Interview with Portland BES Part 3 of 3

8 02 2010

Mt. Tabor Middle School Rain Garden
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

The following is the third and final 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): When it comes to new construction or public projects, it is much easier to require and/or encourage the use of green infrastructure best management practices. Existing development has proven to be much harder, what strategies has the City used to encourage existing developments to retrofit their properties to include green infrastructure and reduce/cleanse stormwater runoff?

Ms. Emily Hauth:

  • Downspout Disconnection Program (1995- present) – Disconnecting downspouts from the sewer system allows roof water to drain to lawns and gardens. Downspouts on many homes are connected directly to the combined sewer system and disconnecting them keeps clean stormwater runoff out of the combined sewer system, which reduces CSO volume. Over 56,000 downspouts have been disconnected since the program began 15 years ago
  • Community Watershed Stewardship Program (1995-present) – provides grants of up to $10,000 to schools, churches, businesses and other community organizations for projects that connect people with watersheds and protect and enhance watershed health.
  • Willamette Stormwater Control Program (2001-2003) – The city offered financial grants and technical support for several projects to retrofit existing commercial properties served by the combined sewer. This was to research the feasibility, cost and performance of commercial sustainable stormwater approaches. The city distributed about $350,000 to 11 projects.
  • Innovative Wet Weather Program (2002-) – promotes stormwater management projects that contribute to healthy Portland watersheds. Between 2002 and 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the city $2.6 million to fund over 25 innovative public and private projects throughout the city that demonstrate sustainable, low-impact stormwater management solutions.
  • Clean River Rewards (2006-present) – a stormwater utility discount program for private property owners who manage stormwater on their property. They can receive a discount of up to 100% of their on-site stormwater management charge.
  • Grey to Green Program (2008-) – The city offers incentives of up to $5 per square foot to add new ecoroofs. The city also offers treebates to encourage people to plant eligible yard trees. The treebate is a credit on the recipient’s sewer bill of up to $40 per tree ($50 for native species).
  • Private Property Retrofit Program (2009-) – The Tabor to the River Program offers design assistance and construction dollars for on-site stormwater management on targeted private properties. The program is available only in areas where stormwater retrofits will allow the city to avoid more costly sewer replacement projects. The city will install rain gardens, stormwater planters, swales or ecoroofs on sites that meet program criteria at no cost to the property owner. Property owners who want to install a facility themselves could qualify to receive financial incentives and technical assistance.
  • WorkingGreenPortland.com (2009-) – includes information on private property stormwater management technique, calculators to determine impacts for individual properties, and links to stormwater retrofit professionals and other resources.
  • Ecoroof Floor Area Ratio Bonus – Development proposals in the central city that include a green roof, can receive bonus floor area.
  • Education and Outreach – Numerous efforts to engage communities and increase public understanding and acceptance are critical to the success of all city programs.
  • Technical Assistance – the city offers technical assistance to professionals and property owners for implementation of sustainable stormwater management approaches.

12th Avenue Green Street
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

GrID: What do you see as the future of green infrastructure?

Ms. Hauth: I would say future green infrastructure in our urban environment will include:

  • Green connectors – streets that connect parks and open space, schools, and commercial areas to neighborhoods; encourage walking and biking by providing enhanced and safer pedestrian and/or bicycle routes; and provide environmental benefits.
  • Green refuges within our urban environment – reclaiming unused spaces or derelict sites within our cities for stormwater management and passive recreation.
  • Ecodistricts – integrated neighborhoods that capture, manage, and reuse a majority of energy, water, and waste on site; offer a range of transportation options; provide a rich diversity of habitat and open space; and enhance community engagement and well-being.
  • Volunteer Green Street Maintenance Program – engaging community members to help in the care and maintenance of green streets.
  • Possible onsite stormwater management discount to property owners for adjacent public green streets.
  • Cost benefit analysis of the ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure in meeting the triple bottom line.

For more information visit our wesbite

If you missed the first parts of the interview, you can find them here.

Part 1

Part 2

-Brian Phelps





Interview with Portland BES Part 2 of 3

5 02 2010

Green Street Curb Extension at SE 12th and Clay
(Gateway to the Clay Street green connector)
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

The following is the second 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. She would like to credit Tim Kurtz, engineer at BES with the following responses.

