more water

Submitted by Susan Miller on Fri, 07/20/2007 - 16:28.
Submitted by Susan Miller on July 20, 2007 - 2:56pm.

This week the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) had their annual conference in Cleveland at the Renaissance Hotel. The Keynote address was given by Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, nicknamed the “Green Hornet” during his years in Congress. Boehlert is best known for his work on environmental policy. Beginning in the 1980's with the acid rain crisis, Boehlert became a prominent voice in the Republican Party for the environment. He was a major contributor to the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. In his opening remarks he said that “green” is the new red white and blue.

Highlights included speakers from water, sewer and stormwater utilities from around the nation as well as professionals who study and innovate in the field of water and its affiliated green infrastructures.

Dr. Chris Crockett, the “Stream Doctor” from Philadelphia told the story of clean water in Philly including building the gray infrastructure, but more interestingly the green infrastructure. He spoke about permeable pavement (begun in Philly in 1999) in new places like basketball courts in central city neighborhoods – these are particularly loved by the kids because they don’t flood and the kids can play even while it’s raining – they’re cooler, quieter, and it’s quicker to game time after the rain. The permeable asphalt is being laid down throughout Philly; even PDOT is using it. Why? It freezes less often and requires less salting, all that in addition to how well it drains to allow stormwater to infiltrate rather than run to a pipe. How do they make permeable asphalt? They shut down the plant and remove the sand – the other ingredients without the sand make it permeable – in fact in Georgia they are using permeable concrete for road building. So why aren’t we using it here?


They studied the surfaces in Philly and found that half of them were public and half private. The public (government funded and controlled public rights of way) can lead in stormwater innovation, but businesses are more flexible and can adapt more quickly to new technologies. In many cities, the transition from a sewer district to a stormwater utility means that rates go up for the buildings that have large areas of impervious surface and down for the smaller footprint downtown vertical buildings – this would seem to drive development to a denser more concentrated land use and into the empty buildings in the central city rather than out to the beltway, where public transit cannot bring workers – making large paved areas for parking necessary; obviously this has an impact on air quality too. Here’s a study by the National Resources Defense Council that looked at this issue in Cleveland.

Dr. Crockett showed slides of a stream bank restoration project that resembles what we need to do at the Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park. He said that the stream has seen the return of fish and bugs, a result that could have taken numerous steps had they not restored the riparian buffers to the stream and slowed the water flow that scours the waterway.

He reminded us that 20 years is not long enough to resolve problems that have been 200 years in the making. But we need to restore urban streams to a state that resembles their state before the pipes were there.

He suggested that water quality professionals need to think like fish, to ask themselves “What does swim-able mean?” In Philly they have real-time water quality data for people who want to swim or boat or otherwise recreate in the river. Best Management Practices BMPs and Best Available Technology Economically Achievable BATs are the plug and play solutions, so he urged professionals to think more broadly.

He and many others spoke about the benefit of green infrastructure; that CSO and stream or lake improvement money spent can, should and will show other benefits in air quality, heat island reduction, crime reduction and education.

Then we heard Steve Wise from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. He noted that green infrastructure is being studied and implemented in many cities with whom they’re working, but pointed out specifically the excitement about these ideas in Chicago. As an example, the city offered $5,000 grants for green roof assistance – they got 100 applications on the first round!

The presenters talked about the need to review and change local ordinances to incentivize green infrastructure. Though green infrastructure cannot close the huge gap in our water quality management issue, we saw great examples like the one above with the basketball courts that should be considered here in our region. Due to the compartmentalization of the efforts of soil and water conservation districts, sewer districts, water departments, city arborists, transportation planners, parks and recreation directors and urban planners, who must all meet their mandates and abide by their own separate regulatory structures, the efforts to incorporate green infrastructure are thwarted by the very government that regulates, divides and funds it. In other words, rather than a bridal gown, this environmental bride (our ecosystem) is sporting separates. There are wonderful synergies in the projects completed by these stormwater utilities such as the increase in property values, dryer basements, quieter, safer streets never mind safer water. There can be a cost reduction for gray infrastructure when green infrastructure is added to the mix.  However some of these green infrastructure programs are not simple to implement despite how obvious they seem. Changing local ordinances is perhaps the biggest obstacle in addition to the fact that there is not a unified approach and in our region risk taking even when ideas are proven over many years in other communities is at the ebb, not the flow.

