Free Green Infrastructure Toolkit for Communities Dealing with Flooding from Delta Institute
Solutions in this approachable toolkit are designed to scale from single applications with low/no resources to larger community-wide projects that can better manage stormwater at a lower cost while improving water quality and creating high value, multifunctional greenspace.
2017 was a year when the flood waters came. Again and again community after community was hit with historically high floods, wrought by one of the most powerful hurricane seasons ever. Our built-environment was tested. And too often it busted.
We recognize the significance of this rising bluefield challenge. We know we must rise to meet it, or be overcome. And we’re not alone. There is an army of public and private organizations and a legion of professionals working at all levels to build the hardened, resilient and sustainable habitats humanity needs to thrive in the future—and in greater harmony with nature.
But as professionals in the field know, the future has already arrived in places like Houston, which saw back to back to back 500 year floods in the last three years. In Puerto Rico the result may set the big island back decades, as people abandon entire communities wrecked beyond repair on a timeline realistic for everyday families who were living and working there. And beyond these front-line communities, our built-environment is breaking down everywhere—and breaking the bank with it.
Iowa became an inland sea in 2008 after it rained for a month in a slow motion disaster that managed to kill no one but still cost $64 billion dollars. Then, between 2011–2013, Iowa suffered eight flood-related Presidential Disaster Declarations that affected 73 counties and more than 70% of the state. HUD is now investing ~$100 million dollars in a massive watershed redevelopment program to head off the next flood disaster.
Whether due to bad land management practices, outdated infrastructure, disrepair and neglect, stronger storms or all of the above, communities and local leaders everywhere are struggling to effectively address stormwater and flooding issues impacting their communities today. Too often with cataclysmic results.
And everyday communities nationwide struggle to cope with the challenges associated with stormwater management, often out of sight and of mind, such as poor water quality.
Delta Institute (Delta) is a leading nonprofit organization that collaborates with communities to solve complex environmental challenges across the Midwest, particularly in the Great Lakes region. Delta takes an integrated approach to environmental, economic, and social challenges, which has led us to create and manage several social enterprises, including the P2E2 center, a for-profit carbon credit trading platform, and the Rebuilding Exchange, which now operates as a stand-alone nonprofit reuse store.
Delta is also working actively on all manner of water issues, including the development of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is an increasingly recognized tool for managing stormwater and mitigation flood risks. Rainfall and water flows are typically managed with a "grey infrastructure" approach, which uses gutters and underground pipe networks that discharge to local sewers or water bodies. Green infrastructure uses natural elements in man-made landscapes that augment or even replace regular greywater systems.
In many ways, green infrastructure developments are meant to mimic natural functions. The natural water cycle allows for the infiltration of stormwater into the ground and for the absorption of water by plant roots and leaves (evapotranspiration). Impervious greyfield surfaces from pavement and buildings fulfill our need for shelter and commerce, but they also eliminate opportunities for infiltration and natural plant processes. This causes more rainfall to flow from impervious surfaces, and the increased rainfall runoff causes flooding and accelerates erosion. Rainfall runoff also collects pollutants as it flows over impervious surfaces, causing increased water quality issues.
By restoring more natural forms and function, green infrastructure can reduce flood risk and improve water quality while creating more natural conditions for flora and fauna to take root or nest.
So, in addition to handling stormwater overflow, green infrastructure projects also create habitats for plants and animals. These same places can function as recreational space for people because when not flooded they serve as open green space. And, of course, they are not flooded the vast majority of the time.
Green infrastructure and placemaking go hand in hand and are being worked together into new forms of pedestrian oriented development. Some of the best new jogging paths and bike trails are built into places designed to flood when the big rains come, which means most of the time they function as high quality amenities the entire community can enjoy. And as a redevelopment strategy, green infrastructure projects are often replacing underground pipes, odd lots and ugly places that come along typical greywater infrastructure relied on in the past.
Like brownfields, these greyfield resources are being harvested into high quality places with increasing regularity as the quality of place and amenities arms race escalates between communities. And for those looking for a helpful how-to guide, Delta Institute recently updated its very useful toolkit to help municipal managers and decision-makers begin the process of exploring and implementing green infrastructure in their own communities.
Delta’s Green Infrastructure Designs: Scalable Solutions to Local Challenges is a free, nearly 100 page resource that is approachable by laymen with all the detail and substance necessary to think through many fundamental aspects of a green infrastructure project. It is an excellent practical guide to help communities start to implement green infrastructure elements at the tactical level, even with very limited resources.
Delta recently refreshed its green infrastructure toolkit in the wake of the devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma during this particularly destructive hurricane season. The toolkit aims to help more proactively manage flooding and stormwater with green infrastructure techniques, which can scale from small tactical urban projects into cohesive community-wide approaches.
Armed with an approachable resource, municipalities facing barriers to green infrastructure integration from basic lack of understanding, lack of local capacity and/or technical expertise will be better equipped to begin implementing difference-making techniques. Communities with substantial constraints on human and financial resources may find the toolkit of particular value, for its many bootstrap solutions.
The tools in Delta’s Green Infrastructure Designs: Scalable Solutions to Local Challenges toolkit provide communities with the resources needed to rethink the purpose of streets and open spaces for stormwater management. The toolkit features practical tools that can be scaled to sites across a wide geography, but are particularly well-suited to the Midwestern climate.
This publication was originally released in July 2015 with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR, CFDA Number 11.419). Delta’s update in September 2017 added two new green infrastructure designs to the toolkit.
One early adopter, Kathy Evans, Program Manager at West Michigan Regional Shoreline Development Commission, used information from the toolkit in the Commission’s Stormwater Management Plan, which was submitted to West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission & Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership in late August.
“Using Delta’s Green Infrastructure toolkit, we estimated the cost of some of the conceptual green infrastructure Best Management Practices,” said Ms. Evans. “We compared pricing with the estimated costs provided in the toolkit and found that they were consistent with the costs for similar products in West Michigan.”
The toolkit features:
Design templates, which provide technical drawings, construction notes, and cost
Maintenance information for seven different types of green infrastructure:
- Rain gardens
- Stormwater planters
- Permeable pavement
- Underground storage
- Bioswales (sloped landscaping that helps capture and filter stormwater)
- Green roof
- Box tree filter
Decision-making rubric that helps municipal managers and decision-makers start the process of implementing green infrastructure in their community
Access the toolkit here: Green Infrastructure Designs: Scalable Solutions to Local Challenges
About Delta Institute
Founded in 1998, Delta Institute is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization working to build a more resilient environment and economy through sustainable solutions. Visit online at www.delta-institute.org.
What's a "Bluefield"?
A bluefield possesses water resources itself or has access to a navigable body of water such as a river, sea, or ocean—either directly or via canal or port. Some Bluefields can support viable commercial uses, and many of these commercial bluefields have definitive access or riparian rights. Many other Bluefields merely provide simple enjoyment for the property owners and tenants. Use the bluefield tag on BrownfieldListings.com to post a watershed development RFP, RFQ or RFI, or to simply signal water resources or concerns on your property or in your project.
Visit a few of the featured bluefield service providers a part of the Brownfield Listings ecosytem:
Watch: The Iowa watershed redevelopment approach
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