Green Infrastructure Digest (GrID): What role do green streets play in the City’s overall stormwater management strategy, particularly their role in addressing stormwater overflows in your CSO districts as compared to the big pipe projects (i.e. Columbia Slough Big Pipe, East Side Big Pipe, West Side Big Pipe)? What lessons have you learned over the course of implementing your green streets projects?

Mr. Tim Kurtz: Our CSO control program began in 1991. We are completing construction of our third large CSO tunnel to help us complete the program by the mandated deadline of 2011. But several projects to reduce CSO volume by removing stormwater from the combined sewer system are very important to the CSO control effort. For example, we have disconnected thousands of downspouts from the combined sewer system since 1995. It’s a relatively low-cost CSO solution but it’s a major part of our green infrastructure. Downspout disconnections remove more than 1.2-billion gallons of stormwater annually from the combined sewer system.

Green streets will play an important role in ensuring that our new CSO tunnels remain under capacity as new growth and development increase stormwater volume in the future.

Green streets also help alleviate basement flooding from sewer backups in neighborhoods with combined sewers; they are a good alternative to sumps and sedimentation manholes, and they are an important tool in meeting water quality requirements in Portland’s urban streams.

We use Green Streets and other stormwater management facilities to meet different needs such as improved water quality, flow control, and complete infiltration. We’ve learned that soils can be a determining factor in how our facilities are constructed to meet our different goals. On Portland’s east side, soils typically meet our infiltration rates (>= 2 “per hour) but often require underground rock storage to meet complete disposal goals. On the city’s west side, where soils are much tighter, we typically line facilities to meet water quality goals.

Monitoring green street function has been important in proving that they work and that green infrastructure makes good fiscal sense. In the 2.5 square mile Tabor to the River Program area, green streets save us money. The original estimate using traditional grey infrastructure was $144 million in today’s dollars. Two years later, the program was re-designed with a combination of grey and green infrastructure. The current estimate for this integrated approach is $81 million. Through monitoring we’ve also evaluated and modified design components to improve function. We’ve realized economies of scale with larger project areas. We’ve also created guidelines for green street construction practices, recognizing that incorrect soil types and compacted soils can hinder green street function

GrID: With the recent Portland Tribune article regarding the 44th Avenue and Seymour Street Green Street Project, what is your process for implementing a green street project? To what extent do you involve the public in the design/location of the facilities?

Mr. Kurtz: The outreach process for green street implementation always includes property owners affected by a green street facility. With all projects, we meet with adjacent property owners, attend neighborhood and business association meetings, offer presentations to groups, distribute informational publications and host green street tours.

  • At 30% design, the city sends information to adjacent residents for small projects or all project area residents for larger projects.
  • At 90% design, the city mails notification to all project area residents of upcoming construction.
  • Depending on project needs and priority, there may be flexibility in facility type and location. But the city determines the final design to meet system needs.
  • Adjacent property owners can choose from a set of planting templates, with the opportunity for some customization.

The public has responded positively to this hands-on approach to explain the benefits and cost savings of green streets. More than 100 citizens have called to ask the city to install a green street facility next to their homes. Of course, not all property owners are supportive, as is the case along SW 44th and Seymour. We view this public process also as an opportunity to receive feedback, both negative and positive, and work to address the issues.

Back to Part 1

Part 3-Monday

Flow Test Monitoring of Green Street in Portland
Source: City of Portland, Environmental Services ©2009

-Brian Phelps





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





Trees and Their Impact on Economic Development

1 02 2010

Hill Center Green Hills, Nashville, TN

A discussion was started on the ASLA LinkedIn group last week regarding street trees’ impact on retail districts. The discussion centered on Professor Kathleen Wolf’’s research. Professor Wolf is a Research Social Scientist in the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources Department. She has been at the forefront of the research being conducted in this area. Like the landscape architect who started the conversation, I have also been wondering if anyone has taken her research a step further. Professor Wolf’s research relies on user surveys that include both visual preference surveys and traditional questionnaires that ask respondents to rate environments and/or their willingness to pay more for a product.

