Green Streets

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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Spongier Surfaces Reducing Stormwater Runoff

By Trey Cody

Think about the sponge on your kitchen sink.  When you hold it under the running faucet, it absorbs a surprising amount of water.  But what if the sponge was covered in plastic wrap?  The water would hit the surface and flow right off.  We can see this same concept at work in our urbanized watersheds where, in many areas, green space that once absorbed rainfall has been replaced by hard surfaces that water can’t penetrate.

There are lots of ways that cities and towns are trying to get closer to their original, spongy state.  Having a surface that is porous and permeable reduces the effects of stormwater runoff on receiving streams, like stream bank erosion and negative effects on aquatic plant and animal life.

That’s why porous paving projects are popping up all over the place.  Permeable paving refers to a different way of mixing or constructing concrete or asphalt that allows water to flow through the pavement and into the ground instead of over it.

One project can be found in our neighboring EPA Region 2’s Laboratory in Edison, New Jersey (above), where three permeable surfaces are being tested on the site of a former concrete parking lot. The performance and capabilities of these systems are being documented as part of a long term project to study the effects of paving materials such as porous asphalt, porous concrete, and interlocking concrete paver blocks. The parking lot will be monitored for its ability to accept, store, and infiltrate stormwater, water quality performance, urban heat island mitigation, maintenance effects, and parking behavior.

Closer to our regional office home, the first porous street in Philadelphia was recently unveiled.   And Washington D.C. has done a number of Green Alley Projects using permeable pavement for the street surfaces.  Have you seen other examples of pervious pavement near you?

To learn more about permeable pavement and other green infrastructure techniques, and how it benefits water quality, check out EPA’s Green Infrastructure Page.

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of August will focus on Science and Innovation.

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

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 Philadelphia Story: Using Green Infrastructure to Slow the Flow

By Tom Damm

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

The only good thing about sitting through a miserable, wind-blown drizzle watching the Phillies lose to the Dodgers Monday night was that the rain wasn’t heavy enough to bring out the tarp.  That would have meant a later night than expected for our EPA group and a groggier commute in the morning.

When it comes to downpours in Philadelphia, though, there are much greater concerns than some inconvenienced baseball fans… maybe even greater concerns than the Phils’ slow start to the 2012 season.

More than half of the city’s sewers carry both storm water and sewage, and when the system gets inundated during a rain event it can overflow, sending a stew of contaminants into streams and rivers.

What to do? In Philly’s case, the goal is to slow the flow.

Our EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, came to Philadelphia in April to sign an agreement with the city that represents a $2 billion investment in methods to intercept rainwater before it chugs into the sewer system with pollutants in tow.

Considered a national model, the 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan will sprout green roofs, tree-lined streets, porous pavement, grassy swales and other features, transforming many of the city’s hard surfaces into absorbent green areas.

The city’s spongier footprint will not only mean fewer sewer overflows, it’ll also help spruce up the community and give a boost to the economy.

If eventually one of the biggest concerns from a storm is waiting out a rain delay at Citizens Bank Park, I can handle that.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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