Thursday, February 2, 2012

The challenge of storm water management: Landscape architecture offers solutions

We know where the water from our toilets, showers and dishwashers go, but do we consider where the run off from our roofs, parking lots and streets go?  In order to keep up with commercial and residential growth the City of Moscow will have to invest more money into updating sewer pipes and increasing the capacity of the waste water treatment plant to process more and more water. Simply put, the more we pave the more money we will spend as a community rerouting water and sending it on its merry way. Less water will be available to percolate through the silt loam of the Palouse into our Grand Rhonde Aquifer System. We need to rethink the way we approach challenges such as these and begin to think of ways to deal with more then one issue at a time. Oftentimes these approaches are cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing. Change can be scary and people feel more comfortable with what they know works rather then considering and investigating new ideas that appear too simple or less engineered. An approach to waste water management on the Palouse should take into consideration the draining of our aquifer, the cost of future waste water plant upgrades and the economic benefits to the City that more plantings and well designed places would afford. A landscape architect can offer all of these benefits while mitigating the real challenges of storm water run-off that engineering is often looked at to solve.

Bio-swales offer a relatively simple solution to the challenge of increasing run-off from our city's paved surfaces. A well designed bio-swale will decrease the volume of water that heads to the waste water treatment plant, increase the percolation of water into the aquifer, provide habitat for insects and birds, decrease the amount of contamination flowing into Paradise Creek and Hog Creek, all while providing a more aesthetically pleasing environment for City residents. This is efficiency at its best.

Green roofs offer more opportunities for onsite storm water mitigation and also offers energy savings to the building's residents. According to the American Society of Landscape Architecture's building in Washington DC has compiled data on the performance of their green roof.

Green Roof Performance Data
  • Roof produced a 10 percent decrease in building energy use over the winter months.
  • The temperature on the green roof on the hottest summer days can be as much as 43.5 degrees cooler than conventional roofs on neighboring buildings.
  • During a 10–month monitoring period, ASLA’s green roof prevented 27,500 gallons of stormwater — nearly 78 percent of all precipitation hitting the roof — from flowing into D.C.’s overburdened sewer and stormwater system.
  • Water quality testing shows that the water runoff contains fewer pollutants than typical water runoff.  Most significantly, the roof is reducing the amount of nitrogen entering the watershed.  
  • Except during repeated heavy rains, the roof only creates runoff during rainfalls of more than one inch.

 A landscape architect can offer municipalities the opportunity to deal with storm water run-off onsite, reducing the costs of installing miles of pipe, repairing these pipes later down the road and upgrading expensive waste water treatment plants. Aside from all of these practical reasons residents will have the benefit of living in a beautiful community...which may be the best reason of all. Stay tuned for a future blog on the benefits of nature to human health and happiness.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sacred Places

Lake Cavanaugh, (

Lazy summer days. Sunburns. Croaking frogs. Stars. Wind. Reflection. The sound of lapping water. The smell of lake, plants, slowly rotting wood...a Pacific Northwest smell. Sights, sounds, smells...these are the things that make up the memory of sacred places. Growing up I spent many a hot August afternoon fishing, looking past the glare of the water into the quiet underwater world of bass.  Sometimes hours would be wiled away rocking on the porch, eating, laughing with friends and neighbors, swatting persistent horseflies until we were driven off the porch and into the safety of the cold blue lake. At night, I sat next to a crackling fire, watching bats swoop and dip in their hunt for insects. This is  my sacred place. I haven't had a chance to visit as often as I would like since moving away from home. But these memories of my sacred place follow me wherever I go.  Where is your sacred place?