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Congress Looks to Green Technologies for Stormwater Control
WASHINGTON, DC, March 23, 2009 (ENS) - Green technologies for controlling urban stormwater runoff took center stage Thursday at the nation's Capitol, as the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee heard testimony on how to reduce barriers to adopting these methods of reducing runoff.

"Instead of engineering the stormwater system to deal with increasingly large amounts of stormwater, these low impact development approaches utilize technologies that aim to reduce the amount of stormwater that even enters the system," said Subcommittee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas in her opening statement.

"This is achieved through processes that encourage enhanced infiltration and evaporation processes. Simple approaches such as green roofs, increased tree cover, disconnecting downspouts, and adding more green space can go a long way to reducing the amount of stormwater that enters sewers. And in some circumstances, these technologies can realize significant cost savings for municipalities and building owners," she said.

Green roof on the public library in Des Moines, Iowa. July 2008. (Photo courtesy USDA)

The subcommittee set out to learn what barriers exist with regards to the increased adoption of green infrastructure technologies and approaches and what the federal government – both EPA and Congress – do to reduce those barriers.

The need to do something quickly is becoming urgent, Congressman James Oberstar told the hearing.

"Fifteen years after EPA promulgated its Combined Sewer Overflow rules, and over eight years since this Congress codified that policy, CSOs remain a significant source of water impairment throughout the United States," said Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which this subcommittee is a part.

"Over 740 communities, most located in New England, around the Great Lakes, along the Ohio River, and in the Pacific Northwest, use combined sewers,"

"Amazingly, not all of these have finalized their CSO Long Term Control Plans that will lead these cities to mitigate these harmful CSO events. As a result of these events, pathogens and toxins continue to impair our waters, unchecked," he said.

To control their stormwater runoff, cities such as Chicago and Portland, Oregon are building deep tunnels that cost billions and take many years to complete. Simultaneously, population growth is increasing impervious surfaces in urban areas at a faster rate than that of the national population, Oberstar said.

"This will place increasing costs, for stormwater control, on municipal governments. In addition, we can expect some regions of the country to have more frequent and more intense rainfall as a result of climate change. These communities will be under increasing stress – financial and environmental – in dealing with stormwater in the years to come," he said.

The Obama administration is interested in solving water pollution problems, Oberstar said, and will fund these solutions under the economic stimulus package signed into law in February.

Working its way through Congress is another source of funding, he said. If enacted, H.R. 1262, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009, will provide "desperately needed financial resources for states and communities to address their CSO needs."

Congressman John Boozman of Arkansas, the Ranking Republican on the subcommittee, stressed that one-size-fits-all solutions to address stormwater runoff must not be imposed on communities when they are not feasible or cost effective. "While clean water remains the goal, local officials must be allowed to ultimately decide the most effective ways to address their individual and unique clean water issues," he said.

"Future solutions need to be science-based, economically feasible, and compatible with regional and site-specific conditions. Where appropriate, green infrastructure should be considered as part of the strategy in managing stormwater runoff, but by no means should it be a requirement," said Boozman.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told the panel that he and his fellow mayors in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative support the effort in Congress to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund to rebuild the nation’s water infrastructure.

Rendering of the redeveloped Menomonee River Valley Industrial Site, which incorporates green space for recreation and stormwater management (Image courtesy Wenk Associates and City of Milwaukee)

"Our nation’s cities need the federal government to help close the water infrastructure funding gap that has grown over the years just to prevent us from losing ground in our efforts to reduce point source pollution," said the mayor. "At the same time, a new federal funding source is needed to construct the large-scale green infrastructure projects necessary to address polluted runoff in our cities."

The Milwaukee mayor told the subcommittee how a former rail yard and manufacturing center in the Menomonee River Valley was redeveloped into the site of the Harley Davidson Museum and many other businesses with the help of two dozen state and federal brownfield grants, creating 4,200 jobs since 1998.

"When looking at the how to deal with the water that would run off the site after it was redeveloped, there were two paths to consider," said Mayor Barrett. "One choice would have been to build a big pipe deep in the ground to collect the polluted water and send it to our treatment plants. The problem with a traditional pipes and plants approach is that the public doesn’t get any direct enjoyment with this type of hidden infrastructure, as I call it. You can’t hold a picnic or a tailgate party in a Deep Tunnel," he said.

"Instead, we decided to keep the water out of the sewer system by using green infrastructure on the surface of the land to capture and clean every drop of rain that falls on the business park before being slowly released to the river. We created a beautiful stormwater park where people use the Hank Aaron Trail to bike and walk to Miller Stadium where the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball. There’s easy public access to the Menomonee River where visitors can hike or fish for salmon and trout. Youth workers have planted prairies and hundreds of stormwater trees to restore habitat," Mayor Barrett said.

The story illustrates all the benefits of green infrastructure, he said. "The businesses that locate there benefit financially because they can rely on the regional stormwater system that was created, rather than bearing the cost on their own. They also benefit from the enhanced green space and aesthetics. Using green infrastructure made it possible to connect people and jobs and recreation at a formerly blighted area in the heart of Milwaukee."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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