In an Arborist News article published last year, Dr. Wolf reported on the work she has been doing. In the article, she reports that across all categories, places rated steadily higher with the increased presence of trees. Larger trees rated higher than smaller trees. Her surveys that looked at product pricing within districts with trees indicated that customers are willing to pay 9 percent more in smaller cities and 12 percent more in larger cities.

In her response to an emailed question posted on LinkedIn, she explains that she does not suggest that trees are the panacea for other business challenges and that there is not a simple casual link between having trees and increased revenues. Street trees and streetscapes are positive reinforcement of the “atmospherics” that market researchers consider to have influence on consumer’s buying habits.

I agree that street trees and streetscapes do add a considerable amount to the ambiance and character of place that people enjoy. Anecdotally, I think most people can understand the impact trees have on how we feel in a space/district. However, since retail success can be very sensitive to location and surrounding demographics, it can be difficult to make a clear connection between retail sales and trees. I hope that research continues to make the case, and like the sophisticated interior research done by market researchers, we can continue to increase our understanding of this relationship.

The article in Arborist News also offered some guidelines on street trees in retail districts such as the proper tree species, size, maintenance, and providing signage that contrasts with the trees’ foliage. I would add that tree placement along the street and their relationships to the doors, windows, and dividing walls between businesses are also important to consider.

The reports on Professor Wolf’s website Human Dimensions of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening are worth checking out.

-Brian Phelps





Toronto’s Green Roof Requirements Take Effect Monday

29 01 2010

Downtown Toronto
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com/benedek

On Monday, Toronto’s ambitious
green roof standards will go into effect. Any roof of a building over 2,000m2 will be required to include a green roof for a portion of the building. High-rise tower roofs that are 750m2 or less are exempt. The following is the breakdown of the required percentages of the roof area based on its size:

  • 2,000m2(21,528sf*) to 4,999m2 (53,809sf*) = 20%
  • 5,000m2 (53,810sf*) to 9,999m2 (107,629sf*) = 30%
  • 10,000m2 (107,630sf*) to 14,999m2 (161,449sf*) = 40%
  • 15,000m2 (161,450sf*) to 19,999m2(215,269sf*) = 50%
  • 20,000m2(215,270sf*) or greater = 60%

*square footage calculations are approximate

These standards will initially cover all building types with the exception of industrial. Industrial building requirements will take effect in 2011. To put these standards into context, the 20% requirements would include a typical modern office building to a medium size neighborhood grocery to a smaller big box store. Most stand alone restaurants and smaller residential projects would likely not meet the threshold to require a green roof. The other requirement levels would cover larger big box and larger grocery stores, significant retail centers, and industrial/warehouse facilities.

Interestingly, the available roof area that is used to calculate the requirements excludes areas designated for renewable energy, private terraces, and residential amenity areas (to a maximum of 2m2/21sf per unit).

The City’s eco-roof incentives program that provides $50/per m2 up to a maximum of $100,000 is still in place. According to their website, applications are being accepted starting March 1st. The deadline is April 1st. Award projects will be decided on April 16th.

This initiative is being launched in conjunction with the City’s new Green Standards Program. It reminds me of the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED checklist. The program includes three categories, each having their own but similar requirements. The categories include low-rise non-residential, low-rise residential, and mid-high Rise (any use).

Additionally, the new standards do encourage green infrastructure requirements such as:

  • Retain stormwater on-site to the same level of annual volume of overland runoff allowable under pre-development conditions and retain at least the first 5 mm from each rainfall through rainwater reuse, onsite infiltration, and evapo-transpiration or ensure that the maximum allowable annual runoff volume from the development site is no more than 50% of the total average annual rainfall depth
  • Remove 80% of total suspended solids (TSS) on an annual loading basis from all runoff leaving the site based on the post- development level of imperviousness. Control amount of E. Coli directly entering Lake Ontario and waterfront areas as identified in the Wet Weather Flow Management Guidelines

Due to the legal ramifications of a continually evolving third-party system like LEED, we will likely see more city -specific green building programs being developed over the coming decade as cities seek to separate themselves and focus on the particular aspects of sustainable design that have the largest impact in their community.

You can find all of the standards on the City’s website here.

