Interview with Portland BES Part 1 of 3

3 02 2010

Portland Building (Location of Portland BES Offices)
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

The following is the first part of an email interview I recently conducted with Emily Hauth, project manager with Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES)’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Division. Their agency has been a leader in sustainable stormwater implmentation over the last twenty years.

Green Infrastructure Digest (GrID): The City of Portland has been and continues to be a leader in implementing green infrastructure facilities. Please tell our readers a little bit about the work the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) is doing in regard to increasing the use of green infrastructure. What new innovations should we expect to see out of BES in the coming years?

Ms. Emily Hauth: Our sustainable stormwater management solutions have evolved from a single purpose regulatory driven approach to one that achieves multiple objectives. We are designing our urban landscapes and street systems with an eye toward community enhancement, cooling of the air and water, increased wildlife habitat and greenspace, safe bike and pedestrian linkages, greenway connections to services and amenities, and of course capturing and treating stormwater at the source on the surface. In this way we are achieving watershed health goals and meeting regulatory compliance while informing a new approach to urban development.

We are incorporating green infrastructure approaches into our policy development and planning processes. We have a number of policy initiatives that recognize green infrastructure solutions as a smart way to plan for watershed health and the city’s future and direct city bureaus and agencies to cooperatively plan and implement green infrastructure elements as part of all work programs. Our bureau works collaboratively with other City bureaus and agencies such as our Bureau Of Transportation and the Portland Development Commission on projects that promote environmental concepts while addressing auto, pedestrian, and bicycle safety. We are also fully integrating our watershed health and stormwater/sanitary collection goals into our Systems planning process. Portland’s Grey to Green initiative, established in 2007, sets a 5-year goal to increase green infrastructure elements throughout Portland including 900 Green Streets, 43 acres of Ecoroofs, and over 50,000 new trees.

In one particular area of the city where pipes are failing or undersized, we are incorporating green street facilities into the solutions plan. This area is referred to as Tabor to the River. In this area alone, we will be constructing 500 green streets. We’re also working closely with targeted private property owners to help them manage stormwater on their sites and play a role in the solution. All future work to address similar issues will follow this model of combining grey and green infrastructure solutions.

We don’t feel we have all the answers so we continue to ask ourselves, is it working? We continue to monitor our facilities, modify designs, research components such as plants and soils, to refine our knowledge base and maximize facility function and performance. We’re always looking for efficiencies in design and construction so we’re evaluating use of modular or prefabricated components for sustainable stormwater solutions. Other innovations we’re exploring include using a curbless green street design, new design options that manage both public and private runoff, and green walls that manage stormwater. We’re also developing a volunteer green street maintenance program that engages the community while helping the city meet its maintenance needs.

Planter at Mississippi Commons
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

Part 2-On Friday

-Brian Phelps





Getting the Facts: Monitoring Green Infrastructure

8 01 2010

In Wednesday’s post, I mentioned the benefits of monitoring to help explain the reasons why green infrastructure facilities are being employed in their neighborhoods and specifically their effectiveness in improving water quality in our rivers and stream for which we all depend.

The City of Portland has done a great job at monitoring their green streets and other green infrastructure facilities. They provide this information on the Bureau of Environmental Services’ (BES) website. Their 2008 evaluation of their green street facilities have shown that for a 25-year storm event ( 25-yr, 6-hr) that peak flows were reduced by 80% or more. For CSO compliance events, their studies were shown to capture 60% or more of the storm volume.

It appears less has been published by the City on the pollutant removal capabilities for green streets. However, as mentioned in the article, studies conducted across the country have shown bioretention areas, the main stormwater management component of a green street, have been shown to be very effective. EPA’s fact sheet on bioretention shows the following removal rates:

  • Total Phosphorous: 70%-83%
  • Metals (Copper, Zinc, Lead): 93%-98%
  • Total Kjehldahl Nitrogen (TKN): 68%-80%
  • Total Suspended Solids: 90%
  • Organics: 90%
  • Bacteria: 90%

These number continue to be supported through researched conducted over the last decade. The concern that the accumulation of these pollutants, particularly metals will pose health risk have been unsubstantiated. A four-year study by Philip Jones (student) and Dr. Allan Davis (advisor) at the University of Maryland, showed the level of pollutants that accumulated within a bioretention cell on campus to exceed soil background levels but were far below EPA cleanup standards.

It is important to remember that currently, most conventional stormwater devices have no capacity to address pollutant removal. Portland is at the forefront in implementing green infrastructure practices and will be well positioned as Federal standards continue to be strengthened over the coming decade. More importantly, they are improving the water quality of their rivers for future citizens.

If fact, the EPA recently announced they are conducting stakeholder input in an effort to initiate a national rulemaking that would establish a comprehensive program to reduce stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment and make other regulatory improvements to strengthen its stormwater program. At a minimum the EPA intends to propose a rule to control stormwater from newly developed and redeveloped sites, and to take final action no later than November 2012.

-Brian Phelps





NIMFY: Not In My Front Yard

6 01 2010

I recently came across an article in the Portland Tribune titled “Neighbors Fear Swales Plan” and was surprised to learn that there was a group of neighbors on 44th Avenue and Seymour Street in Portland, Oregon opposed to a proposed green street near their homes. With so many great examples throughout the City, I erroneously thought all citizens welcomed the enhanced environmentally friendly streetscapes. Well as I continued to read, not everyone is pleased with them. Their concerns ranged from feeling it was not cost effective, to increasing congestion, to creating hazardous waste sites in their front yards. Based on the article, the real crux of the issue seemed to be a lack of communication. I am sure there is more to the story and I hope to interview someone from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) in the near future to learn more about their green street initiative. The situation as characterized by the article underscores how important it is to include public involvement in any project. Despite its many benefits, green infrastructure is no exception.

Continued monitoring and research is critical to the adoption and improvement of new technologies. As new stormwater techniques like green streets are employed, dispelling citizen’s fear with facts about their effectiveness and making the case they are a cost-effective techniques as compared to more conventional approaches, goes a long way for wider acceptance.

-Brian Phelps





Kansas City Stormwater Overflow Control Plan

4 12 2009

Source: Kansas City, Missouri Overflow Control Plan Overview Document

This year Kansas City embarked on a massive $2.3 billion stormwater overflow control plan to address sewer overflows throughout the city. Its inclusion of a major $28 million green infrastructure pilot project has gained a lot of attention. The project has been recognized as the largest green infrastructure project in the United States. The Marlborough Neighborhood Pilot Project, as it is called, is located in the Middle Blue River Basin, one of the four major watersheds addressed by the plan. The entire pilot project encompasses nearly 100 acres of primarily residential neighborhoods. This program is anticipated to be expanded over a larger 744 acre area that will eventually include over 25 acres of mixed green infrastructure strategies (i.e. rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavement, and green roofs) that have the capacity to sequester 3.5 million gallons of water. The green infrastructure strategies employed are designed to replace two underground tanks of similar capacity. In total the pilot project and its expansion are budgeted to cost $68 million.

Video of compiled images from Mark O’Hara’s Greenbuild Presentation about the Kansas City Plan. The video shows various Green Infrastructure Strategies recommended in the plan. Video compiled by Hawkins Partners Images provided by BNIM (Click here to see it if  video is not present)

In addition to the Marlborough Neighborhood Pilot Project, the plan also recommends the enhancement of the area’s highly acclaimed 10,000 Rain Garden Program. Over the past two years, the initiative is reported to have installed several hundred rain gardens, bioswales, and rain barrels. The purpose of the expansion it to develop an incentive program to accelerate the program’s progress and complement the public investments being made.

Wet retention basin projects have been identified as an appropriate strategy for treating stormwater downstream from six separated sewer system (SSS). The plan acknowledges that green infrastructure is beneficial and should be included where it is practical. The plan states:

“Every decision should be viewed as an opportunity to incorporate a green-solutions approach. The City has adopted an “every drop counts” philosophy, meaning it is important to reduce stormwater entering the system wherever practicable. This will be accomplished through changing the way the community develops and redevelops its sewer and stormwater infrastructure, educating citizens regarding steps they can take to reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, enabling citizens to take those steps, incorporating green infrastructure in the design of public infrastructure, and making targeted public investments in green infrastructure projects early in the Plan implementation.”

Areas identified that should be considered for green infrastructure projects include those meeting the following criteria:

  • Areas for which no or minimal conventional structural controls are proposed.
  • Areas in which widespread implementation of green solutions by the community at large offer the greatest opportunities for reducing the size and cost of conventional structural controls included in the Plan.
  • Areas for which it would be particularly desirable to further reduce the projected overflow
    activation frequency following completion of recommended controls.
  • Areas in which sewer separation is proposed but where no Water Services Department (WSD) investment in treating the separate stormwater runoff has been included in the Plan.
  • The plan’s ambitious Marlborough Neighborhood Pilot Project is very encouraging, particularly as a stand alone project. It is very significant and the City should be commended for their efforts. However based on the $2.3 billion budget established by the plan, it is evident that green infrastructure will play a supporting role. The plan was developed during the recent significant shift in the way we address stormwater management across the country over the last few years. It is not surprise to see this. What is encouraging is the magnitude of the pilot project and the extensive monitoring that will be conducted.

    The monitoring component will provide valuable data for the City and others across the country. In addition to understanding green infrastructure’s effectiveness to control Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and improving water quality, monitoring it will provide insight into conflicts with local codes and ordinance, social-economic benefits, construction techniques, associated cost, and maintenance practices.

    The plan stresses that it is an evolutionary document, referring to it as an “adaptive management” approach. The approach involves evaluation of the strategy throughout the life of the project based on their experiences and data gathered through the monitoring efforts. While green infrastructure may not be the predominant tool of choice at this point, the longer-term nature of the plan provides the opportunity to adjust its course as confidence increases in green infrastructure. The City’s plan can become more green overtime as it builds upon its successes.

