Rethinking Storm Water Management

A stretch of asphalt on the UW-Madison campus after a rain; permeable asphalt on the left, typical asphalt on the right. (By Tristan Porto, CC)

UVa, the city and the county are all rethinking how they get rid of runoff, Tasha Kates writes in the Progress. Every time a new house is built, a new sidewalk is built, or a new chunk of land is paved, that many square feet of grasses, trees, and soil cease to exist to absorb rain. So it all runs along the man-man ground cover, from which it has to be trapped, channeled, and ultimately dumped somewhere. It’s an expensive process that’s bad news, environmentally-speaking.

That old and busted process is being replaced with the new hotness: letting storm water sink stay where it falls. Over a thousand feet of Meadow Creek, long channelled through underground piping, is now a stream again, where water can run into. The JPJ has a plant-filled flood plain to slow down and absorb runoff. The city and the county have plant-covered roofs, which absorb rainfall. Next year the Nature Conservancy will improve over a mile of Meadow Creek along Greenbrier Park, once again allowing the creek to overflow into the adjacent floodplain. And Albemarle is exploring using pervious paving.

24 thoughts on “Rethinking Storm Water Management”

  1. There has even been talk of a tax break for homeowners using pervious paving (and it has already been authorized by the state). One of the hurdles here is that pervious paving doesn’t work so well over compacted clay…

    So, an equally important initiative is to encourage/require developers to replace topsoil when they develop and/or ammend the top layer of soil. The status quo is that developers strip off all the topsoil leaving subsoil, and then plant grass. (Every wonder why your soil is so bad? Now you know!) There has been some research that shows that just amending or keeping topsoil has a pretty big impact on stormwater runoff.

    Also, the stream daylighting you mention is a great project. After seeing the results at the Dell, it’s hard to believe that we’d ever allow people to bury streams in the first place.

  2. We’ve had a permeable driveway for years, its called ‘gravel’.

    Actually its crushed stone and works great. Most people don’t want that for roads but permeable paving is a great idea when building or rebuilding any roads. At the very least, the drainage should be to a local spot tosink in and not to a storm sewer system.

    How about using a browner pavement too to cut down on the heat absorption in the summer?

  3. jmcnamera, Good points.

    Speaking of gravel and stormwater, it is ironic that we’re encouraging permeable paving for driveways but yet there is and initiative to pave most of the gravel roads in the county including ones frequently used by runners and cyclists. In a time when transporation budgets are incredibly low, it seems bizzare to me that we’d go out of our way to pave a road like Walnut Level, which will undoubtably create a dangerous situation for the people with disabilites on that road. Likewise, paving Decca or Dick Woods will remove some of the only safe places one can run in the county without fears of being run over.

    In my opinion, the pressure to pave comes from developers who want to increase the marketability of rural areas, and from recent transplants from urban areas that after moving there decide that they didn’t really want it that rural after all.

  4. “After seeing the results at the Dell, it’s hard to believe that we’d ever allow people to bury streams in the first place.” I’ve read that the new Ragged Mtn reservoir project will flood streams also. That certainly can’t be healthy for the stream.

  5. I have heard from some that to meander the stream will initially look like a bomb got dropped on Meadowcreek and 100’s of trees and thousands of plants ( some rare) will be killed. Is this really a good idea? I was also told the area will be a mess for as much as 10 years. Do the neighbors and trail users realize this?

    Where is the money coming to do this and wouldn’t that money be better spent to create riparian buffers?

  6. I’d be a little surprised to find that any rare plants are found along Meadow Creek or, if they are, that they’d be killed, rather than relocated. Hundreds of trees is rather a small number, as is thousands of plants. (You can find thousands of plants in just a few square meters of land. My tiny tomato bed alone has hundreds of plants, once one includes the weeds.) Also, size matters: there are tens of thousands of trees on my land, but 90% of them are less than two inches in diameter, and simply aren’t comparable to most people’s idea of a “tree”—a mature, 12” wide, leaf-covered tree that reaches into the canopy. There’s really nothing about this that sounds bad.

  7. I know a lot of people can’t wait until they cut down those 54,000 trees around the Ragged Mtn reservoir.

  8. The purpose of cutting down those trees is to serve a human need—more water. The purpose of (ostensibly) cutting down trees along Meadow Creek is to serve a natural need—allowing Meadow Creek to be exposed to the light of day, restoring the native ecosystem.