-Brian Phelps





Power of Plants: Phytoremediation in Action

25 01 2010

photo credit: istockphoto.com/mtr

Over the last decade, I have been fascinated with the remediation of contaminants using plants and related biological processes. I was first introduced to the concept by a story on NPR about the use of poplar trees to remediate groundwater contamination. The Corp of Engineers has been involved in successfully implementing and researching these techniques for some time now.

This weekend I came across an audio recording of a lecture by Eli Cohen, the director of Ayala Water and Ecology, on the Freshkills Park Blog. AW&E is an engineering firm based in Moshav Zippori, Israel. Their organization has been involved in a number of impressive phytoremediation projects. The lecture including questions and answers is just over an hour. The link on the Freshkills Park Blog to the pdf of his slides is broken, but I was able to find it here. I recommend using it to follow along.

The presentation only touches the surface of the phytoremediation capabilities of the plants and processes in AW&E’s projects and leaves you wanting to know more. Despite this, the implementation of the concepts provides a great opportunity to see the potential of this strategy to address serious contamination issues. Every day green infrastructure projects are filtering and remediating stormwater runoff. It is interesting to see similar concepts being used to tackle industrial clean up and other difficult environmental problems.

-Brian Phelps





A Vision: Green Roofs in Birmingham

20 01 2010

Downtown Birmingham, AL with Green Roofs
Rendering by: Hawkins Partners, Aerial from Live Local Maps (Now Bing)

A few years ago, I put this illustration together for a green roof presentation to the Birmingham branch of the Alabama Chapter of the USGBC. Images like this provide a compelling illustration of what the city could look like if every building added a green roof.

-Brian Phelps





Invasive Species in the News

15 01 2010

When we plan and design for projects, within our trade, we try to use native species whenever possible. This is especially important when designing green infrastructure projects that tie so closely to our natural resources, in particular our waterways. Oftentimes people wonder why this is so important and how can it really affect them anyway? Whether it’s plant materials or animals, all invasive species are eventually extremely damaging to our native ecosystems. And also extremely costly; “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity says the spread of invasives costs 1.4 trillion dollars a year globally in damages and control measures. The U.S. alone loses 138 billion dollars a year in the fight.”

Image from ‘The Dirt’ website.

In ASLA’s blog ‘The Dirt’, a recent posts highlights the efforts for the State of Michigan to protect Lake Michigan and the entire Great Lakes Region from the Asian Carp. Like all invasive species these fish take over an ecosystem by consuming resources that would otherwise be used by the native species. Michigan is suing the State of Illinois in order that they shut down the waterways leading into Lake Michigan. According to the New York Times article Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana are all in support. This came to light due to recent evidence of the carp within 6 miles of Lake Michigan in the Chicago area waterway system that links the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. And while the City of Chicago realizes that the carp overtaking Lake Michigan would be devastating they are wrestling with their own economic concerns over what closing the waterways would really mean. There is more detailed information in ‘The Dirt’ post and the New York Times Article.

Another item in the light recently is the efforts of the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum to gather native seeds from around the Midwest. “Scientists from the botanic garden are sending teams out across the Midwest and West to the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin to collect seeds from different populations of 1,500 prairie species by 2010, and from 3,000 species by 2020. The goal is to preserve the species and, depending on changes in climate, perhaps even help species that generally grow near one another to migrate to a new range.” The idea is to catalogue, store and preserve native plants in the event that climate change or invasive species may require the migration of native plant materials to other areas. There is still much debate about the project and more detailed information can be found in the New York Times article.

These are just two examples in a long list of invasive species problems that continue to threaten the ecosystems of the US. Not only do invasives disrupt plants, animals and other natural resources, but as noted above they also can have huge negative economic impacts. This coming on the tails of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, (January 10-14th), to learn more visit the National Invasive Species Information Center’s website.

– Sara Putney





Getting More: Multi-Functioning Facilities

13 01 2010

When it comes to adding more park space, communities are increasingly looking at getting more bang for their buck. Budgets are tight and cities are having to pool their resources from a variety of sources to get projects built. Two recent projects, one that is under construction in Los Angeles and another just announced in New York City, seek to create a park and nature area for their citizens while also constructing wetlands to address stormwater management issues within the immediate neighborhood and the community at-large.

