Around the Water Cooler: Living in a Sustainable District

By Zoe Kaiser

I never carry an umbrella, but I do commute to work, walk many places instead of driving, and care about how my hair looks. Why? It’s a cultural thing; I am from Seattle. Born and raised in one of the cities that is most notorious for constant drizzle, carrying an umbrella is something a true Seattleite would never do. Since coming to DC, I have suffered the consequences as it has rained quite a bit. 

Since joining EPA as an intern, I’ve also learned that rain can bring more than just bad hair days. Stormwater runoff from rain can be a major concern for the environment.   

Stormwater can sweep motor oil, pesticides, and other pollutants into local waterways where it can harm nature (see our previous post that tells the story particularly well) and create unsafe environments for recreation such as swimming and fishing. 

The recently released Sustainable D.C. Plan proposes using sustainability solutions to address core challenges for water by 2023, including making 100% of District waterways fishable and swimmable and 75% of the city’s landscape able to capture rainwater for filtration or reuse. This is essential for continued health of waterways, and is achieved in multiple ways.  While this is an ambitious goal for any city, the plan outlines many ways in which the city can achieve a greener, healthier community. My home town of Seattle has already taken many strides to be more sustainable from municipal composting programs, to solar energy in homes and businesses, and green roofs on many colleges in the city. These programs and other initiatives have made Seattle a leader in sustainable living.

The District aims to install 2 million new square feet of green roofs around the city. Green roofs are pleasing to the eye and could be a great indicator of D.C.’s progress in meeting its sustainability goals. Through some modifications, most buildings can install a green roof with flowers, plants and other greenery. In addition, the plan proposes building 25 miles of green alleys. This “green infrastructure” adaptation would involve changing alleys from asphalt or concrete to a pervious surface, such as a polymer-based grass paver or porous asphalt.  

I would love to have a green roof or live on a street made from pervious pavement. And instead of giving in and buying an umbrella now, perhaps I’ll just wait to see how much my hair absorbs! After all, D.C. is focusing on stormwater runoff and I should be too.  Have you seen any sustainable infrastructure modifications in your community? Please share in the comments section below.

About the Author: Zoe Kaiser is the Science Communications Intern and is currently a Junior at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not in the office or in class, she loves to read about ways we can all be more sustainable in our everyday lives.

Learn more!
Read about the Sustainable DC plan here: