Archive for the ‘Stormwater’ Category

West Coast Green is this week in San Francisco, and I am honored to be among the distinguished list of speakers at the event. I will be co-presenting a panel on Integrated Water Systems with Paul Kephart from Rana Creek and Andy Mannle this Friday, October 2, at 11am. The panel we did last year, “The Sexiest Large Scale Water Design Applications We Have Ever Seen”, was S.R.O. So they’re bringing us back for an update, which we’re calling (somewhat less racily) “The Whole Pitcher.”

Also at West Coast Green, Sherwood will be participating in the “Greening Fort Mason Design Slam.” The event was created to brainstorm design strategies and practical ideas for the continued evolution of Fort Mason Center as a leading environmentally sustainable destination. I will be facilitating this charette this Friday October 2 at 12:30pm along with a number of great minds from WRT, The Grove Consulting, Van Meter Williams Pollack, Solutions and PEC. You can read more about it here and register to attend the conference here.


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Daylighting urban streams has long made sense aesthetically, but now the environmental, traffic calming, and air pollution benefits can be quantified based on new studies of the famous Cheonggyecheon running through downtown Seoul.

From the New York Times:

Cities from San Antonio to Singapore have been resuscitating rivers and turning storm drains into streams. In Los Angeles, residents’ groups and some elected officials are looking anew at buried or concrete-lined creeks as assets instead of inconveniences, inspired partly by Seoul’s example.

By building green corridors around the exposed waters, cities hope to attract affluent and educated workers and residents who appreciate the feel of a natural environment in an urban setting.

Environmentalists point out other benefits. Open watercourses handle flooding rains better than buried sewers do, a big consideration as global warming leads to heavier downpours. The streams also tend to cool areas overheated by sun-baked asphalt and to nourish greenery that lures wildlife as well as pedestrians.

But four years after the stream was uncovered, city officials say, the environmental benefits can now be quantified. Data show that the ecosystem along the Cheonggyecheon (pronounced chung-gye-chun) has been greatly enriched, with the number of fish species increasing to 25 from 4. Bird species have multiplied to 36 from 6, and insect species to 192 from 15.

The recovery project, which removed three miles of elevated highway as well, also substantially cut air pollution from cars along the corridor and reduced air temperatures. Small-particle air pollution along the corridor dropped to 48 micrograms per cubic meter from 74, and summer temperatures are now often five degrees cooler than those of nearby areas, according to data cited by city officials.

And even with the loss of some vehicle lanes, traffic speeds have picked up because of related transportation changes like expanded bus service, restrictions on cars and higher parking fees.

“We’ve basically gone from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city,” said Lee In-keun, Seoul’s assistant mayor for infrastructure, who has been invited to places as distant as Los Angeles to describe the project to other urban planners.

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There was much excitement last summer with the passage of Senate Bill 1258 (Lowenthal) in July of 2008. The bill called for the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to draft new standards for graywater use (note that the spelling is generally “gray” in the US and “grey” in the UK)  in CA that will probably take effect in 2011. Of particular excitement was the explicit mention of “indoor and outdoor uses”.

For close to 2 decades, graywater reuse has been regulated by Appendix G in the CA Plumbing Code with the California State Water Resources Control Board having ultimate administrative authority. The only express reuse application noted in the UPC is an underground irrigation distribution field, which is configured in an eerily similar fashion to a septic leach field. While there is an ‘alternative methods and means’ section in Appendix G, the permitting process proved so cumbersome and expensive that there are only a few permitted graywater systems in all of California, while there are hundreds and likely thousands of unpermitted systems.

The DHCD is in the process of developing and adopting new code to govern the reuse of graywater in California. SB 1258 calls for stakeholder input, which is critical because the DHCD has limited experience dealing with this issue. Unfortunately, the DHCD chose the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials’ (IAPMO) Chapter 16, which is more restrictive than Appendix G, as the starting point for this new legislation.

However, the stakeholder input process has met with some success in evolving IAPMO’s standards. Lara Allen of the advocacy group Greywater Guerillas summarized the following highlights of the new draft:

1. Washing machines are exempt from permits for residential use as long as they follow specified guidelines.
2. Mulch basins are a legal way to infiltrate greywater (before gravel was specified that is mined from river beds – mulch is wood chips and can be sustainably generated locally)
3. “Simple systems” are defined in the new code and there is language that could lead to local interpretation of exempting these systems from a permit. We still urge HCD to go further and exempt “simple systems” from permitting.

The legislation is still in draft form, and the code writers could make it either better or worse, so interested parties can participate in the ongoing stakeholder input process to encourage the DHCD officials to write an even more user-friendly code. Check out this web site for opportunities to become involved.

There is a critical paradigm shift that needs to occur among graywater regulators so that application systems are not seen as close cousins to leach fields, but rather as efficient irrigation distribution systems.

There are a lot of interesting web sites tracking these developments. Art Ludwig of Oasis maintains a great web site that tracks the history of graywater legislation in California. Check it out here.

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It’s official: The local water board says the SF Bay is trashed, according to the SF Chronicle:

Tons of cigarette butts, diapers, crushed Styrofoam and plastic bottles and bags convinced the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to vote unanimously to designate the edges of the central bay and the south bay, along with 24 rivers and creeks, as places in need of trash controls.

It used to be that just Lake Merritt was deemed “impaired” by the volumes of trash lining the shores, spoiling marine habitats and endangering wildlife. Not any more. Now dozens of Bay tributaries have received the same dubious distinction under the Federal Clean Water Act.

The designation is the first step in putting cities and counties on notice that the EPA could impose fines if they don’t clean up their act. But it could also provide funds to help them, and board members are hoping that $$ from the federal stimulus package will pay for structures beneath roads that capture trash in storm water.

Environmental groups say the vote is a good first step in eliminating plastic bags and street trash from falling into the bay. They also want stormwater permits issued that will require “measurable, enforceable reductions in trash:”

“Citizens are shocked when they realize how much trash is in the bay,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, the nonprofit that has been spearheading an anti-trash campaign over the past two years.

The list of recommended cleanup sites includes some that Sherwood has worked with including Strawberry Creek in Berkeley and Colma Creek in San Mateo County, where we helped write a “GreenStreets Design Guidebook” that demonstrates appropriate stormwater filtration and mitigation strategies to keep our waterways clean.

With the EPA poised to mandate that cities regulate trash or face heavy fines, now would be a good time to start implementing these programs.

While it’s great that volunteers picked up 125 tons of trash – including 15,000 plastic bags – from SF Bay on last year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, it’s pathetic that we let that amount of garbage get anywhere near our vital sources of water.

Shouldn’t it be government’s job to help keep all that trash out of our waterways in the first place?

Hopefully soon, it will be.

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110 Embarcadero. Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli

110 Embarcadero. Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli

Writer Allison Arieff’s most recent By Design column for the New York Times – “Blue is the New Green” – discusses the importance of water, and mentions the panel we gave at this year’s West Coast Green conference:

Although 70 percent of the earth is covered with water, just 3 percent of that water is fit for human consumption. This isn’t going to improve anytime soon. Failures in water-related infrastructure result in lost biodiversity, higher temperatures, increased flooding, massive impact on energy and unsafe, unsanitary water.

But important advances have been made in water resource management — and they are far more compelling than the term “water resource management” would suggest. (Earlier this year, a panel at the sustainability conference West Coast Green was titled “The Sexiest Large Scale Design Applications We Have Ever Seen.”)

On the panel, Bry Sarte joined Paul Kephart of Rana Creek to bring some sex appeal to “Water Resource Management” and “Water-Related Infrastructure,” terms which may not exactly role off the tongue or come up often in cocktail chatter, but are increasingly becoming critical concerns for everybody.

In her column, Arieff discusses several issues that we covered on the panel, and routinely deal with in our work, including:

  • Treating water as a resource instead of a waste.
  • Building multiple uses for water into our designs.
  • Recognizing that Water=Energy, and balancing the two.

She also lists several strategies to accomplish these goals including Living Roofs, Living Walls, Greywater Reuse, and Rainwater Harvesting. The photographs demonstrate that these designs can be both beautiful and practical.

In discussing his work designing the Living Roof for the Academy of Science, Paul Kephart noted that, “We have 42 acres of impervious surface in San Francisco. With 29 acres of roofs we could solve forever the runoff issues.” This would not only save water, but energy and money as well; while improving the health of the city.

Fortunately, this type of thinking is catching on. The California Public Utilities Commission is exploring water-energy efficiency programs:

The CPUC’s Water Action Plan calls for strengthening water conservation programs to a level comparable to the energy efficiency achieved by energy utilities. The Water Action Plan specifically calls for a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption by water utilities, emphasizes the importance of reducing the amount of energy needed by water utilities for water pumping, purification systems, and other water processes such as desalination, and encourages programs to reduce energy waste by water utilities from causes such as system leaks, poorly maintained equipment, defective meters, unused machines left idling, and improperly operated systems.

And it’s not just government agencies and designers that are finding the “sex appeal” in water design. As the dozens and dozens of thoughtful comments to Ms. Arieff’s column indicate – people all across the country are interested in making “Blue the New Green.”