    Fairly or unfairly, like many pilot projects much rests on the success of the Marlborough Neighborhood Pilot Project. Many, both locally and nationally will be watching it with great interest. Failure of such a high profile project could significantly set back the growth of green infrastructure as the stormwater management tool of choice. Therefore, it is critical it is done to the highest standards possible. The project will serve as an example for those involved in stormwater planning and design to have full confidence and understanding of the complexities of utilizing natural systems. Natural processes are complex making them more difficult to quantify. A paper prepared in 2007 by the Center for Neighborhood Technology titled “Managing Urban Stormwater with Green Infrastructure: Case Studies of Five U.S. Local Governments”, identified the lack of performance data as a barrier to green infrastructure implementation. The more research we do and data we collect the better off we will all be.

    I anticipate this will be a successful demonstration of green infrastructure. It is exciting to see another city embrace green infrastructure on such a large scale. We will all eagerly await the results and follow its realization. Construction is expected to start soon.

    -Brian Phelps





    Portland’s Green Streets

    25 11 2009

    Streetsblog San Francisco had a great post last week that reported on a recent tour of Portland’s Green Streets taken during the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Project for Transportation Reform Conference. The post includes a number of wonderful green street examples. The quality of the installations are impressive. A representative of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) was quoted as saying the green streets were necessitated as a result of the City’s need to comply with a Clean Water Act lawsuit. The cost of conventional stormwater infrastructure topped nearly $150 million. This cost encouraged the city to explore alternatives like green streets for reducing water volumes. David Elkin,the BES representative quoted in the post, estimates the solution saved the City $60 million dollars in stormwater pipe replacement. The post is worth checking out.

    -Brian Phelps





    Triple Bottom Line of Green Infrastructure

    18 11 2009

    Before and After of Green Infrastructure Improvements
    (Source:“Green Cities Clean Waters” Plan)

    In an earlier post titled “Making Green Infrastructure Common Place” we discussed the recent release of Philadelphia’s $1.6 billion dollar “Green Cities Clean Waters” Plan. Its thrust is to transform over 4,000 acres of impervious areas within the City’s Combined Sewer System to green space over the next 20 years through the use of green infrastructure strategies. This would involve converting over 34% of all existing impervious areas. Of this, the conversion will primarily be made on public property and right-of-ways. Green streets, the most widely used management tool, will comprise nearly 38% of these improvements (see graphic). The report claims this is “the largest green stormwater infrastructure program ever envisioned in this country”. While green infrastructure has been utilized and proven in many parts of the country, the sheer magnitude and commitment of the city is a radical departure from the conventional approach to stormwater management practices.

    Map of Green Street Locations
    (Source:“Green Cities Clean Waters” Plan)

    So why did Philadelphia decide to rely so heavily on green infrastructure as a means of reducing overflows in their CSO system? Quite simply it was cheaper, significantly cheaper. The plan estimates over the next 20 years the plan is to be implemented, the “triple bottom line” benefits (social, environments, economic) of the plan alone will add up to a present value of $2.2 billion dollars. The following is a breakdown of the benefits that comprise this figure.

    • Heat Stress Mortality Reduction (35%)
    • Recreation (22%)
    • Property Value Added (18%)
    • Water Quality and Habitat (14.5%)
    • Air Quality (4.6%)
    • Avoided Social Costs from Green Jobs (3.7%)
    • Energy Savings (1.0%)
    • Carbon Footprint Reduction (0.6%)
    • Reduction in Construction- Related Disruptions (0.2%)

    So instead of employing conventional underground infrastructure that is one-dimensional, and is estimated to cost $16 billion, the city has decided that implementing a multi-dimensional strategy with multiple benefits made more sense. But not only is it more desirable, it is politically easier to implement because it makes the city a more beautiful and healthy place. So if you are going to have to spend the money anyway, why not make it count.

    The shortcomings of the conventional “tanks and tunnels” approach were not only that it exceeded the EPA’s affordability standard for stormwater management (2% of median household income), but it also did not address water quality issues and could require green infrastructure tools anyway to meet these requirements. In addition, the report points out that the conventional solution isn’t aligned with the EPA’s broader goals of sustainability, reduces streams baseflow thereby damaging the resources that is designed to protect, and doesn’t offer any secondary triple bottom line benefits. Furthermore, since the conventional solution is not delivered incrementally it is not flexible and does not offer any benefits immediately.

    Green infrastructure on the other hand offered the city the opportunity to revitalize and restore the city’s streams and rivers, enhance the quality of the built environment throughout the city, improve air quality, reduce the heat island effect, and sequester carbon. While accumulating these benefits, the approach was more flexible, offered immediate benefits, and, most importantly, the cost of implementation was offset by the dollar value of the benefits. (see Volume 2: Triple Bottom Line Analysis of the plan for specifics)

    While conventional infrastructure has its place, the combination of the two can play a significant role in addressing many of the issues facing our cities. It is critical that we continue to move toward making these strategies common place. By doing so we can make our cities healthier and more beautiful for all of us to enjoy, while at the same time responsibly managing our stormwater.

    -Brian Phelps





    Opportunities

    9 11 2009

    Are words necessary?

    curb and gutter

    green street