Environment and Media & Marketing

VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Proper stormwater management saves money in long run Property owners should consider alternative methods for site development

September 5, 2005

To save themselves from unforeseen trouble down the road, buyers of site-development and buildingdesign services would be wise to consider the joint efforts of an experienced architectural firm working in tandem with an environmental consultant.

The reason is fairly simple: Architects are trained to have knowledge in so many diverse and ever-changing subjects that the singular expertise of an environmental consultant can provide significant support in an area still quite new to many designers.

While working with restrictive rules and regulations regarding wetlands and the handling of stormwater, we have discovered a need for creative problem-solving skills that result in cost-effective, environ mentally-friendly and generally more aesthetically-pleasing design solutions.

Many stormwater best-management practices, both during construction and long term, are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to be approved and implemented as part of site development. This means determining which combination of structural, vegetative or managerial practices should be used to protect and improve surface water and groundwater.

Conventional practices usually include retention/detention basins with media filters, sediment traps and hydrodynamic devices that trap pollutants from stormwater over time.

While these methods can be effective over the short term, they can be very costly, require long-term maintenance and do little or nothing to reduce the amount of stormwater running off an impervious area into nearby waterways, thus adding to flooding problems.

Alternative stormwater best-management practices allow for a much larger amount of stormwater to be absorbed by the soil, reducing the amount of runoff needed to be treated.

Alternative practices can also be costeffective to install, cheaper and easier to maintain and very effective in preventing pollution.

One of the best alternative best-management practices involves the extensive use of native plants around ponds and lakes in swales and even landscaped areas.

Native plants provide habitat for beneficial insects and animals such as songbirds, dragonflies and frogs, which combat nuisance species such as mosquitoes.

Native plants also have unique root systems that can grow up to 15 feet below ground, which prevents erosion of bank slopes and allows for better infiltration of rainwater into the soil.

In contrast, turf grass has a root system of only 2 inches to 4 inches. Once the rainwater has infiltrated these few inches, its failure to penetrate the tough soils can cause flooding.

Native plants also are drought- and disease-tolerant and require no watering on hot, dry summer days. Most are hardy and long-lived perennials that outlast ornamentals. Native plants attract butterflies and hummingbirds, two species that are especially beautiful to the eye and ear.

Native plant buffer strips have the added advantage of giving off phosphorous and nitrogen that feed aquatic plants and algae and discourage birds and geese. In addition, geese and other fowl cannot see through the tall vegetation and are discouraged from staying for long periods.

In contrast, a small lake or pond that hasn't been well thought out can be a nuisance and a danger.

Typical characteristics of poorly planned water sites include muddy brown water, eroded shorelines, stagnant algae and large numbers of geese (along with their droppings).

To sum up, if you are planning a new office, retail or residential site that incorporates water into the landscape design, hire a veteran architectural firm that has an experienced environmental consultant as part of the team.

Better to get it right the first time than to assent to the development of an environmental liability that has to be torn up and be redone.



Green is president and chief operating officer of Paul I. Cripe Inc., an Indianapolis-based architectural and engineering company. Will Ditzler, president and CEO of Walkerton-based environmental consulting firm JF New, contributed to this column. Views expressed here are the writers'.
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