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  • Amtrak is getting record ridership as fuel costs on planes and for cars continue to rise, but it will be hard to keep up with increased demand since the infrastructure to build new cars isn’t able to ramp up quickly since its been deteriorating.
  • LEED homes are now the latest trend and bragging right from the rich and famous out in California. But their green homes probably aren’t as small as most peoples.
  • Cheap air lines have lead to dramatically increased air travel within Europe, mostly to coastal towns with a resort industry springing up near the airports. But this is causing global warming issues that will take a long time to undo.
  • Families are actually using the Xebra electric car for neighborhood errands, spending $10/month to charge the car. But it will be hard to avoid attracting notice in one of them.
  • Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, sees himself as an environmentalist. If he can only get the other environmentalists to see his side.
  • Obama supports ethanol as a way to help national security by decreasing revenues to oil rich but hostile nations.
  • EPA may reduce the required ethanol yields to ease corn and other crop prices, as a significant amount of farm land has been harmed, destroying this years crops, along the Mississippi.
  • The state of Florida is going to buy US Sugar, with the intention of using their land to help restore the Everglades, creating the largest ecological restoration project in the country.
  • A never ending stream of plastic trash is inundating areas like northern Alaska or some islands in Hawaii. And cleanup isn’t going to solve the problems – the only way to fix the situation is to stop allowing trash into the oceans in the first place.
  • Another power strip has been developed that hooks up to your computer monitor via USB so that you can manage the power controls of each of your outlets on the strip. See how much power you’re saving as well.
  • The New York Times writes an overview of the science behind stream restoration and what has and hasn’t worked.
  • More coverage of the downswing of suburbia as a 1-hr commute each way and the cost of heating a large home start to add up.
  • The Supreme Court ruled to cut punitive damages against Exxon for the Valdez oil spill to $500 million from $5 billion, since the compensatory damages totaled ~$500 million and punitive damages are generally on the same order.
  • Zipcar has a promotion in Chicago called Low Car Diet where if you agree to forgo using a car for one month this summer, they will give you a free 1-yr membership, a transit pass and driving credit. Maybe this plan will spread to other cities?
  • California plans to ramp up programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of reaching 1990 levels in 12 years. Stipulations include utilities required to generate 1/3 of electricity from renewable resources and building high speed rail lines.
  • Hawaii has passed a law requiring all new homes to have solar water heaters, with a few exceptions based on site feasibility.
  • New York City passed a law that goes into effect on January 1st, 2009 to provide a property tax credit of up to $100,000 for homeowners who install green roofs on at least 50% of their available rooftop.
  • The Bureau of Land Management has put a freeze on building new solar energy plants on their land, which is some of the most suitable land for such projects with huge tracts of land in the desert in the southwest.
  • Bird, a mini-chain of boutiques in Brooklyn, is in the process of building a new shop. The owner has been documenting the process, which this week includes the breakdown on demolition quantities as they try for LEED certification.
  • Home Depot will start recycling CFL light bulbs at all stores. Its been in place at their Canadian stores since November of last year.

A photo of the sorted demolition piles at Bird.

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  • LA looks into recycling treated wastewater for use as drinking water, via an aquifer, like Orange County just started doing.
  • USGBC rolls out their new LEED 2009 rating system for public comment on Monday.
  • PlaNYC 2030 may involve legislation to require large commercial buildings to provide secure bike parking on or near the premises.
  • A DOE study thinks its possible to increase wind generated electricity from 1% of total energy production to 20% by 2020.
  • Talk of the Nation covers the Great Lakes, and the protection efforts going into preserving 1/5th of the world’s surface fresh water.
  • The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is installing a stop gap measure to deal with combined sewer overflow to the East River by installing a balloon in the sewer pipe to hold sewage during an intense rain event to prevent it from flowing into the East River and the New York Harbor.
  • The Bust administration has listed polar bears as threatened species, due to decline in Arctic sea ice from global warming. It will be very interesting to see what law suits pop up because of this. The World Wildlife Foundation could be suing coal plants for causing global warming.
  • Going green is the next big thing for restaurants, as the Green Restaurant Association drums up a lot of participants.
  • Spain is building two 50 MW solar thermal power plants. Solar power makes a lot of sense for Spain where most of the power demand is proportional to air conditioning needs, so the sunnier it gets, the more power is generated.
  • Some facts about European sprawl show that sprawl isn’t necessarily an unavoidable byproduct of affluence, so there is hope for American cities as well.
  • Rising gas prices are leading to significant increases in public transportation ridership in the US, particularly in the west and south.

A photo of a crowded NYC subway train from Saw Lady’s Blog

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