Green Infrastructure

HERD ABOUT IT!
by Ana Grarian

Ana was in Syracuse last night for a presentation on “Green Infrastructure”. The presentation was about retrofitting Syracuse to better handle runoff water so that it didn’t cause pollution of lakes and streams, and presented less erosion. Storm water runoff sweeps pollutants from hard surfaces directly into streams, or is channeled through the storm sewers into the municipal waste system. This rapid influx of water means the treatment plants are overtaxed and end up discharging untreated sewage into the water.

One of the goals is to make the water in local streams suitable for people to touch without getting sick.

Huh, good idea. A creek walk is being planned that will allow residents a pleasant place to walk along the creek, and serve as a demonstration of different methods of water catchment and diversion. The idea is to catch water runoff from roofs, roads and parking lots so that it can more slowly be absorbed into the ground, and filter into the aquifers. Come to find out that when people have access to their streams and rivers – they care about them more. It seems this particular creek has been walled in, to the extent that, many residents didn’t even know where it was.

Of course this made Ana think about the rural areas she loves.

One of the measures of the “backwardness” of an area is the “amount of unpaved roads” that exist. When Ana first moved to CNY there were many sections of unpaved roads. The only real problem with them was that you should drive slower on them. In the winter they were better because they didn’t ice as badly. Turns out they also don’t have the runoff problems of paved roads. Same could be said of my dirt driveway – and you know – I’m not sure why everyone wants to pave their driveway – and then have to maintain that with applications of oil and sealant. (petro dollars)
Syracuse is working with different types of pavement that allow for water to filter through rather than runoff to the side of the street into the sewers. Hmmmm. Seems like the folks who did Ithaca’s streets in bricks a hundred years ago, knew what they were doing. Unfortunately the engineers have not figured out how to make the underlayment work for the heavier vehicles on the road today.

Another old/new idea is a cistern.

There was a day when every house had a cistern in the cellar, that caught roof runoff, or at least a rain barrel. This water was used for laundry and scrubbing floors and even baths. Someone shared how in many places the use of cached water has become illegal. I’m not sure why that came about. I know gray-water systems are illegal in some places too. Yet reusing water for say – flushing toilets – is a great method of conservation.
Syracuse is planting trees which help to make use of the water going into the ground, as well as clean the air, provide aethestic beauty, and help to keep the city naturally cooler. There are well placed and planned gardens which make use of runoff water, slowing the flow and allowing for natural absorption into the soil.
Green roofs which prolong the life of the roof, can provide places for urban farming, help with cooling and heating costs, are beautiful, and prevent runoff. When asked about the structural strength needed for the added weight, it was pointed out, that often the old buildings were suitable, while newer construction had been built to “tighter standards” and thus could not support the added weight. Huh – old fashioned buildings were stronger?

Yeah – they also had windows that would open and close which reduces need for air conditioning (but I digress).

There is a lot of good work going on in Syracuse and other cities. It turns out that rain is not just a nuisance, it’s a neccesary part of our water system, and when you let people be in touch with the natural systems such as streams and creeks, they are more likely to respect that.

Country folk could have told them. We probably did. Turns out we knew what we were talking about.