The environmental field is full of jobs that are personally fulfilling and make a difference at every scale. While some—like wildlife biologist or clean water activist—seem obvious, there are some not-so-obvious green collar jobs that have a lasting impact. Here, we’ve pulled together a list of some of those uncommon and unique ways of working in the green sector.
Conservation Corps volunteer
In the spirit of AmeriCorps, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a program that prepares young adults looking to enter the environmental field. Volunteers gain leadership and job training through a year of service, for which they receive a stipend. They are assigned to an organization in the Chesapeake region ranging from county governments and museums, to environmental nonprofits and nature centers.
Look for similar opportunities with the Delaware Conservation Corps, Maryland Conservation Corps, New York’s Excelsior Conservation Corps, Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps and Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. Virginia has a similar program, the Service and Conservation Corps Veterans Crew, for military veterans.
Arborists are responsible for managing and maintaining trees in a given area. Some arborists consult with local governments, landowners and utility companies to plant trees that won’t eventually tangle with power lines or require more space than is available. Others take a more hands-on approach and focus on planting and pruning street trees or treating sick ones.
Working with trees is a great way to work in and with communities to create a more beautiful space. In recent years, organizations like Blue Water Baltimore and Washington Parks and People have used job programs centered around trees to help people who live in underserved areas or who were released from prison to gain skills and job experience while benefitting their communities.
LEED credentialed professional
Construction is a field that is full of careers that affect the environment. Beginning with the architect who designs the building and the forester who manages timber supplies, all the way to the client who maintains the building, each stage of the construction process holds an opportunity to be green. One way to set yourself apart and help the environment is to have LEED certification.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council to determine the environmental performance of a building and encourage more sustainable design. It is a system that covers almost the entire lifespan of a building, including citing, construction, materials and maintenance. Once construction is complete, a building can become LEED certified if it meets certain standards. When it opened in 2001, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center—the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland—was the first building in the world to receive a LEED Platinum rating.
Having LEED credentials not only helps the environment brick by brick, but can make you more marketable to employers, potentially leading to a higher overall salary. Jobs that benefit from LEED accreditation include: construction managers, architects, landscape designers, facility managers, contractors, tradesmen and engineers.
While some careers focus on how we create energy, such as solar panel installers or wind turbine engineers, energy auditors focus on how efficiently we use it. They consult with property owners about ways they could improve the efficiency of their home or building.
Energy auditors inspect buildings to determine where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently. After the visit, they provide property owners with advice on upgrades to make to improve the building’s efficiency. Most of the watershed’s jurisdictions—which include six states and the District of Columbia—have residential and commercial energy audit programs, with many of them offering free or discounted energy audits for qualifying residents.
Prescribed burn crew member
While it might seem counterintuitive, fire can be used in some places around the region to restore and maintain habitats. However, these aren’t any old fires, and they definitely are not wild. These fires are set and managed by professionals on prescribed fire burn crews. Fires can provide an ecosystem with a number of benefits by helping to return nutrients to the soil, open up dense areas and control invasive species. Being a member of a burn crew is a unique way to help restore important habitat. Programs like the Natural Lands Project in Chestertown, Maryland, use prescribed burns to create habitat for breeding grassland birds.
The green career field has many opportunities for involvement including starting off on your own path. There are opportunities for new and innovative businesses in growing fields like renewable energy, or to combat food deserts by starting an urban farm.
More broadly, green entrepreneurship doesn’t need to include only businesses with titles that include the word “energy” or “conservation.” Green entrepreneurs could do just about anything as long as they have a foundation of sustainability. From aquaculture companies to area chefs, entrepreneurs across the region are incorporating sustainability into their business models. Perhaps you open a restaurant that sources only local ingredients, a bike shop that refurbishes old bikes or a hair salon that uses natural haircare products. Reducing the environmental footprint of your business, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great way to work toward a better environment.
Want to get involved in the environmental field? Our weekly newsletter, Bay Brief, is full of current environmental job openings around the Chesapeake region.
Do you work in the environmental field? Let us know what you do in the comments!
A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looks at how local planners and decision-makers can incorporate the effects of a changing climate into their efforts to manage stormwater runoff.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. And the effects of climate change—such as the amount and intensity of rainfall—can influence the amount of runoff that needs to be managed.