These ideas for green infrastructure go beyond downspout disconnects, rain barrels and rain gardens. They include:

  • Permeable pavement
  • Green roofs
  • Narrowing streets with curb extensions that are planted with natives which help infiltration of street stormwater
  • Curb cuts which allow storm water to flow into and be absorbed by the neighboring greenspace/tree lawns
  • The use of integrated filterra tree planters on city sidewalks
  • Daylighting creeks and brooks to increase property values
  • Cities should have their own nurseries for plants to use in bioswales, vegetated filter strips and floating filter islands for lakes
  • Planting larger more mature plants so that neighbors will not plant exotics and invasive plants in the filter strips
  • Tree planting as a method for absorbing and slowing stormwater
  • Bioretention basins
  • Constructed wetlands
  • Where onsite stormwater is not possible, rate payers (businesses, property owners) can buy offsets – like carbon offsets
  • Education and follow-up with residents and businesses
  • Incentives for onsite storm water management for rate payers

All these things lead to one big question for our region; when will the NEORSD stop being a sewer district and become a storm water utility?

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You're right Susan--we all need to consider storm water and it's impact and waste in our communities.  NEORSD is doing that in the West Creek watershed. You will see more of this type of storm water management.  Unfortunately, we send our problems to the NEORSD and ask them to fix it.  Ditto for the City of Cleveland water department.  We are extremely lucky citizens to have conscientious employees at these two agencies that quietly do their job to keep us alive.  They can't slack at their jobs. Maybe, some of the top dogs slack, but the ground troops don't.  We have to point the fingers at ourselves.  Our complacent lifestyles waste water and our decisions about where to live, far from everyone else, destroy the land needed to promote groundwater recharge.  We are all sinners.  I can't say that I will be redeemed, but I am going to explore the option of saving my grey water in a tank for reuse.  We can all try a little harder.  The retrofit options are expensive.  Regreening the City is the most logical fast fix.  The soils in Cuyahoga County want to revert to Forest.  We have to let it happen in as many strategic areas as possible.  It will also help us breathe easier. 

One Small Step: From Sink to Sunflowers

 November/December 2007

"I WAS LIVING IN A BIG HOME with seven other people, and we were starting to garden. My housemate Cleo and I realized that our household was using an incredible amount of water. The average American uses 50 to 70 gallons of water per day, just inside the home. If you include the yard and lawn, it's almost double. It seems crazy how much we waste.

"So I wondered if there was a way to reuse our sink water to irrigate. Through trial and error, we figured out how to create a gray-water system, which means taking the water from your sinks, showers, or washing machine and directing it into your yard. I took a plumbing class, and we set up a little wetland in a bathtub in the yard to filter the water. We were able to cut our water use in half.

"Some people have the misconception that gray-water systems are dangerous or unhealthy, but there has never been a documented case of anyone getting sick from them, as long as you don't drink the water or spray it on food crops that will be eaten raw. They're easy to set up and only cost around $100 for a basic system, not including labor.

"After we installed our system, lots of people asked questions about it, so we self-published a magazine and distributed it to people who wanted to learn how to set up their own. It started spreading around the country, and we got letters from as far away as Australia. We took on the name Greywater Guerrillas and wrote a book about it. Now we're touring the country helping folks with installations. People tell us that they find taking control of their water system really empowering. And it forces you to be a better steward—you don't want to pour toxic products down the drain if they're going right into your vegetable garden." —interview by Orli Cotel

GOT WATER? Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population grew by almost 90 percent, while water use swelled by 209 percent. At least 36 states expect local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013, according to the EPA.

ON THE WEB Find out more about water efficiency at To learn how to build your own gray-water-filtering system, visit or



Great notes on water management

I didn't even know this conference was taking place - thanks for posting such excellent notes. At our house in East Cleveland we will have rain barrels and divert downspouts and will put in a very cool green roof garden (wish we had grants for that here). I also need to replace the driveway and walks and want to look into replacing concrete and sandstone with gravel to be more permeable. I'll certainly recommend that East Cleveland look at implementing as many of the program you highlight above as is possible.

