18 Mar Green Infrastructure Solutions and Benefits
Throughout our country, cities are implementing environmentally sustainable solutions to manage stormwater runoff.
Known as green infrastructure, this water management strategy protects, restores and represents the natural water cycle.
Conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems, also known as gray infrastructure, are designed to move water away from the developed environment. Green infrastructure seeks to supplement gray with more natural and environmentally friendly practices.
This old method of collect, convey and disperse is replaced with heavier reliance on solutions that treat stormwater at its source and infiltrate rain the natural way.
What happens to mismanaged runoff?
Stormwater runoff is a significant contributor to water pollution in our urban areas and waterways.
When mismanaged, runoff poses health risks to our communities and our environment.
Stormwater runoff is defined as the combination of all water that does not get absorbed into the ground in a rain event.
Unlike the natural environment, our urban and suburban areas are mostly covered with concrete and asphalt surfaces. These impervious surfaces prevent rainwater from infiltrating into the ground.
Instead rain falls, drains into gutters and flows into storm sewers, collecting debris and contaminants before it is ultimately discharged into nearby water bodies. Heavy rains can cause erosion and flooding in local streams and damage to environments, property and infrastructure.
Green infrastructure practices create green spaces that allow easy access to the ground. When gray impervious surfaces are replaced with green solutions we can reduce and better manage runoff.
5 Reasons to Adapt Green Infrastructure Practices
So why should we employ green infrastructure practices and does it make a difference?
Public opinion polls indicate that consumers are interested in nature based solutions to manage stormwater runoff. There are five main reasons why we should adapt green infrastructure practices.
The U.S. Clean Water Act requires that local municipalities take charge of their water.
A growing number of citizens realize the importance of stewardship over the water.
Green infrastructure is increasingly desirable, improves quality of life and strengthens communities.
Green infrastructure practices do not solve flooding but can help mitigate and manage flooding issues.
Leveraging Green Infrastructure
Green Infrastructure practices gives us an opportunity to improve aging infrastructure systems.
Green Solutions for Municipalities, Businesses and Homeowners
Municipalities, businesses and homeowners can implement green infrastructure practices for any and all of the above-mentioned reasons. Cities across the country should lead by example by adopting plans that incorporate green design and encourage citizens to do their part as well.
Adopt a Master Plan
Many cities have adopted a Green Infrastructure Master Plan to focus and strategize their planning.
This master plan is created by the city government and contractors. It shapes future development of the city with specific emphasis on conservation and protection of natural resources and the improvement of degraded resources.
Laws, codes and ordinances encourage compliance with the master plan and establish development and construction guidelines. Future development adheres to a low impact development standard and seeks to retrofit existing infrastructure.
Community outreach encourages citizens to follow and enforce the law and demonstrates to the public that green infrastructure can improve both quality of life and property values.
Implementing Green Infrastructure
Green infrastructure best practices fall into three broad categories.
City planners, developers and home owners can incorporate a mix of these three strategies as they supplement gray infrastructure with green.
Physical elements such as bioretention, green roofs and streets, and tree planting are implemented to address stormwater runoff.
Better site planning, increased and improved vegetation, and land conservation are all processes that emphasize green over gray.
Living shorelines and enhanced revetments are two examples of integrating nature based measures with solid materials for added structure and stability.
Real Examples of Incorporating Green Infrastructure
There are countless ways to incorporate green infrastructure into our communities.
The following examples include structural, non-structural and hybrid solutions that residences, developers and municipalities can implement.
This simple practice reroutes water from a downspout, gutter or rooftop drainage to a rain barrel, or permeable area such as a filter of pebbles. If using pebbles, add a nonwoven geotextile fabric layer under the stone for separation and weed barrier.
Collect water from the gutter, pipe or downspout into a rain barrel for use at a later time. Storing water is a simple structural solution that can be used for irrigation, car washing or other non-drinking water purposes.
These structural elements are shallow vegetative basins that absorb runoff from the rooftop, sidewalks, or streets. Bioswales are rain gardens that are placed between narrow spaces such as parking lots or between streets and sidewalks. Wet swales are below the water table and therefore often stay wet. They are filled with wetland type vegetation. Dry swales collect runoff during rain events. Water flow is dampened with a series of check dams.
Planter Boxes/Tree Box Filters
These structural objects are essentially rain gardens with vertical walls and open or closed bottoms. They contain plants or trees and collect runoff from the streets and sidewalks.
These engineered hardscapes infiltrate rainwater where it falls and are ideal for use in municipal areas where flooding is a problem. Grassy pavers are open pavers installed in a grid system which protect the roots while reducing storm water runoff. Both permeable pavements are structural solutions.
Green Streets and Green Parking
Bioswales, permeable pavers and planter boxes can all be integrated together to capture stormwater in streets and parking lots. Green streets and green parking reduce the urban island heat effect and creates a more pleasant walking environment.
These roofs are covered in vegetation and allow infiltration and evapotranspiration of stored water. This practice can reduce the temperature of the roof and the surrounding air by as much as ten degrees.
This structural practice creates a vegetative buffer that protects rivers, streams or lakes from the impact of nearby populated land. It also prevents shore erosion, therefore improving water quality.
Trees reduce and slow stormwater as rain falls on leaves and branches. Municipalities create tree canopies as a structural solution that reduces the urban heat effects. Planting trees also restores the benefits that were removed when the area was developed.
This non-structural strategy leaves natural areas undeveloped for recreational opportunities for residents and nature based stormwater runoff management.
This hybrid technique enhances bulkheads with ecologically beneficial alternatives such as oyster beds or wetland plantings. Products such as coconut fiber logs are installed parallel to the shore to create a living breakwater that dissipates break wave action and filters out pollution. These nature-based solutions ultimately protect the shoreline from erosion.
Enhanced revetments are a hybrid solution that incorporates a geotextile fabric base on a slope with rip rap rock to reduce wave action and erosion.
The Many Benefits of Implementing Green Infrastructure
There are many positive outcomes from the use of green infrastructure.
Improved Water Quality
Green infrastructure has been proven beneficial to water quality by reducing stormwater runoff, algal blooms and in-situ erosion.
Green infrastructure can contribute positively to the health of a watershed through the reduction of stormwater runoff. Infiltration practices, floodplain management, and land conservation supplement other measures to reduce flood risk.
Improved Quality of Life
Communities benefit from an enhanced aesthetic experience established with more attractive green streets and parks. Clean waterways can provide healthy aquatic habitats, recreational opportunities and livable communities.
Reduced Energy Demands
Urban heat island effects are reduced with green infrastructure practices such as green roofs and tree canopies. They lower building energy demands therefore saving money.
Reduce Dependence on Traditional Gray Infrastructure
Green infrastructure practices can reduce pumping treatment demands for municipalities by reducing rainwater flows into the sewer system. This can result in lower maintenance costs.
Incorporating Green Infrastructure in the Mid-Atlantic
We’re pleased to be a part of a community that believes in the power of green infrastructure.
Virginia Beach incorporates multiple environmental friendly green initiatives in all its programs and projects. These include applying LEED standards on their construction projects, a commitment to a Canopy Program and use of green solutions in combination with gray solutions to combat recurrent flooding and sea level rise. Additionally, Virginia Beach maintains both a Wetlands Board and a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Board. The city complies with both state DEQ regulations and EPA standards focused on water quality.
When more communities like ours commit to green infrastructure, we can all make a positive impact on the infrastructure of our community and our environment.
If you are interested in incorporating green infrastructure into current or future development plans, ask our team how we can help you select the best products for sustainable design applications.