To look at how local stormwater managers can incorporate climate change adaptation practices into their work, EPA and NOAA hosted a series of workshops and community efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regions. In the Chesapeake region, workshops were held in York County, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Stafford County, Virginia.
Throughout the discussions, several common themes and challenges emerged. Uncertainty can make it difficult to incorporate climate change predictions into planning efforts. Local-level professionals may lack the resources and interagency cooperation needed to design, construct and permit projects that deal with stormwater runoff. And because the benefits of managing polluted runoff can be difficult to quantify, managers need better information on the costs and benefits of different climate adaptation strategies. Further assessing these common challenges and opportunities will help planners and decision-makers better incorporate climate change into their stormwater management efforts.
The report, Stormwater Management in Response to Climate Change Impacts: Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes Regions, is available online.
Almost daily, the local media is reporting stories about climate change and the likely impacts to the Chesapeake Bay region, its resources and our way of life. All in all, the short story is that the Chesapeake region is facing a warmer and wetter future: one that will very likely be characterized by higher sea levels, an increase in coastal and river flooding and more intense extreme weather events, such as Nor’Easters or tropical storms.
Recognizing the need to gain a better understanding of the likely impacts as well as potential management solutions for the watershed, a new goal was added to the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, committing the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to take action to: “increase the resiliency of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including its living resources, habitats, public infrastructure and communities, to withstand adverse impacts from changing environmental and climate conditions.” To achieve this goal, Bay Program partners are now working together to formulate plans and undertake targeted efforts to monitor and assess the trends and likely impacts of a changing climate, and to implement restoration and protection projects to enhance the resiliency of the larger ecosystem.
You might be asking yourself, what does “resiliency” mean, particularly in the context of climate change planning in the Chesapeake Bay? Although it is not a new word per se, resiliency is a fairly recent term in fields of hazard and disaster planning, as well as climate change preparedness. Building off one of the more common definitions of “resilience” from the National Research Council, it essentially means to plan and prepare for, reduce and absorb the impacts of, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse effects of changing environmental, economic and social conditions.
The management strategy for Climate Resiliency, released in June 2015, serves as the climate planning and preparedness guide for the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. The strategy is founded upon a number of the resiliency principles listed above, particularly with respect to pursuing specific actions to successfully adapt to anticipated future adverse changes. A growing interest among the partnership in this regard is the promotion of natural or “green infrastructure” solutions to protect coastal communities from impacts associated with sea level rise and coastal storms.
The use of natural and other green infrastructure techniques, including living shorelines, beach nourishment, forested buffers, bay islands and tidal wetlands, is a move away from the use of more traditional structural shore protection practices such as groins, breakwaters, seawalls and bulkheads. Natural solutions such as these can dampen and absorb wave energy and attenuate coastal flood waters, increasing the resiliency of a coastal community while also offering valuable ecosystem benefits, such as nursery grounds and habitat for near shore species. It’s a win-win solution for coastal communities as well as the Bay.
To learn more about climate change in the Chesapeake Bay region, visit our Learn the Issues: Climate Change page. To find more information on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s climate resiliency planning efforts or to sign up for our topical newsletter, Chesapeake Resiliency, visit the Climate Change Workgroup page.
Written by Zoe Johnson, Climate Change Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads and parking lots, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. But urban farms may offer an innovative way to manage that polluted runoff, according to a report from American Rivers.
Green infrastructure—such as rain gardens, green roofs and porous pavement—uses soil and vegetation to help slow the flow of runoff and manage rainwater where it falls. These projects can also offer benefits like cleaner air, reduced energy use and a boost in property values. According to the report, urban farms can offer not only the typical benefits of green infrastructure projects, but also benefits like improved nutrition and increased access to green space.
The report includes a list of ten recommendations for promoting the use of urban farms to manage stormwater runoff, such as providing training and funding opportunities for farmers, identifying vacant lots that could be converted to farms and updating city zoning codes to allow for urban agriculture.
The report, Urban Farms: A Green Infrastructure Tool for the Chesapeake Bay, is available online.
The sandy shores of Virginia Beach are no stranger to development. As the shoreline curves along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, homes, hotels and resorts boast Bay-front and oceanfront views. And in 2008, Pleasure House Point—a 118-acre tract of tidal marshes, salt meadows and maritime forest along the shores of the Lynnhaven River—was set to be transformed as well.
