Green Infrastructure Solutions and Benefits

Waterside park with green infrastructure

What is Green Infrastructure?

Throughout our country, cities are implementing environmentally sustainable solutions to manage stormwater runoff.

Green infrastructure is a water management strategy that protects, restores and represents the natural water cycle.

Conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems are known as gray infrastructure. These systems are designed to move water away from the developed environment.

Green infrastructure seeks to supplement gray with more natural and environmentally friendly practices.

The old method of collect, convey and disperse is replaced with treating stormwater at its source so that rain can infiltrate the natural way.

What happens to mismanaged runoff?

Stormwater runoff is a significant contributor to water pollution in our urban areas and waterways.

Runoff poses health risks to our communities and our environment when it is not properly managed.

Stormwater runoff is the combination of all water that does not get absorbed into the ground in a rain event.

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. As it flows, it collects debris and contaminants before discharging 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 reduce and improve runoff.

5 Reasons to Adapt Green Infrastructure

Why should we employ green infrastructure practices and will it make a difference?

Street with tree canopy

Public opinion polls indicate that consumers desire nature based solutions that manage stormwater runoff. There are five main reasons why we should adapt green infrastructure practices.

Legal Requirements

The U.S. Clean Water Act requires that local municipalities take charge of their water.

Environmental Responsibility

A growing number of citizens realize the importance of stewardship over the water.

Improved Aesthetics

Green infrastructure is increasingly desirable, improves quality of life and strengthens communities.

Reduce Flooding

Green infrastructure practices do not solve flooding but can help mitigate and manage flooding issues.

Update Gray Stormwater Systems

Green Infrastructure practices gives us an opportunity to improve aging infrastructure systems.

How Communities Can Go Green

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.

Lead by Example: Adopt a Master Plan

Many cities have adopted a Green Infrastructure Master Plan to focus and strategize their planning.

A 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.

Types of Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure best practices fall into three broad categories.

  • Structural
  • Non-Structural
  • Hybrid

City planners, developers and home owners can incorporate a mix of these three strategies as they supplement gray infrastructure with green.

Structural

Physical elements such as bioretention, green roofs and tree planting are implemented to address stormwater runoff.

Non-Structural

Better site planning, increased and improved vegetation, and land conservation are all processes that emphasize green over gray.

Hybrid

Living shorelines and enhanced revetments are two examples of integrating nature based measures with solid materials for added structure and stability.

Actionable Ways to Add 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.

Downspout into rain barrel

Downspout Disconnection

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.

Rainwater Harvesting

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.

Rain Gardens/Bioswales

These structural elements are shallow vegetative basins that absorb runoff from the rooftop, sidewalks, or streets. Bioswales are rain gardens placed in between narrow spaces like 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.

Permeable pavers

Permeable Pavements

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 that protects roots and reduces storm water runoff. Both permeable pavements are structural solutions.

Green Streets and Green Parking

Install bioswales, permeable pavers and planter boxes 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.

Green Roofs

Vegetated roofs 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.

Riparian Buffers

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.

Tree Planting

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 some nutritional benefits that were lost when the area was developed.

Land Conservation

This non-structural strategy leaves natural areas undeveloped for recreational opportunities for residents and nature based stormwater runoff management.

Living Shorelines

This hybrid technique enhances bulkheads with ecologically beneficial alternatives such as oyster beds or wetland plantings. Install coconut fiber logs 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

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 Benefits of Implementing Green Infrastructure

There are many positive outcomes from the use of green infrastructure.

Park with trees and pavers

Improved Water Quality

Green infrastructure reduces stormwater runoff, algal blooms and in-situ erosion.

Reduced Flooding

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

Green roofs and tree canopies reduce the urban heat island effect. This lowers building energy demands and therefore saves 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.

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.

Contact our team if you are interested in pursuing green infrastructure. We can help you select the best products for sustainable design applications.

References

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EPA

Virginia Beach Sea level Rise Information and Report

Virginia Beach Green Initiatives

Chesapeake Bay Foundation