stormwater runoff

Oyster Bay Goes Green with New Rain Garden

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

By Amy Mandelbaum and Mark A. Tedesco

Did you ever stop to think where water goes after it leaves your downspout? If you’re like most people, once stormwater is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Most likely, the stormwater rushes down your driveway, onto the street, and to the nearest storm drain. If you don’t live in the Big, I mean, Green Apple, then that drain goes directly to your local waterway, whether it be a lake, creek, river, bay, estuary, or even the ocean. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, that stormwater isn’t so clean by the time it makes it to your local waterway, as it picks up litter, nutrients, and plenty of other things along the way. This polluted stormwater runoff goes directly into the water without having a chance to be cleaned.

So, what can we do about it? That’s where green infrastructure comes into play. Green infrastructure is essentially mimicking what nature did before we started building gray infrastructure, such as gutters, roads, pipes, etc. Out of the many green infrastructure practices, one of the best for filtering polluted stormwater runoff is a rain garden: a shallow, vegetated basin that captures, treats, and infiltrates polluted stormwater runoff within a day. It is designed to treat the first inch of rain, which is the most polluted, and the plants, soil, and mulch filter the polluted stormwater runoff before it enters your local waterway.

The Town of Oyster Bay realized the need to redirect the polluted stormwater runoff from the roadway along the waterfront before going into nearby Oyster Bay, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, and eventually Long Island Sound. The Town sought and received a Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant to install a rain garden, all while educating the local community. The rain garden was installed in October, with assistance from other local organizations and volunteers. As part of the project, a corresponding rain garden training program is also offered for homeowners, municipal officials, and landscape professionals. This rain garden now serves as a demonstration to the local community and its visitors of a green infrastructure practice that can be easily incorporated into the landscape.

So, the next time it rains, I hope you take a closer look at your downspout.

If your town would like assistance mitigating the effects of stormwater runoff, contact your local Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) office in New York or Connecticut.

About the Authors: Amy Mandelbaum is the New York Outreach Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for New York Sea Grant in Stony Brook, NY. She received her Ed.M. in science education in 2012 and a B.S. in environmental science in 2007 from Rutgers University.

Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook 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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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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Around the Water Cooler: Measure Runoff with EPA’s Stormwater Calculator


By Lahne Mattas-Curry

It’s been raining for what seems like weeks straight this summer. Each day as I leave the office, it’s not unusual for the skies to open up and let loose a torrential downpour. I have watched many people struggle to find their umbrellas in their bags or skip over the water pooling around street corners while running to the metro. While Washington, D.C., is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, when it rains, you just can’t escape the water flowing rapidly across the pavement and other impervious surfaces that make up our nation’s capital. Interested in water research, I wondered, “How much water actually runs off into the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers during each rainfall?”

Now, thanks to EPA scientist Lew Rossman, we can measure runoff amounts for specific locations. After answering some questions about a particular site, such as percent of impervious surfaces and soil composition, Rossman’s National Stormwater Calculator can estimate the amount of runoff and inform decisions about how to reduce runoff. The Calculator is a tool that can help developers, urban planners, landscapers, and other professionals determine what green infrastructure elements could best reduce the runoff.

Adding green infrastructure (we’ve talked a lot about green infrastructure here and here) is both environmentally and economically beneficial. From trees and plants to green roofs, rain barrels, and cisterns, these changes can help decrease the amount of pollutants threatening our waterways. With heavy rains increasing and continued development, runoff has become one of the fastest growing sources of water pollution around the country.

The Calculator is just phase I of the Stormwater Calculator and Climate Assessment Tool package announced in the President’s Climate Action Plan in June. An update to the Calculator will be released at the end of this year that links to several future climate scenarios.

You can access the National Stormwater Calculator here: http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/wswrd/wq/models/swc/

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor. Besides playing in puddles after a rain, she spends a lot of time adding plants to her rain garden to reduce the runoff, and quite frankly, add beauty and value, to her own property.