Developers were preparing to begin construction on “Indigo Dunes,” an expansive development that would cover nearly every piece of the property with 1,100 condos and townhomes, including two 11-story towers directly along the water’s edge. But if you travel to the land now, no high-rise towers block your view; instead, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s long, slender Brock Environmental Center sits far back from the riverbank, huddled close to the ground and nestled among the trees and marsh grasses.
Completed in late 2014, the Brock Environmental Center represents a community effort to protect Pleasure House Point for natural use. According to Christy Everett, head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Hampton Roads office, preservation of the land began almost as wishful thinking: “It was a suggestion that was very out on a limb—‘Hey, maybe we could stop this development.’”
After bankers foreclosed on the property in 2011, lack of funding, legal uncertainties and apprehension from the community delayed the protection of the land and construction of the Center. Many residents supported conserving the land, but some—concerned the Center would be built too close to the shore—thought it shouldn’t be developed at all. “We went door to door several times, to every house in the neighborhood, to get their feedback,” said Everett. And with the Center now open for public tours, Everett says community support is steadily continuing to grow. “Some people didn’t feel comfortable until they came to the building. But people come today and say, ‘oh, now I understand what you were doing.’”
The Center acts a hub for the Bay Foundation’s hands-on environmental education efforts. A pier hugs the shoreline, where a “floating classroom” waits to take students and teachers on an exploration of the Chesapeake ecosystem. But the building itself presents a different type of lesson to its visitors: one of energy efficiency, resource conservation and modern green building technologies.
As one of the top green buildings in the nation the Center is on track to be one of only a handful of buildings certified under the Living Building Challenge each year. The Challenge—described as the “built environment’s most rigorous performance standard”—is based on seven criteria, called petals: place, water, energy, health, happiness, materials, equity and beauty. In order to be certified, the Center must meet several strict requirements over the next year, including producing zero net waste and no net carbon dioxide emissions.
Designed to be as resource-efficient as possible, the Center uses solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal wells for all its energy needs—while simultaneously creating ways to educate visitors about resource conservation. When local birding groups voiced their opposition to the turbines, the Bay Foundation tweaked the placement and orientation of the structures. “We did a lot of research into the wind turbines we have, what kind of bird and bat kills happen from which type of turbines in the Chesapeake Bay area,” said Everett. “We keep a spreadsheet that’s monitored every day for potential bird deaths, and there haven’t been any. In that way, we’re contributing to the knowledge about these turbines.”
The Center also uses cutting-edge technology for water use and conservation, including turning rainwater into potable drinking water. “We believe we’re the only public facility in the continental United States that treats its rainwater,” said Everett. “The entire site has zero stormwater runoff. It’s really important to us that any water gets used on site instead of running into local waterways.”
While the building is newly assembled, the pieces that comprise it tell the history of the surrounding community. Bleachers from a local school, marked by carvings from students of years past, frame the building’s doors and windows. Countertops made from old art tables line the office supply alcove, and corks from champagne bottles serve as handles for drawers and cupboards. A striking mural—made from the pieces of an old, discarded oak tree—hangs against a wall in one of the Center’s few meeting rooms.
Walking along the Center’s waterfront trail, it can be hard to imagine the vast resort that nearly transformed the landscape. Though the wetland restoration is still in its early stages, signs of wildlife and new growth peek through. “You kind of want it to hurry up and restore,” Everett laughs. But with the marshes, meadows and forests now protected, the land can recover for years to come.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
You can track the status of the Center’s energy and water use through the Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center Building Dashboard.
Update July 30, 2015: The Brock Enviornmental Center was certified as LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest designation, in July 2015.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
Green roofs, porous pavement and other tools of the green infrastructure trade can be a cost-effective way to control stormwater runoff, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that estimates the benefits of Lancaster City’s long-term green infrastructure plan.
Image courtesy Lindsayy/Flickr
Located in south-central Pennsylvania, Lancaster City has a population approaching 60,000. Each year, combined sewer overflows send almost 750 million gallons of stormwater runoff and untreated waste into the Conestoga River, pushing excess nutrients into the tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. In an effort to combat this pollution problem, the city released a green infrastructure plan in 2011 that outlines the tree plantings, parking lot excavations and other projects that will be put in place over the next 25 years.
