If the public and politicians don’t like it, green stormwater infrastructure won’t stick. The benefits of GSI are long: Reducing stormwater volumes that flow into hard, gray infrastructure; removing pollutants; providing co-benefits like wildlife habitat; and potentially providing beautification. But a lot of questions remain: Will a more natural approach to managing stormwater work? How do you finance GSI? And what about maintenance?
Using an adaptive management process, where research on live projects can inform policy and action could be a way to help guide GSI. That was the thinking behind a Cleveland, Ohio, collaborative of state and federal government, NGOs and residents who came together working as individual organizations while leveraging the pursuit of adaptive management to understand GSI.
Cleveland’s declining population is shrinking their tax base, like many Midwestern municipalities. At one time, the city was called the “epicenter” of U.S. foreclosures. GSI, used in conjunction with gray infrastructure, is one way to help municipalities meet their mandated regulatory requirements at a lower cost than going with gray infrastructure alone. GSI implementation in Cleveland on vacant lands is expected to deliver a range of co-benefits, from $810,000 in annual direct and indirect economic benefits to recreation amenities, community improvement and climate change mitigation among others.
In “A tale of two rain gardens: Barriers and bridges to adaptive management of urban stormwater in Cleveland, Ohio” in the Journal of Environmental Management, the authors write a story of political reality, and the give and take of inclusive governance.
Three primary entities joined forces to collaborate: the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, EPA and Slavic Village Development. Originally conceived by environmental researchers as a project to test the effectiveness of using decentralized GSI, parcels were identified for being the best land for stormwater management. However, those parcels were determined to be more desirable for high-density urban infill development. And some partners in the project envisioned aesthetically pleasing neighborhood rain garden amenities, not rain gardens placed on parcels of land where soils allowed the greatest functionality.
One type of rain garden installation was led by the Sewer District and was designed on a neighborhood scale to be aesthetically pleasing. Another was installed on less expensive land with detention depressions and modest vegetation.
“The contrast of these two installations as outcomes in many ways illustrates the power of institutional and organizational challenges to changing approaches to stormwater governance,” the authors write.
Formidable barriers to applying adaptive management include the lack of a single entity responsible for stormwater management. While the Sewer District is responsible for CSOs, it has no authority over runoff that drives CSOs. Only the EPA Consent Decree tied the Sewer District to GSI. For the Sewer District, the drivers became meeting mandatory requirements within the necessary timeframe. Cultural differences between interacting agencies and partners, and differences in time frames for achieving goals also created difficulties for using adaptive management.
Public perception of a naturally managed landscape impacts wildlife habitat. In this project, city crews weed-whacked vegetation in the rain gardens on multiple occasions because they believed the vegetation was overgrown.
“The poorly defined economic benefits of GI for both stormwater mitigation and associated co-benefits cannot compete with traditional land development projects as permanent end use. Until the performance and value can be outlined and summarized in more traditional economic terms and space for GI is found within established zoning and land use functions, the consideration of GI will continue to be challenged by barriers that are largely tied to urban governance,” the authors conclude.
The project also studied multi-functionality of the GSI — for instance, habitat. That research is not yet published.
A tale of two rain gardens: Barriers and bridges to adaptive management of urban stormwater in Cleveland, OH by Brian C. Chaffin, William D. Shuster, Ahjond S. Garmestani, Brooke Furio, Sandra L. Albro, Mary Gardiner, MaLisa Spring and Olivia Odom Green in the Journal of Environmental Management. An article PDF.
December 15, 2016 NewTerrain.