 

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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Around the Water Cooler: Wastewater Treatment (nothing to scream about…)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I came across this little gem the other day while working to promote EPA’s water science research.  A sci-fi novel set in a wastewater treatment plant? Brilliant. And the tagline: Where no one cares when you scream? Clearly author Dodge Winston has a lot to think about while at work as a wastewater plant operator in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll bet, though, that most of us haven’t given the wastewater treatment plant in our communities much thought, yet wastewater treatment is a key contributor to keeping us healthy and the environment clean.

Do you know what happens to the wastewater when you flush the toilet or run the disposal, or even finish a load of laundry? The wastewater collection system consists of a network of pipes, pumps, and tunnels that connect our household plumbing to sewer lines and pump stations.  Eventually the wastewater is sent to the treatment plant for cleaning and distribution.

There are approximately 800,000 miles of public sewer lines in the United States, most installed after World War II. There are also close to 20,000 wastewater treatment pipe systems and 15,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States, most of them aging and certainly many that can’t handle a large storm without sending overflows of untreated wastewater into our waterways.

With this in mind, EPA engineers and scientists are developing tools, rehabilitation technologies and methods to increase long-term effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. They also help municipalities and wastewater treatment plant staff keep our water clean, contributing to healthier people and a cleaner environment. EPA researchers are working  to keep our water sources free from chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants, too.

Here are a few of the tools and models our researchers have developed:

While these technologies and tools are targeted to wastewater treatment plant operators, there are things you can do at home to help keep our water clean and reduce the cost of cleaning our water at the wastewater treatment plant. Learn more about what you can do in your community here.

And for fun, check out this innovative tool the city of Oberlin, Ohio is using. You can see real-time use of electricity and water.

As an aside, this tool was developed by Lucid Design Group, which was founded by members of Oberlin College’s P3 team that organized a two-week “Dorm Energy Competition” where dorm residents competed to reduce their energy and water use and used the dashboards to monitor success back in 2005. Today, Lucid has customers around the country, including towns, building owners, corporations – and even Google – who want to monitor and reduce energy and water consumption.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler, and she also helps promote the great work of EPA researchers in the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program. And at lunch today she will drink about a gallon of clean, treated tap water.

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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Our Built and Natural Environments

By Melissa Kramer

I remember like it was yesterday the first solo drive I took with my newly minted drivers’ license. Being able to drive myself where I wanted to go meant so much to me as a 16-year old who had no real alternatives to a car for meeting up with friends, getting to my first job, or going shopping. Somewhere along the way though the freedom and excitement that I felt behind the wheel was replaced with frustration as I sat in traffic, anxiety any time I had to drive unfamiliar roads, and stress about the cost of keeping my old clunker running.

As a resident of Washington, D.C., I have left behind the life where a car is necessary for most things. I live in a vibrant, bustling neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Most days I walk to work, but I can also bike or take the bus. My husband commutes 8 miles by bike to work in Arlington, Virginia, and is happier and healthier for it. There are at least a half dozen grocery stores, a couple of hardware stores, countless restaurants, and just about anything I need close by. Several major bus lines run within two blocks of my house, and the Metro is just a 10 minute walk away when we need it.

EPA’s new report Our Built and Natural Environments helps explain how the kind of places where I live can minimize the environmental impacts of development. While the population of the United States roughly doubled between 1950 and 2011, the number of miles traveled increased nearly six-fold, and with it air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and stormwater runoff from roads have increased. Choosing where to build our communities to safeguard sensitive ecological areas; redeveloping already developed places; and putting homes, workplaces, and services close together near transit can help preserve natural areas that provide many ecosystem services. Beyond where we build, how we build is also important. Building compact neighborhoods, mixing uses to reduce travel distances, designing streets to make walking and biking safer, and using better building practices also help protect the environment and human health. This report describes the research documenting these environmental benefits and helps explain why neighborhoods like mine are not just great places to live, but also help minimize residents’ environmental footprints.