While the plan lists the water quality benefits the city expects to see—including the reduction of stormwater runoff by more than 1 billion gallons per year—it is, for some, an incomplete assessment. So, in a report released this week, the EPA furthered the city’s benefits analysis by addressing the additional environmental, social and economic benefits that green infrastructure can provide.
According to the report, the long-term implementation of green infrastructure in Lancaster City could save $120 million in avoided gray infrastructure capital costs and earn close to $5 million in annual benefits. Green infrastructure would reduce air pollution, energy use and stormwater runoff, and offer residents a boost in property values, recreational opportunities and other qualitative benefits. With a forecasted implementation cost of between $51.6 and $94.5 million, it is clear the benefits of green infrastructure exceed the costs.
While gray infrastructure uses tanks and pipes to trap and dispose of rainwater, green infrastructure uses soil and vegetation to manage rainwater where it falls. A combination of green and gray infrastructure has proven effective for Lancaster City, and similar plans could benefit communities across the watershed.
One reconstructed parking lot, for instance, incorporated almost 6,000 square feet of bioretention and infiltration practices on South Plum Street, with an estimated annual benefit of more than $1,100. A commercial green street in northeast Lancaster incorporated bioretention and infiltration practices as well as permeable pavement, with an estimated annual benefit of more than $2,300. And an urban park redeveloped with a host of green infrastructure practices carries an estimated annual benefit of more than $5,500.
“Valuing multiple benefits of green infrastructure ensures water management investments by the city will help… provide a safer, healthier and more prosperous community,” said Liz Deardorff, Clean Water Supply director at American Rivers, in a media release. “The results of this study affirm that green infrastructure has multiple benefits for both large and small cities needing to reduce pollution and ensure clean water.”
Garden beds filled with native plants, parking spots reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles and plant-covered roofs that trap rainfall before it runs into storm drains: these simple steps to “go green” have turned a Southern Maryland community college into a model of conservation.
Located less than five miles from the Patuxent River, the College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) Prince Frederick campus has become home to a green building that shows students and citizens alike the benefits of green infrastructure.
Indeed, green building has become the norm for new facilities in a state that has long championed smart growth and all that it entails, from funding development inside of existing communities to protecting rural areas from suburban sprawl. Maryland legislation passed in 2008 even requires building projects of a certain size to be certified as green, whether it is through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Certification program or the Green Globes system. At 30,000 square feet, the academic building in Prince Frederick fit the bill of needing to be green.
“[Earning green certification] was a mandate from the state,” said Richard Fleming, CSM vice president and dean of the Prince Frederick campus. “It’s a laborious process, but it has also been exciting, because I had never worked with [a green building] before.”
Fleming has worked with community colleges for 35 years, and was until 2009 the vice president for academic affairs at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va. The chance to construct a new building on the fastest-growing campus in the CSM network attracted him to this new position at his sixth college in as many states.
Opened in September and funded in part by the state, the Prince Frederick building is the second LEED-certified building in Calvert County. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, which operates the LEED certification program, green buildings can lower energy use and operational costs; reduce waste and carbon emissions; and provide healthy indoor spaces for building occupants. These are all benefits that Fleming hopes to see.
“The goal behind LEED is to one, reduce water consumption, and two, reduce energy consumption,” Fleming said. “We should, after a period of time… start to see some kind of gas savings, electrical savings, energy savings.”
To earn LEED certification, building projects collect points based on different aspects of their construction. The higher their final score, the higher the certification level earned. Fleming hopes that the Prince Frederick building will reach gold status, and gave us a tour of some of the items on its green building checklist: large windows that flood the space with natural light; green roofs that capture rainfall; bike racks that encourage public transportation; bio-retention cells that collect stormwater from sidewalks and parking lots; and native, drought-tolerant plants—like black-eyed Susans, American beautyberry and Joe-Pye weed—that fill up garden beds.
Students and faculty “are all very pleased with [the new building],” Fleming said. But it is not just the campus that will benefit.
“This is a building that’s open to the public,” said Dorothy Hill, lead media relations coordinator for CSM. The campus has hosted film festivals and concert series, and the new building’s 3,000-square-foot meeting space has been called the best in Calvert County.
