that we will use in our Edison rain garden.

Rain Barrel Class

Rain Barrel Class

The workshop was provided by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, Water Conservation Program, which is a collaborative initiative between Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection via funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The link to the rain barrel program is http://water.rutgers.edu/Stormwater_Management/rainbarrels.html. Check it out.

Every year, as part of “Rutgers Day,” a contest is held for the best painted rain barrel. There’s even a video on how to paint a rain barrel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVtLTkGO3zs&feature=youtu.be.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik is the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the region for more than 31 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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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Rebuilding Stronger in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Photo credit: HUD

Photo credit: HUD

Hurricane Sandy tore through the mid-Atlantic coastline of the United States late last year, devastating communities throughout the region. Today, I’m proud to share that the Obama Administration has announced the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy to ensure that those areas rebuild stronger than ever.

Our water treatment systems simply weren’t built to manage the record-breaking storms like Sandy that are becoming ever-more frequent. During the storm, floodwaters and loss of electricity combined to cause wastewater treatment plants to fail up and down the mid-Atlantic coast — sending billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the region’s waterways and endangering people’s health.  In addition, many water utilities lost power, disrupting their ability to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

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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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Calculating the Impact

By Andy Dinsmore

What happens when all of the rain from a storm can’t soak into the ground on my property?  Where does it go?  Is that runoff causing any problems?

These are questions many people may be asking themselves.  In developed areas, that runoff likely enters into a storm sewer (a pipe) which outlets directly to a stream.  And too much runoff after a storm can cause severe damage to our streams, such as bank erosion and habitat loss.

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

But do I know how much runoff is coming from my property?  A new tool from EPA, the National Stormwater Calculator, has made it much easier to figure out.  It uses a simple, step-by-step process to assess a property (land use, soil features, and rainfall) and give an estimate for runoff.

I used the tool to evaluate my property and found it to be very user friendly.  I just entered my address and a window showed my property location.  Then I selected my soil type and landscape features using the incorporated links and overlays.  I gave my best estimates for the percentage of trees, grass, and impervious surfaces (my roof and driveway).  The calculator then showed me approximately how much runoff my property produces in a year.

The intent of the calculator is to compare current runoff estimates with reductions that would result from some simple practices, like redirecting your downspouts over your lawn, installing rain barrels, or making a rain garden.  More complex practices that may be used by industrial, commercial, or municipal properties are also available, such as curbside planters, green roofs, infiltration basins, and porous pavement.

I already have two rain barrels and a rain garden, so I ran the calculator twice.  The results of my two calculator runs (one without the rain barrels and rain garden and one with them) showed that I’m capturing an estimated 1.77 inches of runoff each year.  When I convert that to volume, it becomes 6,343 gallons of runoff that does not leave my property – enough to fill more than 100 average-sized bathtubs.  You can see the output from the calculator here.

So if you’ve asked yourself where your runoff goes, check out the calculator.  And then consider taking some basic steps to reduce your impact.

Maybe my next blog will have to be about how easy it is to build your own rain barrel and install it yourself.   But for now, be sure to check out our Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recent blog about rain barrel art.

About the Author: Andy Dinsmore has been with EPA since 1997 and is currently the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Stormwater Team Leader, responsible for ensuring that regulated entities, such as construction sites, certain industrial facilities, and urbanized municipalities, properly manage their stormwater runoff and comply with their NPDES permits. Outside of the office, Andy enjoys gardening, playing racquetball, and spending time with his two children.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.