A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council documents progress around the United States in protecting some of the nation's most polluted rivers and lakes by installing green infrastructure in urban environments. Instead of directing rainwater off streets and rooftops into sewers and storm drains, and ultimately area waterways, green infrastructure captures rainwater where it falls for irrigation and other uses.
Green Infrastructure Prevents Water Pollution
This is good news, especially in cities with what's known as combined sewerage overflow systems. In cities such as Syracuse, NY, and Washington, DC, storm drains direct rainwater into the same pipes that carry household sewage to treatment plants. During major rainfalls, the system overflows, raw sewage and all, directly into local rivers.
Green Infrastructure Relieves Overburdened Sewer Systems
Green infrastructure prevents overflows with landscaping enhancements such as replacing concrete and blacktop with semi-pervious surfaces to allow rainwater to reach the ground below sidewalks and driveways. It means rooftop gardens and green roofs which capture rainwater and grow plants, which also help clean the urban air and capture climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions. And, it means repurposing rainwater for other uses like landscaping irrigation, rainwater collection systems, and in Syracuse, hockey rink ice.
Green Infrastructure Example: Syracuse NY
NRDC's report Rooftops to Rivers II documents green infrastructure practices in a dozen U.S. cities. The video below describes just one city's experience.
Anyone Can Install Green Infrastructure
While major projects such as those described by Syracuse NY and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney in the video above are quite large in scale, just about anyone can implement green infrastructure enhancements on their property.
• A Rainwater collection system is readily available for purchase at home and garden stores or on online. Rain barrels enable homeowners to disconnect one or more of their roof downspouts from the storm water system and use that water for plants and landscaping during dry periods. It can also been used for drinking water as long as you purify the water with a system like a berkey water filter.
• Even without the barrel, homeowners can plant rain gardens and use rooftop runoff to enhance their yards. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has published a downloadable manual on rain gardens for homeowners.
• Though requiring professional installation, green roofs are becoming more popular on individual houses.
• And when renovating driveways and sidewalks there are more and more alternatives to traditional impermeable concrete and asphalt. Innovations such as interlocking concrete tiles provide the ease of traditional driveways while allowing the rainwater through.