“At the dedication, people were very interested in learning what LEED certification was all about,” Hill said. “The community comes here, and will be able to see… that we’re stewards of the environment, and we care about the community.”
Photos by Jenna Valente.
Seven cities and non-profit organizations are set to reduce stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, using green development to combat the fastest-growing source of pollution in the watershed.
Image courtesy Isaac Wedin/Flickr
Grant funding administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) through the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns initiative will help cities transform impervious sidewalks, streets and parking lots into green corridors that will capture and filter polluted runoff before it can flow into storm drains, rivers and streams.
A total of $400,000 will go toward green development projects in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The town of Cambridge, Md., for instance, will use $75,000 to turn a paved surface into a park, while the District will use $95,000 to install bioretention cells and treeboxes along O St. NW.
Stormwater runoff is a growing concern in urban and suburban areas, where rainfall picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses. But certain practices—including green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement—can help stormwater trickle underground rather than into the Bay.
The District of Columbia has outlined the steps it will take to become the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the United States.
The Sustainable DC Plan, released this week by the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) and Office of Planning (OE), sets forth more than 100 actions that are meant to improve the District’s energy consumption, waste generation, stormwater management and access to open spaces, clean water and fresh, local food—all in just two decades.
At an event that celebrated the release of the plan, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray called Washington, D.C., a “model” of sustainability for cities across the nation and around the world.
“Things are changing. Times are changing. And we are changing,” Gray said.
In recent years, the District has become a leader in planting trees, installing green roofs, boosting public transportation and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Sustainable DC Plan will build on these actions with ambitious goals to clean up local land, water and the Chesapeake Bay. The District will ensure, for instance, that all residents live within a 10-minute walk of parks or natural spaces; that 40 percent of the city is covered with a healthy tree canopy; and that all of the District’s waterways—including the long-polluted Anacostia River—are made fishable and swimmable by 2032.
Read more about the Sustainable DC Plan.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to express gratitude for the good in life. We have much to be thankful for—and so does the Chesapeake Bay! Here is a look at six moments from the past year that signaled good news for the watershed.
6. A sustainable blue crab population. The most recent report on the Bay’s blue crab stock reveals a population that has reached sustainable levels and is not overfished. Winter estimates place the adult female blue crab population at 97 million, based on a dredge survey taken at almost 1,500 sites throughout the Bay. The survey also measured more juveniles than have been counted in the past two decades. A stable blue crab population means a more stable Bay economy, with watermen employed, restaurants stocked and recreational crabbers (and crab-eaters!) happy.
Image courtesy Erickson Smith/Flickr
5. Additional American eels. American eel numbers are up in the headwater streams of Shenandoah National Park, following the removal of a large dam that once blocked eels from moving upstream. Other anadromous swimmers like shad, herring and striped bass—which must migrate from the ocean into rivers to spawn—are also using this reopened habitat. Our rivers are thankful to see the return of these important residents.
4. A huge boost in oyster restoration. This year, restoration partners in Maryland put more than 600 million oyster spat into the Chesapeake Bay in the largest targeted restoration effort the watershed has ever seen. While some of the oyster larvae went into the Upper Bay, most went into Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River that was declared an oyster sanctuary in 2010. While habitat loss, disease and historic overfishing have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations, planting “spat on shell” onto harvest-safe sanctuaries is one way to bring the water-filtering bivalves back.
3. A lot of living shorelines. When shorelines wash away, fish, crabs and other wildlife lose valuable habitat, and coastal landowners lose their lawns. To curb shoreline erosion, coastal property owners are turning toward living shorelines, which replace hardened bulkhead and riprap with grasses and trees. This summer, the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Living Shorelines program awarded $800,000 to 16 homeowner associations, non-profit organizations and towns to install more than 6,800 feet of living shoreline and wetland habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
2. Greater green infrastructure. With the implementation of green infrastructure, cities can use the natural environment to better manage stormwater runoff. Green roofs, rain gardens and pervious pavement, for instance, can absorb stormwater runoff before it flows into local rivers and streams. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded $4 million to local governments for green infrastructure projects. But the environment is not the only one who will be thankful; green infrastructure can revitalize communities and produce cost benefits that can exceed those of traditional stormwater management methods. We are grateful that more towns will be greener in both color and concept!