  9. How can you restore an ecosystem when ecosystems change all of the time? Since there are plenty of underground streams why is it important to bring one back to light?
    BTW, I did find the PDF on the area’s farming endeavors full of interesting data. Thanks.

  10. “The purpose of cutting down those trees is to serve a human need-more water.”

    Waldo would you agree that Ragged Mt is a mature forest that has trees over 100 years old and if there is a cheaper, less environmentally damaging way to get the same amount of water this community should look into it?

  11. How can you restore an ecosystem when ecosystems change all of the time? Since there are plenty of underground streams why is it important to bring one back to light?

    Let’s try those questions in a couple of different frames:

    How can you restore Monticello when buildings change all of the time? Since there are plenty of modernized buildings why is it important to bring one back to its historical norm?

    How can you restore the face of a burn victim when faces change all of the time? Since there are plenty of deformed people why is it important to bring one back to normal?

    You’re asking questions perhaps better suited for a Jamesian philosopher

  12. Waldo would you agree that Ragged Mt is a mature forest that has trees over 100 years old and if there is a cheaper, less environmentally damaging way to get the same amount of water this community should look into it?

    Whether I agree or not is irrelevant. I’m simply explaining that the motivations for these two losses of trees are quite separate.

  13. I would like to see our officials seek a second opinion before deciding to wreck havoc on Meadowcreek.

  14. Water Lover, Waldo and others,

    I’ve perhaps got a unique perspective on this since I helped TNC identify the rare plants (and yes, there definitely are some) that occur along the meadowcreek. TNC consulted with me specifically so that they could make sure that they didn’t cause more harm than good during this restoration.

    Sure, I suppose it’s possible that even now that they know what’s there they might wreck it anyway, but somehow I have more faith than that; otherwise, why would they waste my time with an inventory?

    The description of it looking like a bomb was dropped on it is probably true. It will initially be radically altered, but I think sometimes that is what severely impaired systems need sometimes in order to start the healing process. Chemotherapy isn’t a while lot of fun either, but if you need it, then it is worth it. After all, if we just do nothing then we will lose all the rare plants anyway, Besides, RTF has probably done more to put those plants at risk than the restoration will (but that’s another story).

    I do have some contacts at TNC if you’d like more specific information on what they are doing to ensure that the existing habit is not only preserved but improved in the process. I’m also really glad that other citizens have noticed the situation and are concerned. it means that finally people are taking note of our biological assets and working to preserve them.

    Frankly, I think an issue of far greater concern is that the Quarry owned by Charlie Hurt proposed for fill from dredging harbors many rare species, many located no where else in the county and at least one ranked S1, or “critically imperiled”. Last I heard, he was considering restarting operations there, and I can’t help but wonder if he plans to preemtively remove any rare species so they don’t interfere with his bidding prospects. That would be ironic to say the least, especially with so many in the local environmental movement championing dredging…

    In all these things it is my opinion that we should follow the medical model and seek to “do no harm”, even when radical intervention is necessary.

  15. Lonnie, it’s really a great shame that TNC did not use your logic when devising the Ragged Mtn proposal. There’s an existing inventory or valuable flora and fauna on that site. TNC relies upon people’s trusting them to do what’s environmentally wise while they are probably carrying out the policies of their big dollar sponsors.
    I do not endow trust in people who have proven to me that they don’t deserve it.
    The plants and wildlife (listed: Ragged Mountain natural area inventory&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us) at Ragged Mtn may or may not be endangered but the ICF, city and county valued it enough to designate it as a natural area and it makes absolutely no sense for TNC to recommend destroying it. Those 340 acres that TNC is bringing to the table are already natural and are not replacing anything.

  16. Lonnie do you know for a fact that the quarry has many rare species and do you know how many rare species are at Ragged Mountain? From what I’ve been told no on the ground environmental survey of Ragged Mt. Natural Area was done before deciding to flood it. Wouldn’t you agree this should have been done first.

    Do you know how many rare species or trees will be destroyed by the 9.5 mile uphill pipeline connecting the South Fork to the new Ragged Mt. Reservoir which cannot fill itself

    Do you know how many rare species will be destroyed by the massive road work at Reservoir Rd. which is now a beautiful wilderness road and will have to under-go a huge amount of earth moving to accommodate the heavy dam building equipment

    Do you really believe that destroying 180 acres of a Natural Area and building an entirely new pipeline with many stream crossings is less environmentally damaging than dredging? Besides Dr. Hurt’s quarry is not the only location for dredged material.