Find the report .  Learn about the Our Built and Natural Environments webinar on July 24.

About the author: Melissa Kramer, Ph.D., is a biologist working in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She likes biking, cooking, and tending to her native plant garden

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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Rainy Day Lesson

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Like many New Englanders, we’ve been really busy lately with our garden. The warm growing months are so fleeting here that you have to be ready the minute you can plant veggies and herbs to harvest some good food later in the summer.

It’s been even more hectic this year, because my wife and I acted on our carefully-developed plans of long-overdue landscaping in our yard. But as any homeowner can tell you, there usually is no simple plan. If you do this, then it triggers that. And that. And something else.

As we thought about how we wanted our yard to be, we knew we needed to address some drainage issues: gutters were draining directly onto a walkway, and in the winter that’s a recipe for dangerous slick ice. So we excavated a channel for the gutter to drain under the walkway, leading into a dry well. Now the water will slowly infiltrate into the earth without turning into mud or ice where we need to walk.

We have another area nearby, where a gutter channels rainwater from our garage, and we thought, “this is a great spot for a rain barrel!”

Diverting rain by collecting it in a rain barrel, or channeling into a dry well (or a rain garden) has a lot of advantages besides our immediate need to address extra runoff in our garden. Stormwater runoff can collect a lot of bad stuff, especially in urban areas with lots of pavement and other hard impermeable surfaces. As water runs off roofs, parking lots and roads, it collects all the trace residues of chemicals, nutrients, silt and debris that have accumulated, and swiftly deposits it all in the nearest storm sewer, and from there it often goes directly into nearby streams, ponds or another water body. In other words, pollution.

It’s amazing how quickly our 55 gallon rain barrel fills up, just waiting for a dry spell when we need to water our garden. It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours – not even pouring hard – and the rain barrel is full. That’s just one section of roof and gutter. It makes me realize how much water comes down in a typical rainstorm, and how much of a difference our household decisions can make to help solve a problem.

Find more New England resources on how to “Soak Up the Rain.”

More Green infrastructure solutions to stormwater

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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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Science Wednesday: Fall Classics

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

The big yellow school buses have begun rolling into the neighborhood every morning again. The heat waves of the summer have relinquished. And I’ve noticed a leaf or two starting to fade. This can only mean one thing: it’s time for pennant races to get going!

As a former resident of the Bronx—and a life-long Yankee fan—I have spent more Septembers than I care to admit fixated on the epic struggle for baseball’s biggest prize: beating the Red Sox. (Okay, it’s pretty thrilling watching N.Y. win the World Series, too.)

But now that I’ve lived in the DC area as long as I’ve lived in New York, I have to admit that the baseball universe is larger than just two teams. I’ve even started to learn about my adopted hometown’s Washington Nationals.

Although I don’t think I’ll need to worry about choosing between N.Y. and D.C. in the Series anytime soon, I now know one area where the Nationals are already contending: the rain delay.

Earlier this season, a colleague invited me to tag along with a number of other EPA employees for a lunch-hour tour of Nationals Park. The team was eager to tout the numerous environmentally- sustainable, “green architecture” features of their new stadium.

According to their web site, “Nationals Park is the nation’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.” To start, the ballpark is easily accessible to public transportation, and offers bicycles valet parking. A green roof—much like one EPA scientists are studying—sits atop a concession and restroom area.

I was particularly impressed with steps the team has taken to filter ground and stormwater runoff, another area of great interest to EPA researchers. An intricate system separates water used to clean the stadium from rainwater runoff, filtering both before any is released into the sanitary or stormwater drains. The end result is that the entire stadium acts like a giant rain garden (another EPA research subject) that helps protect the nearby Anacostia River. They even take pains to keep discarded peanut shells from entering the wastewater flow!

While the Nationals might not have the line up of the big budget teams up North, they sure do impress with their investment to environmental sustainability. Even this Yankee fan is impressed.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the managing editor of Science Wednesday, and a frequent contributor.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.