1. Long-term improvements in Bay health. A number of Bay monitoring sites have shown long-term improvements in nutrient and sediment levels. According to an August report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one-third of monitoring sites have shown improvement in sediment concentrations since 1985, two-thirds have shown improvement in nitrogen concentrations and almost all have shown improvement in phosphorous concentrations. These improvements in long-term trends indicate pollution-reduction efforts—from upgrades to wastewater treatment plants to cuts in fertilizer use on farms and suburban lawns—are working.
The mention of Lancaster, Pennsylvania evokes images of cows trampling through streams, laundry hanging on the line, whoopie pies, and an agricultural way of life that has been forgotten in most places of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. While tourists flock to the southeastern Pennsylvania county popularly known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country," the City of Lancaster may soon hold its own claim to fame as a green urban center.
Vegetation overflows from rooftops, follows sidewalks, and decorates parking lots that were once neighborhood eyesores: this is how city officials envision Lancaster twenty-five years from now.
These greening projects, the first of which began construction this year, not only give red brick-clad Lancaster a sharp, aesthetically pleasing color contrast; they are part of the city’s twenty-five year plan to prevent its 750 million gallons of annual stormwater runoff from entering the Conestoga River, an impaired Susquehanna River tributary.
While stormwater runoff may appear to be “just rainwater,” as it moves through parking lots, lawns, and roadways, it picks up pollutants. These pollutants and the water that carries them are often not treated or filtered before being conveyed into local tributaries.
But in Lancaster, tree trenches along parking lots absorb stormwater; rain gardens are filled with plants that are able to absorb a large amount of water at a time. Such vegetation allows the stormwater to seep slowly into the ground before running off onto roadways, parking lots, and other “impervious” surfaces. These “hard” surfaces make it easy for water to pick up automobile chemicals, pet waste, litter, and other pollutants on its way into local storm drains and tributaries.
In places where vegetation cannot thrive, like parking lots and alleyways, concrete and asphalt are replaced by permeable pavement. This type of pavement allows water to pass through into the ground, instead of acting as a seal and forcing water to form puddles or run off into the storm drains.
"The ground will naturally absorb the sediments, the phosphorus, and the nitrogen," explains Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Director of Public Works for the City of Lancaster. "The bacteria in the soil will use this for their feeding purposes. You're actually using the ground to clean that stormwater."
Using what is already there is saving Lancaster money – lots of money. With enough vegetation and permeable pavement, Lancaster will be able to keep its stormwater on site and use the natural environment to clean it. And it will do so for less than half the amount of money it would take to manage stormwater with man-made systems.
Going green means cutting costs
In the late 1990s, Lancaster developed a plan to prevent untreated stormwater from overflowing into the Conestoga: build a 300 million dollar underground storage tank, and spend $750,000 each year to treat the storm flow passing through the tank. (This method of stormwater control, known as “grey infrastructure,” relies on man-made technologies to capture, filter, and convey stormwater.)
It would work, but it would be expensive.
"When the Environmental Protection Agency started coming to us, and asking us when we were going to build these storage tanks, that's when we took another look,” says Katzenmoyer. “We asked if we could more cost effectively achieve the same goals with green infrastructure."
"Green infrastructure" keeps stormwater onsite using natural processes and nature-inspired technologies. Plants in rain gardens and tree trenches absorb stormwater quickly in heavy rain events, preventing it from running off into storm drains. Permeable pavement, although not natural, imitates this characteristic, and allows water to infiltrate into the ground.
Lancaster's new, green infrastructure plan cut their costs dramatically; the city is able to manage its 750 million gallons of storm water per year for less than 140 million dollars total. This was less than half the amount of money required just to build the underground storage tank.
Lancaster's green infrastructure plan was born out of the Environmental Protection Agency's request that all municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed detail how they plan to reduce pollution in their local Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
"As much as we are motivated to restore the natural environment and do the right thing, ultimately, this is something that the federal government, the Environmental Protection Agency, is telling us we need to address," explains Fritz Schroeder, Director of the Lancaster-based non-profit Live Green, which has been working with the City of Lancaster to educate the community on clean water issues.
