Natural Security: Short Community Case Studies
Communities across the country are beginning to embrace sustainble water management strategies that will help them thrive in an uncertain future. In addition to the eight in-depth case studies presented in this report, we profile here a number of smart water projects that are preparing communities for a more volatile climate.
Kansas City has a combined sewer system that overflows more than 20 times per year, dumping 6.3 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into local waterways.92 In response to pressure from EPA and residents, the city launched the 10,000 Rain Gardens Program in 2005.93 The Rain Garden program is a public-private initiative involving citizens, corporations, educators, nonprofits, and local government agencies that works to educate the public and promote citizen involvement in reducing flooding and improving water quality. Since 2005, they have registered 254 rain barrels, 304 rain gardens, and two green roofs in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.94 Kansas City has recently incorporated rain gardens and other green infrastructure approaches into its sewage overflow and stormwater plans, with $5 million dedicated to the 10,000 Rain Gardens program over the next ten years and over $200 million planned for green infrastructure projects.
With over 517,633 acres of green roofs, Chicago has more vegetated roof space than any other city in the country. The city has encouraged green roof construction through a variety of incentives, such as expanding the number of units developers are allowed to build on a property if they install a green roof. The city also offers an express lane for the permit process, allowing projects with green roofs to be reviewed, free of processing fees, and permitted in 30 days, compared to the usual 90 to 100 days. In addition, Chicago requires any developer who receives city assistance (e.g. to rehabilitate a brownfield) to include a green roof. These initiatives will reduce runoff, improve air quality, and keep the city cool as temperatures rise.
How do the costs of green infrastructure stack up against traditional engineering approaches for stormwater management? One study of a new development in North Carolina compared the costs of a 300-acre project. The study found that a natural drainage system would generate some extra expenses, such as $102,400 for rain gardens—more than twice as much as a traditional detention pond. Reductions in other expenses, however, would more than offset those costs. Instead of installing 9,434 linear feet of pipes at a cost of $291,794, the developer could install 4,182 feet of piping, reducing costs by more than 50 percent. Additional savings would come from installing fewer curbs and gutters, reducing road width, and surfacing alleys with crushed stone rather than asphalt or concrete. Altogether, engineering costs would drop by 31 percent. Development costs per lot would fall 30 percent, to $6,234 from $8,934. The developer of the property has since incorporated natural drainage systems into the development.
Streets cover one quarter of Seattle’s total area, resulting in large volumes of stormwater runoff. In an effort to reduce runoff, Seattle has installed natural drainage systems in pilot projects throughout the city. One example is the 2nd Avenue Street Edge Alternative (SEA) project in the Pipers Creek watershed. Instead of traditional curbs, gutters, and pipes, SEAs use innovative drainage design and landscaping that mimics the natural landscape prior to development. The final project reduced imperviousness by more than 18 percent, using swales, trees, shrubs, and wetlands. Years of monitoring show that the SEA project is able to reduce the total volume of stormwater leaving the street by 98 percent for a 2-year storm event. The City of Seattle has since undertaken natural drainage projects in several other watersheds.
Sitting on the banks of the Red River, Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN have experienced twelve major floods since 1870. The record flood of 1997 was particularly destructive as it flooded 75 percent of Grand Forks and 95 percent of East Grand Forks, resulting in the evacuation of 56,000 people and up to $2 billion in damages. Within four months of the flood, the communities began relocating 1,100 homes and businesses out of the most affected neighborhoods. Due to low soil stability, the Corps decided to set the flood control levees back from the river, allowing the river to naturally overflow onto the newly-vacated floodplain. In addition, a consultant worked with local citizens to develop a plan or a new recreational area along both sides of the river. From there, the communities took charge of the plan and have since created a popular open space area called the Greenway. Completed in 2006, it includes over 2,000 acres of green space with trails, campgrounds, boat access, golf courses, and other recreational opportunities. The Greenway is home to festivals, races, and tournaments, and is an important driver of the local economy.
