Equitable One Water Management in the Intrenchment Creek Watershed
The headwaters of Intrenchment Creek in Atlanta, GA are hidden beneath an urban landscape defined by asphalt, from the tangled intersection of I-75/85 and I-20 to vast parking lots surrounding the former Olympic Stadium/Turner Field—projects which displaced residents, small businesses, and jobs, and caused major flooding in residential neighborhoods downstream. The dominance of pavement and impervious surfaces combined with aging infrastructure underground has resulted in persistent flooding and combined sewer spills in the once thriving African American communities at the heart of the City.
The stadium and surrounding parking lots were purchased by Georgia State University (GSU), in partnership with developer Carter. As the area redevelops, an unprecedented opportunity exists to rethink stormwater management and engage in a “One Water” approach which envisions managing all water in an integrated, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable manner. To do so will require an unparalleled collaboration between private and public stakeholders across property lines to create impact at a scale that could holistically address and manage the threat of flooding and combined sewer spills.
The Livable Centers Initiative
In the wake of the Atlanta Braves’ exodus from this neighborhood in 2016, a large community survey determined that “A well-integrated, mixed use development” topped the list of community desires. The #1 answer to the question, “The New Development Should…” was “…manage stormwater.” Considering these results, American Rivers was invited to work with community members to assess how the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) could address several of the community’s top priorities including but not limited to, managing stormwater. From there, American Rivers joined the core team of a highly anticipated visioning process known as the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) and spent the next few months attending meetings and workshops, speaking with urban planners, transportation engineers, community groups, water professionals, and various government entities. We conducted research across the country to demonstrate what others are doing, and then we developed two feasibility assessments for GSI implementation as part of the LCI vision.
After all of the listening and talking and research done through the LCI, American Rivers recommended that the first 1.8” of rainfall should be retained onsite—an ambitious, yet feasible amount equivalent to 95% of all 24-hour storms that hit Atlanta in an average year. Onsite retention standards don’t require GSI, but they drive the use of it. It isn’t perfect, but it goes well beyond the City of Atlanta’s 1.0” requirement. This performance metric was justified due to the persistent flooding downstream, and made economic sense based on common building standards, meaning that it’s flexible enough to dovetail with LEED or SITES requirements.
Ultimately, the LCI, the City of Atlanta, and the community endorsed the 1.8” standard. We then set to work making sure that the study didn’t just sit on a shelf, which was done by catalyzing both the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network and the GDOT pilot interstate green infrastructure project (see below). The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) used the 1.8” performance standard in a now-complete voluntary pilot retrofit project just uphill of the redevelopment site, which is described in the Atlanta Journal Constitution op-ed, Partnering to Better Manage our Water and details are available in the construction drawings. American Rivers also engaged in direct advocacy to GSU and Carter in the form of a letter and multiple meetings requesting they incorporate the LCI’s stormwater and wastewater recommendations.
Here, ECO-Action enters the story. ECO-Action is a local non-profit focused on issues of environmental justice. American Rivers partnered with ECO-Action to develop a course for community members, which came to be known as the Atlanta Watershed Leaning Network (AWLN). Monthly meetings were held which included lectures, presentations, and discussions led by speakers on subjects ranging from infrastructure and environmental justice to advocacy and community organizing. Advocates compiled a newsletter as part of their keystone assignment in the course. Several rounds of the AWLN have been held since it was initiated, training people within and across the watershed. The most recent iterations have focused on transboundary watershed collaboration and shared learning. AWLN certified community leaders played an important role in the Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force and have since formed the new Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council.
Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force
As part of the effort to transform the recommendations from the LCI into reality, the Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force (the Task Force) was formed to develop a more specific assessment and recommendations for addressing the flooding and combined sewer spills and securing related community benefits. The Task Force collaborated to plan, design and restore the healthy function of the watershed by implementing equitable and integrated water management to build resilience and address persistent flooding and the threat of combined sewer spills for current and future residents. One of the early efforts of the Task Force was to develop Equitable Development Principles and Practices to guide engagement and a one-pager describing the challenge, opportunity, and purpose of the group. Members of the group conducted outreach and engagement with potential partners such as Quantified Ventures which provided a Financing Proposal for these ambitious projects. Another achievement during this time was the production of the Intrenchment Creek Map and Guide which highlights community assets, and was produced in collaboration with community leaders.
The collaboration of the Task Force was critical to guiding the implementation of effective water management strategies in the years ahead. While the redevelopment of the area will take place over the next 20 years, many projects are already moving forward. In order to incorporate equitable, integrated, and nature-based solutions into the redevelopment plans, these strategies must be considered from the beginning.
Intrenchment Creek Headwaters — Stormwater Management Planning
The Task Force hired Sherwood Engineers to help compile a synthesis of all known plans and relevant data layers alongside initial recommendations. Community leadership and engagement in the assessment and planning process was prioritized throughout every step of the process. Following the synthesis of existing watershed plans and materials, meetings and interviews with community leaders and partners were conducted to share data and solicit additional information. The synthesis was then presented to community members and key stakeholders who had not yet been involved with the goal of selecting the preferred option going forward. Plans were then shared for how the information will be used and what is possible in terms of next steps. Final recommendations were developed based on the synthesis of information and input from key stakeholders, and presented in the report Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Plan: Advancing Equity and Addressing Flooding and Combined Sewer Spills in the Heart of Atlanta. The report recommended an approach to reuse, infiltrate, and slow & store water coming from the upper watershed while developing a framework for improved funding and community engagement going forward.
By thinking big and integrating the stormwater management across the neighborhoods, we found that over 96% of all runoff in the basin can be managed to mitigate downstream flooding, combined sewer overflows, and ecological degradation—all while improving the health and livelihoods of residents.
Once the Task Force’s One Water Management Plan was completed, the Task Force was ramped down and a new community-based organization was created to continue the work of advocating for the needed changes in collaboration with partners such as American Rivers, ECO Action, and others.
Community stakeholders and other groups look forward to advocating for this One Water Management Plan for the neighborhoods through the newly created Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council.
- Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Plan: Advancing Equity and Addressing Flooding and Combined Sewer Spills in the Heart of Atlanta
- Stadium Neighborhoods Livable Centers Initiative
- GDOT project info
- Intrenchment Creek Map and Guide
- Links to American Rivers’ blogs on topic
- Equitable Urban Planning for Resilient Communities River Rally Workshop
- Letter to GSU and Carter from American Rivers re: redevelopment
- Atlanta Watershed Learning Network Materials
- Equitable Development Principles and Practices
- Task Force One Pager
A Big Thank You to Our Partners
- Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council
- Central Atlanta Progress
- Community Benefits Coalition
- Department of Watershed Management
- Georgia Department of Transportation
- Georgia State University
- Mechanicsville Civic Association
- Metro Atlanta Urban Watershed Institute
- NPU V
- Partnership for Southern Equity
- Peoplestown Neighborhood Association
- Peoplestown Revitilization Corporation
- South River Watershed Alliance
- Summerhill Residents
- Trees Atlanta