    The Airport needs 40million dollars of fill

    I believe if RWSA and the Airport do not investigate this logical way to increase our water supply and build the runway extension we will have all suffered a massive FAILURE OF IMAGINATION and complete financial boondoggle.

  17. Lonnie, since Dr. Hurt’s property is private property and he could at any time re-start his quarry or develop the property I hope you and others who are aware of these rare plants will work with him to re-locate them if they are in danger

  18. Lonnie, You seem like a sensible guy and environmentally knowledgeable. Do you think the 9.5 mile up-hill pipeline to connect the two reservoirs is a good idea?

  19. Water lover, yes, I do have a pretty good idea of the species that will be impacted, but I’ve advocated (on this blog) that studies be done on both sides to determine what will be impacted both at the reservior and the fill sites before we make irresponsible assumptions. Too often, we simply count the acreage or number of trees affected and assume that the solution that affects the least amount of space is the most environmentally friendly. What I’ve proposed is that biodiversity be factored into the equation before we make any irreversable decisions. I’m not saying that I’m against dredging, but I am saying that this is an important element of the discussion that has been inadequately addressed thus far.

    Also, Charlie Hurt has been made aware of the situation (otherwise I wouldn’t make it public on this blog) and the offer has been made to help propagate/relocate/mitigate the species that would be affected. It is his property, so if he wishes to kill them all, then he could certainly do that and be well within his rights under the law (plants have no protection under the ESA from landowners). Of course we’ve got a really good idea of what occurs there, and if they happen to “disappear” then I certainly hope that it will impact any future bids or agreements the county and city consider making with him in the future. Besides, increasingly green credentials are important for developers, and he could score some points by doing the right thing here.

    Betty, as for the pipeline, it it honestly my issue one way or another. My concern is that they evaluate all options and do the research to determine impacts either way. I general though, my opinion on water supply issues in general is that too often they amount to forcing existing residents to subsidize irresponsible development. In nature, when there isn’t enough water it limits populations. Somehow people tend to think we’re above that, and so tend to squeeze the last drop of water out at the expense of every other living thing. At some point I think reasonable limits have to be established, and that developers need to pay their fair share of infrastructure costs.

  20. “My concern is that they evaluate all options and do the research…” It appears that none of the decision-makers have the same concerns. What a disaster in leadership is at the helm of both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. What a mega-disaster Sally Thomsa is as chairwoman of the task force.

  21. Serving as a BOS, City Councilor, or any local position is a thankless and tiresome task. I think Sally does the best she can, and I’ve found her rather receptive to constructive suggestions and a good ally on certain conservation issues. For example, she’s been one of the few so far do anything towards finding a solution to the Hurt quarry situation. I can’t speak to her effectiveness on the task force either way, but can say that her job is harder than it may appear.

  22. Lonnie, that’s the hallmark of a real politician, get votes by providing a few scraps from the table, knowing that their new-found friends will be so grateful for what they’ve gotten they’ll ignore the rest. So, it’s not a thankless job, every time a politician walks down the street, someone comes up and thanks him for something.
    Take council for example. Every year council awards a ton of non-governmental agencies little pots of money under the budget title of “Healthy Communities.” These agencies get money, even if the staff recommended that they do not get their requested amount due to poor past performance. Council overrides the staff and gives them the money anyway (with the exception of MACAA this year, I believe). I had to laugh two years ago when Kevin Lynch was so insistent that the NGOs receive a raise according to the percentage increase in our budget that year – 12%. He didn’t realize that their raises would have been a larger percentage than the city workers were getting . They did get across-the-board increases but not as much. Every time one of those agencies come before council, they thank them. They also thank them by getting their clients to support them at election time. They also thank them by serving on their committees and pushing their agenda. Council has surrounded itself with so many of these people that they think that by talking to them they are actually talking to the public. Perhaps that why the people in Ridge Street and Fifeville did not show to speak to the sale of city property in their neighborhood, a sale that many of them have opposed for years – they realize they are not the recipients of the city’s largess and do not want to thank them for bothering them about becoming a historic district.
    If the public wants to know about Sally Thomas’ performance on the Stewardship Task Force, it has been well-documented at Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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