EPA Promotes Green Infrastructure to Battle Storm Water Runoff

The EPA is launching a “green infrastructure” campaign that focuses on storm water runoff, one of the most troublesome environmental problems in the United States.

The agency has officially recognized ten cities across the nation that exhibit ideal green infrastructure, effectively making them models for the rest of the country. It is touting efforts such as increased tree cover and permeable ground surfaces as vital systems to combat the environmental problem.

Storm water runoff is responsible for polluting streams, lakes, and other aquatic habitats that would otherwise be clean and healthy. The water carries with it chemicals, soil, and other substances that pollute environments to which they are carried, according to the agency. Storm water also overloads city water systems and creates erosion. Excessive runoff can take the blame for downstream flooding that overwhelms populated areas during heavy rains.

When rushing rain water is slowed down and encouraged to soak into soil and other permeable materials, it can be naturally filtered and will drain in a balanced way.

The ten cities are Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Denver, CO; Jacksonville, FL; Kansas City, MO; Puyallup, WA; Washington D.C., Cleveland, OH, Syracuse, NY, as well as some nearby communities.

 “Through this agenda, we’ll help cities and towns across the nation clean up their waters and strengthen their communities by supporting and expanding green infrastructure. Green infrastructure changes improve the health of our waters while creating local jobs, saving communities money and making them healthier and more prosperous places to raise a family and start a business,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

In addition to the benefits to health and ecosystems, green infrastructure would have economic and energy savings by reducing runoff into collection and treatment systems.

The EPA hopes that placing a stamp of approval on the ten communities will result in increased tourism, jobs, revitalized neighborhoods, and expansion of recreational spaces there.

Green infrastructure also incorporates ideas such as green roofs made of plants and soil, expanded tree cover, rain harvesting systems, permeable materials for filtering rain, and other tools to help cities find a balance in times of heavy storms.

The revamp comes just in time as cities drag their feet from the burden of economic downturn. Green roofs made of soil and vegetation not only reduce runoff but save as much as 15 percent on heating and cooling costs for houses and businesses. Increased trees and vegetation can also help insulate buildings from temperature extremes.

Although the campaign does not entail grants or funding for the cities, it does serve to recognize their efforts and reveals the EPA’s increasing concern over localized infrastructure to combat environmental problems. The effort will encourage cities to consider the vitality of these aspects of infrastructure when they confront their own storm water problems.

Systems are best designed based on local problems. As an example, Onandaga County, home of Syracuse, has been battling storm water runoff with innovative, localized efforts, reports syracuse.com. In order to save Onondaga Lake, which was heavily polluted, a series of projects were implemented and suggested.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney Mahoney recently proposed a 1.5 acre green roof on the Nicholas J. Pirro Convention center, which would be the largest green roof in the northeast. It would absorb 1 million gallons of rainwater each year. Other plans in the county include permeable sidewalks and rain gardens.

Photo Credit: green.maryland.gov

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