"The city, with great vision and foresight, I believe, is choosing to do it in a very creative fashion, utilizing green infrastructure instead of a traditional grey infrastructure piping system,” says Schroeder. “This will help set our community apart and serve as a platform for creating a wonderful place for us to call home for years to come."
Green: the new grey?
While this stormwater management technique imitates the way the natural world manages stormwater, it is a revolutionary concept for city planners.
Most cities were built to get stormwater off site as quickly as possible, hence the storm drains that convey water into local tributaries. These stormwater systems flood in severe rain events, carrying pollutants such as automobile exhaust, bacteria from pet waste, and lawn fertilizer, directly into our rivers at high speeds. When water moves at high speeds, it often takes dirt from stream banks with it. This sediment pollution clouds the water and makes it difficult for bay grasses and other life to flourish.
Following the water: roofs, alleys, and lots
No matter which way the stormwater flows through Lancaster’s public parking lots, it will be absorbed by a garden, tree, or permeable pavement.
“The idea is that as all the stormwater comes from uphill, moving through the parking lot, one technology or another will capture the water, and then infiltrate it back into the natural environment,” explains Schroeder.
While tree trenches and rain gardens capture stormwater, shaded parking lots also reduce the heat island effect, the concept that large, developed areas heat up quickly and increase the temperature of surrounding, undeveloped areas. A reduced heat island effect reduces air conditioning costs in the summer and improves air quality.
A green roof, constructed on Graff Family Funeral Home as a project of Lancaster County Planning Commission, reduces the heat island effect on the formerly black rubber roof and has cut the building's air conditioning costs.
"Traditionally on a black rubber roof like this, you will have temperatures that are 60 to 70 degrees hotter in the summer," explains Schroeder.
The plants also absorb stormwater falling on the roof, reducing the amount that flows into the city's combined sewer system.
"As (the sedums) continue to fill in and cover all the bare spots of this roof, the roots will spread and serve as a sponge that takes up this water," says Schroeder. "We believe we're capturing and retaining between 50 and 70 percent of the rain flow that falls on the roof."
Other technologies include colorfully painted rain barrels that capture rain coming off of roofs, as well as disconnected downspouts that direct stormwater into rain gardens.
With a green infrastructure approach, all of these nature-inspired technologies work together to absorb stormwater, preventing it, and the pollutants it carries, from entering local tributaries.
Greening your yard
While Lancaster is completing 100 stormwater management projects in 2012, all are on city-owned properties. In order for stormwater flows to be reduced, private property owners also need to consider installing rain gardens and rain barrels.
The City of Lancaster works with Live Green, a non-profit whose “Save It” campaign encourages residents to install rain gardens, disconnect their downspouts, and conserve water in their homes.
“We’re reaching out to homeowners; we're meeting with them and touring their property,” explains Schroeder. “We're making suggestions on how they could capture more stormwater using rain barrels and by disconnecting downspouts from the combined sewer and running them into green space or rain gardens around their home.”
The organization has distributed over 500 rain barrels in the last five years, held multiple stormwater workshops, and distributed native trees.
Cities that have implemented green infrastructure projects have similar residential “greening” programs. In the Washington D.C. area, RiverSmart Homes offers incentives to residents who reduce runoff from their properties. In Richmond, Va., Greening Virginia’s Capitol walks residents through installing rain barrels and rain gardens.
But these green technologies don’t just improve the water quality in the Little Conestoga and Conestoga Rivers, they improve the quality of life. Increased public green space fosters a sense of stewardship for the natural world, and colorful rain gardens increase property values.
“There's a lot of data and research about the impacts on crime, the impacts on property value, the impacts on retail sales, all from implementing a program like this. But it’s just something that feels good,” says Schroeder.
“Ultimately, the big vision is livability. It's about creating a home that we're all proud of living in, that we're all comfortable living in and all take pride in restoring and growing.”
For a more thorough look at stormwater runoff in Lancaster, check out this video from Save It Lancaster.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Maryland will award more than $400,000 to cities and towns throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through the newly expanded Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant initiative.
The Green Streets grants will help communities that want to accelerate greening efforts to improve livability, economic vitality, and protection of local waterways and natural areas. Projects selected will improve watershed protection and stormwater management through low-impact development practices, renewable energy use and green job creation.
“Green streets and green infrastructure are investments that create jobs and save money while also providing multiple environmental and quality of life benefits,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said.