The first is the South Los Angeles Wetland Park. The 9-acre park under construction five miles south of downtown Los Angeles on a former transit maintenance facility that is nearly 100% paved. The City recognized that more recreational open space was needed in the area while also needing to improve the quality of the stormwater runoff that ultimately was polluting the city’s beaches. The park transforms the site into a extensive wetland that comprises most of the park. It includes a series of trails, an observation area, and public gathering areas.

The park is estimated to cost $24 million. The funding was cobbled together from a variety of sources, including money generated from Proposition O. Proposition O passes in 2004, authorized the city to issue up to $500 million in bonds for cleaning up polluted storm water and bacteria in the City’s rivers, lakes, beaches and ocean. Stormwater Magazine has a thorough article about the genesis of the park and its design. Also, more detailed information can be found on Proposition O’s website.

South Los Angeles Wetland Park Site Prior to Construction
Source: Google Map

South Los Angeles Wetland Park Site Plan
Source: Proposition O Website

The second improvement is the Paerdegat Basin Restoration Project in New York City. The Department of Environmental Protection recently announced the $15 million project. It is anticipated to be completed by 2012. The park will restore 38 acres of wetlands and natural grassland areas adjacent to the $357 million Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) abatement project. Five acres will be dedicated as a Ecology Park that will be accessible by the public and offer educational opportunities. Funding for the project is provided by Clean Water State Revolving Funds. The combined projects are designed to store 50 million gallons of CSO during a storm event. (Press Release fro DEP)

Both of these projects serve as examples of how various communities’ goals can be combined and met by a single green infrastructure investment. As cities approach future planning and implementation efforts, they should look beyond the immediate objectives of the project and assess how the project might serve to address other needs that have been identified in the community.

-Brian Phelps





The Green Vs. Standard Showdown

11 01 2010

We do a lot of talking about green and trying to convince clients to do it. And then we wait for the question that will eventually come…….. so what’s the premium that I have to pay for that?

Not too long ago we had a client that took a big step. They commissioned us to have full schematic plans developed for their hospital site in North Carolina with both alternatives: green and conventional. The parameters, such as site area and number of parking spaces required, were the same. The conventional design used curb and gutter, catch basins, and underground piping to carry the water to detention ponds and/or the storm sewer system. The “green” alternative used planted bioswales throughout the parking lot, curb stops at some parking spaces to allow for surface drainage into bioswales and a water collection system to divert the roof water into a channeled weir as an amenity which leads to the on-site pond. The general contractor priced both alternatives while we held our breath………… the green alternative checked in right at 3% less than the conventional plan for the overall site improvements.

Johnston Memorial "green" site plan

You might say that a 3% cost savings is not significant, but the green plan has the added advantage of making the site more aesthetically beautiful while meeting the stormwater needs. The conventional plan priced ordinance-required landscape only while the “green” plan provided considerably more landscaping (5x the ordinance plan) to densely plant the bioswales for water quality purposes while reducing sod and irrigation. The additional benefits of this solution, beyond water quality and allowing for infiltration and recharge of the insitu soils, were providing wildlife habitat, reduction of life cycle costs through reduced maintenance and water cost for irrigation and a “free” water feature through the roof collection system diverted through a structured weir. Studies done by Texas A&M also show that views of landscape and natural systems also benefit the healing process, not to mention the mental health of the staff and visitors to the facility. An intangible that was also a factor was the speed with which the green alternative made it through the planning process and permitting.

At Johnston Memorial Hospital in Clayton, NC, the total site area was approximately 75 acres. For the” green” plan, over 39,100 sf of the parking lot was designed as bioswales giving an impervious to pervious ratio of 4.5:1 (176,000 sf: 39,100 sf). The bioswales were planted with almost entirely native plant material, which are well adapted for this situation. Plants like clethra, wax myrtle and itea formed a basis for the woody shrubs and native grasses and reeds like panicum, river oats and juncus added to the mix. Native perennials like aster, black-eyed susan and joe-pye weed add seasonal color without the replanting and maintenance cost of annuals.

We appreciated having a client go through this exercise of comparison, and we love being able to provide a client with a solution that saves them money and is more sustainable for the environment at the same time.

-Kim Hawkins