Situated on the wide Arkansas River in a region known as tornado alley for its violent summer thunderstorms, Tulsa, OK is well acquainted with flooding. While average rainfall is approximately 37 inches, storms have produced as much as 15 inches of rainfall in a few short hours. In the 1970s and 1980s, recurring floods made Tulsa home to the most federally declared flood disasters in the nation, with nine declared disasters in 15 years. The city passed its first floodplain ordinance in 1977 and subsequently moved 33 homes out of high risk areas. Another 30 homes were moved in 1979. But it wasn’t until the Memorial Day flood of 1984, the worst in Tulsa’s history, when the necessity of a comprehensive flood management program became evident. The historic flood killed 14 people, injured 288 others, destroyed or damaged over 7,000 buildings, and caused $184 million in damages. In response, the city relocated 300 homes and a 228-pad mobile home park through a voluntary buy-out program. They also instituted rebuilding restrictions, built structural and non-structural flood control works, and created master drainage plans. Since then, Tulsa has cleared more than 900 buildings from its floodplains, although 8,500 buildings remain in harm’s way.
From 1961 to 1997, Napa, California flooded on 19 separate occasions, resulting in over $542 million in damages. The Army Corps of Engineers proposed channelizing the river and building levees in both 1975 and 1988, but the community rejected the idea. When the Corps proposed the same solution again in 1995, community members developed a coalition to work with the Corps towards a more sustainable solution. The result is the Napa River Flood Project, which will restore 650 acres of tidal wetlands, reconnect the river to the historical floodplain, clean up contaminated sites, create terraced river banks, replace bridges, and construct floodwalls, levees, and bypass channels in selected areas. When completed in 2011, the project will protect roughly 2,700 homes, 350 businesses, and over 50 public properties from 100-year flood levels and reduce the $26 million of annual average flood damages. The end result will be a living river that sustains migrating fish and wildlife and protects residents from floods.
About every 10 years, the Truckee River overflows its banks, causing tremendous damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. In the 1997 New Year’s Day Flood, damages exceeded $1 billion in six counties. In response, the cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe and Storey counties, the Corps of Engineers, and other stakeholders came together to plan a flood project. Over six years, the Truckee River Flood Project’s Community Coalition clocked over 20,000 volunteers hours in more than 500 meetings to develop the community-supported Living River Plan. The $1.4 billion plan includes flood protection and river restoration projects along 50 miles of the Truckee River that will enhance recreational opportunities and fish passage. The 45 flood protection measures listed in the plan include setback levees and floodwalls, terraced riverbanks, bridge replacements, a stormwater detention facility, and restoration of the floodplain. The project is expected to be completed by 2025.
Grassy Waters in West Palm Beach, Florida is more than just a wetland and prairie preserve; it is also an important drinking water source. The 20 square miles of wetlands provides most of the drinking water for 130,000 people in West Palm Beach and surrounding municipalities. The city sends up to 10 million gallons per day of highly treated water to the marshy expanse. The reclaimed water takes about two years to filter through native plants and soil before being pumped to the city’s reservoir where it is processed for drinking. Filtering water through the vegetation and soil helps remove remaining impurities such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
As a tributary to the Scioto River, Big Darby Creek is part of a larger watershed that provides drinking water for tens of thousands of people south of Columbus. Small streams contribute up to 55 percent of the flow in larger rivers297 and, as a result, have a large impact on the quantity and quality of water available to many communities. To protect the quality of this vital water source, Columbus is looking upstream to the Big Darby’s headwaters. The city is receiving a lower rate on its loan through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund -- the primary source of federal wastewater infrastructure funding -- in exchange for sponsoring upstream source water protection. In 2006, the City of Columbus sponsored the Nature Conservancy’s Big Darby Headwaters Preserve project at a cost of nearly $1.5 million. The new preserve is at the headwaters of the Big Darby Creek -- the place where the Big Darby becomes a permanent stream. By protecting the stream at its source, Columbus is reducing pollution from farms and development near the headwaters, thereby securing cleaner water as it flows into the Scioto River.
