Benefits Of Green Infrastructure: Salty Is Not A Good thing.

The American Society of Landscape Architects' Green Roof in Washington, DCStormwater, that annoying water that builds up on sidewalks, is more than the disturbance you have to jump over as you cross the sidewalk in an effort to avoid trench foot – it also happens to be a damaging pollutant to our streams. 

Stormwater runoff is a significant contributor to decreased water quality and stream degradation. Specifically, stormwater runoff carries oil from parking lots, fertilizers from lawns, litter from streets and salt from roadways dumping it into streams rather quickly during rainfall events. 

This sudden pulse of water carries heavy metals, bacteria, oil and other pollutants (read gross and harmful) that contaminate our water and have the potential to be a public health risk.  These large pulses of water also erode stream banks, and in heavy precipitation events, contribute to localized, flash flooding.

In the latest report by American Rivers, the American Society of Landscape Architects, ECONorthwest and the Water Environment Federation, we discuss the cost-effectiveness of green infrastructure practices and the benefits they can provide to communities.  These benefits focus not only on reducing stormwater for flood mitigation but also how green infrastructure can increase energy efficiency and reduce energy cost.  Public health benefits of green infrastructure are also outlined.

I would like to further highlight some ideas mentioned in the report that are rarely discussed as frequently as the above listed but still offer some super, cool benefits provided by green infrastructure. 

Green infrastructure can provide a community with various amenities including parks, rain gardens, green roofs and a revitalized river.  Residents of Portland, Oregon, report they are more willing to invest in on-site stormwater projects that provide scenic and other direct benefits to the neighborhood than those that simply reduce burden on wastewater treatment.  Natural landscapes, which green roofs and rain gardens provide, are shown to play a vital role in human health especially with stress relief and overall well-being. 

In fact, a famous study on the recovery rates of gall bladder surgery patients noted patients with natural views had a faster recovery time, spent less time in the hospital, had better evaluations from nurses, used fewer painkillers and had less postoperative complications compared to those patients viewing only an urban setting.  Studies like these have influenced numerous hospitals to use green roofs and restorative gardens to aid in patient recovery.  While it seems so obvious, it has taken us quite a while to realize green is good. 

Other benefits have been realized by investing in green infrastructure.  Porous pavements are reducing winter salting and plowing as melting and infiltration occurs more readily.  Road salt application can be reduced by up to 75% with the use of permeable pavement. These benefits have been observed both in New Hampshire and Michigan.  Less salt means not only cost savings but also less salt flowing into our streams and rivers.  Studies have found salt not only reduces biodiversity and fish numbers, but it’s often found that only adult fish survive.  Birds, insects and amphibians are also threatened due to increased chloride concentrations from road salt.

Green infrastructure provides a host of benefits that can aid both communities and their residents.  Green is good and policies that help create opportunities for green infrastructure have a myriad of benefits including cost savings, energy reduction, increased public health, flood mitigation and enhanced quality of life.  With spring officially in full bloom, I must say I would much rather look at flowers and trees than concrete and stormwater.