Disrupt IT

Much of U.S. Could See a Water Shortage

Much of U.S. Could See a Water Shortage
Oct 26, 2:27 PM (ET)



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions. Florida doesn't have nearly enough water for its expected population boom. The Great Lakes are shrinking. Upstate New York's reservoirs have dropped to record lows. And in the West, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year.
Across America, the picture is critically clear - the nation's freshwater supplies can no longer quench its thirst.
The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.
"Is it a crisis? If we don't do some decent water planning, it could be," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the Denver-based American Water Works Association.
Water managers will need to take bold steps to keep taps flowing, including conservation, recycling, desalination and stricter controls on development.
"We've hit a remarkable moment," said Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The last century was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency."
The price tag for ensuring a reliable water supply could be staggering. Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could cost the nation $300 billion over 30 years.
"Unfortunately, there's just not going to be any more cheap water," said Randy Brown, Pompano Beach's utilities director.
It's not just America's problem - it's global.
Australia is in the midst of a 30-year dry spell, and population growth in urban centers of sub-Saharan Africa is straining resources. Asia has 60 percent of the world's population, but only about 30 percent of its freshwater.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists, said this year that by 2050 up to 2 billion people worldwide could be facing major water shortages.
The U.S. used more than 148 trillion gallons of water in 2000, the latest figures available from the U.S. Geological Survey. That includes residential, commercial, agriculture, manufacturing and every other use - almost 500,000 gallons per person.
Coastal states like Florida and California face a water crisis not only from increased demand, but also from rising temperatures that are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Higher temperatures mean more water lost to evaporation. And rising seas could push saltwater into underground sources of freshwater.
Florida represents perhaps the nation's greatest water irony. A hundred years ago, the state's biggest problem was it had too much water. But decades of dikes, dams and water diversions have turned swamps into cities.
Little land is left to store water during wet seasons, and so much of the landscape has been paved over that water can no longer penetrate the ground in some places to recharge aquifers. As a result, the state is forced to flush millions of gallons of excess into the ocean to prevent flooding.
Also, the state dumps hundreds of billions of gallons a year of treated wastewater into the Atlantic through pipes - water that could otherwise be used for irrigation.
Florida's environmental chief, Michael Sole, is seeking legislative action to get municipalities to reuse the wastewater.
"As these communities grow, instead of developing new water with new treatment systems, why not better manage the commodity they already have and produce an environmental benefit at the same time?" Sole said.
Florida leads the nation in water reuse by reclaiming some 240 billion gallons annually, but it is not nearly enough, Sole said.
Floridians use about 2.4 trillion gallons of water a year. The state projects that by 2025, the population will have increased 34 percent from about 18 million to more than 24 million people, pushing annual demand for water to nearly 3.3 trillion gallons.
More than half of the state's expected population boom is projected in a three-county area that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, where water use is already about 1.5 trillion gallons a year.
"We just passed a crossroads. The chief water sources are basically gone," said John Mulliken, director of water supply for the South Florida Water Management District. "We really are at a critical moment in Florida history."
In addition to recycling and conservation, technology holds promise.
There are more than 1,000 desalination plants in the U.S., many in the Sunbelt, where baby boomers are retiring at a dizzying rate.
The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant is producing about 25 million gallons a day of fresh drinking water, about 10 percent of that area's demand. The $158 million facility is North America's largest plant of its kind. Miami-Dade County is working with the city of Hialeah to build a reverse osmosis plant to remove salt from water in deep brackish wells. Smaller such plants are in operation across the state.
Californians use nearly 23 trillion gallons of water a year, much of it coming from Sierra Nevada snowmelt. But climate change is producing less snowpack and causing it to melt prematurely, jeopardizing future supplies.
Experts also say the Colorado River, which provides freshwater to seven Western states, will probably provide less water in coming years as global warming shrinks its flow.
California, like many other states, is pushing conservation as the cheapest alternative, looking to increase its supply of treated wastewater for irrigation and studying desalination, which the state hopes could eventually provide 20 percent of its freshwater.
"The need to reduce water waste and inefficiency is greater now than ever before," said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency. "Water efficiency is the wave of the future."