Grant assistance of up to $35,000 is available for infrastructure project planning and design. Grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded for implementation and construction.
Last year, 10 cities and towns in Maryland were awarded grants to fund the planning and design of green infrastructure projects. This year, the program is providing double the overall funding.
The Green Streets grant program is open to local governments and non-profit organizations in urban and suburban areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
For more information about the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website. The deadline to submit proposals is March 9, 2012.
Ten Maryland communities have been awarded a total of more than $230,000 to design “green streets” that will reduce polluted stormwater runoff to the Chesapeake Bay and local rivers while creating green jobs in urban areas.
Baltimore City, Bladensburg, Capitol Heights, College Park, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Edmonston, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, University Park each received grants of $25,000-$35,000 to plan and design “green streets” in their communities.
A “green street” is a street that:
Communities can save $27 for every $1 invested in green infrastructure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Green Streets-Green Jobs Initiative grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. For more information, visit the Trust's website.
The governors of the six Chesapeake Bay states, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission have submitted a letter to the U.S. Congress to include in the reauthorized Federal Surface Transportation Act a policy to reduce polluted stormwater runoff from federal highway construction and reconstruction projects.
Nationwide, roads and related infrastructure make up at least two-thirds of all paved, impervious surfaces, according to the letter. These areas promote runoff because they do not allow water to naturally soak into the ground. When it rains, pollutants from tailpipe emissions, fluid leaks, break linings and tire wear are picked up in runoff and carried to the nearest sewer or waterway.
The letter points to a 2002 study in Maryland that showed highways in the state accounted for 22 percent of nitrogen and 32 percent of phosphorus coming from urban areas. The study showed that highways and mobile sources annually contribute 36 million pounds of nitrogen that pollute Maryland’s land, air and water. By comparison, wastewater treatment plants contribute 17 million pounds of nitrogen per year.
Most federally funded highways were constructed without the stormwater runoff controls needed to protect the health of local streams, creeks and rivers. As a result, 66 percent of the waterways listed on the national Clean Water Act 303(d) list of impaired waters are polluted because of highway runoff.
Today, the green infrastructure techniques that relieve these impacts are well-known and, according to the letter, should be included in the reauthorized Federal Surface Transportation Act.
The letter was addressed to Reps. James L. Oberstar (D-MN) and John L. Mica (R-FL), who serve as chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
For more information, read the full letter to Congress.
Here at the American Society of Civil Engineers International Low-Impact Development (LID) Conference in Seattle, I’m swept up body and spirit by the growing throng of several hundred enthusiastic devotees to the cause of polluted runoff (a.k.a. “stormwater”) reduction. As a non-engineer EPA bureaucrat, I’m a first-time participant in this biennial LID pilgrimage. But after three days of PowerPoint presentations and an all-day field trip to Portland, Oregon, which is the other “LID Mecca,” I’m just about ready to compose my own rap tune out of cool LID lingo and design “treatment trains” (combinations of multiple LID techniques) in my sleep. When I get home I’ll definitely take a new look at my own roof downspouts and concrete driveway, and think about how much reinforcement my carport will need before I can put a vegetable garden on the roof!
I used to be an engineer when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of hilly central Connecticut. One of my favorite activities was building snow dams in the street gutter when the rain finally came and melted the snow on our particularly steep hill. It was great fun to pack the snow into a big ice dam and then, when the call came to go inside for dinner – invariably at 5:00 sharp – kick the dam open and send a big slushy gusher down the street. Down at the bottom of the hill it always flooded out of the street and into the Perraults’ front yard. (Maybe that’s why I felt guilty when I saw them at Sunday Mass.)
Of course at that time, I didn’t see any connection between that phenomenon – the runoff gusher – and the fact that we could always catch trout in the Quinnipiac River upstream of the city but never caught any downstream. Or why we never found any oysters when we went way downstream to tromp through the mud in Long Island Sound, even though my grandfather and uncles told great stories of burlap sacks full.
From what I’ve learned thus far, the “treatment train” at a house like mine would go something like this:
By that point, you should have pretty well mimicked what the Chesapeake Bay watershed used to be: a beautiful hardwood forest with clean waters in healthy streams. With this LID “treatment train,” now we can all be engineers! Choo Choo!