Water conservation can translate into saving more than a few pennies. When San Antonio committed to reducing per capita water use, it ended up saving millions of dollars. San Antonio’s water conservation campaign includes leak repairs, water-smart landscaping guidance, and vouchers and rebates for water efficient toilets, clothes washers, shower heads, and irrigation systems. The water utility also has a strongly tiered rate structure, under which rates increase sharply for customers that use large amounts of water. Through these programs, the city has reduced per capita consumption from 225 gallons per day to 140 gallons per day since 1982. The city has spent slightly over $300 for each acre-foot of water it has saved through efficiency and conservation. Comparatively, new water rights from San Antonio’s primary supply, the Edwards Aquifer, currently cost about $5,000 per acre-foot. New supply by dam or pipeline projects could cost $600–1,000 per acre-foot. By conserving water instead of seeking new water supplies, San Antonio has saved nearly $550 million.
Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, where 12 inches of precipitation falls in an average year, Tucson has no choice but to be mindful of its water consumption. Years of population growth and pumping from aquifers has lowered the water table to such an extent that the once-perennial Santa Cruz River no longer flows at the surface except during large storms. In its struggle to provide a sustainable water supply to the growing area, Tucson has recently turned to conservation, efficiency, and reuse. The city is implementing progressive water pricing, water-smart ordinances, and a number of rebate programs for high-efficiency appliances, and fixtures. In October of 2008, Tucson became the first city in the country to require commercial developments to capture and use rainwater. Beginning in 2010, 50 percent of a development’s landscaping water will come from rainfall. Additionally, all new homes built in Tucson after 2010 will need to include plumbing for gray-water systems that re-use water from showers and laundry for flushing toilets and irrigation. Today, Tucson uses a portion of its Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project to recharge groundwater supplies. In addition, for close to 20 years, the city has been recycling treated wastewater to irrigate parks, schoolyards, golf courses, and other facilities.
The Rogue River has been protected from development and degradation since 1968 due to its classification as a Wild and Scenic River. Recent studies show that recreational activities such as white-water rafting, fishing, and commercial jet-boat tours on sections of the river located within Josephine County, Oregon have greatly benefited the local economy. In the 2007 season, recreation contributed $13.9 million in total economic output throughout the county, including $7.4 million in personal income and 222 full- and part-time jobs
In Marinette County, Wisconsin, 52 streams or stream segments are designated as outstanding resource waters and an additional 109 stream sections are designated as exceptional resource waters. These designations, required under federal Clean Water Act obligations for Wisconsin to adopt an “anti-degradation” policy, are designed to prevent any lowering of water quality—especially in those waters that have significant ecological or cultural value. A 1995 Department of Natural Resources report found these protective designations helped spur job growth in the tourism industry. The study found that tourism activities, which at the time accounted for 28 percent of Marinette County’s economic output, generated $42.7 million and 1,135 jobs.
The Trinity River Corridor Project brings together numerous flood protection, recreation, environmental restoration, economic development, and transportation initiatives into one massive project. Planned for completion in 2014, the project is the largest urban development effort ever undertaken by Dallas, covering 20 miles of the Trinity River and 10,000 acres. Included in the overall project are wetland construction, restoration of the river’s natural meanders, creation and restoration of habitat, trails, and boardwalks, athletic fields, boat launches, open space, a white water course, fishing access, and development of new residential and commercial districts. The overall project will enhance livability and transform flood protection into an opportunity for community revitalization and economic development.
For years the South Platte River in Denver was filled with sewage and garbage. In 1965 a disastrous flood tore through the basin and caused over $375 million in damages in the Denver metropolitan area. Following the disaster, Denver began to restore the river. Unsightly businesses were relocated, major polluters were brought under control, and railroads were rerouted to make way for parks and greenways along the river. The Platte River Development Committee (now the South Platte River Greenway Foundation) has since built 150 miles of trails, numerous boat launches, whitewater chutes, and wildlife reserves. The parks serve as facilities for community events including concerts, outdoor movies, festivals, and races.