Didn’t you know? All the cool kids are talking about rivers. Movies, articles and reports are re-focusing attention on our traditionally under-considered and undervalued waterways. This renewed attention comes on the heels of a recent EPA funded study that, as the Atlantic reports, found that more than half of all US rivers are now deemed to be too polluted to be safe from a human health perspective, reporting:
the majority of rivers and streams in this country can’t support healthy aquatic life and the trend is going in the wrong direction. The report labels 55 percent of the nation’s water ways as being in “poor” condition and another 23 percent as just “fair.” Only 21 percent of rivers are considered “good” and “healthy biological communities.”
With this in mind, a recent article from GreenBiz.com seems especially prescient. Arguing that stormwater management agencies spend untold millions in grey infrastructure to replicate the natural, ecosystem services of the forest, the author notes:
In the United States, most gray infrastructure was built 40-50 years ago with large federal grants and few provisions for maintenance. This aging infrastructure needs significant investment to keep pace with population growth and to repair wear and tear.
Yet funds for investment in water infrastructure are drying up in an era of fiscal austerity. Naturally, water utilities, reservoir managers and storm water managers are seeking lower-cost solutions to meet water demands of the 21st century.
That’s where green infrastructure can play a significant role.
And a new report from American Rivers and Green for All, called Staying Green: Strategies to Improve Operations and Maintenance of Green Infrastructure in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed focuses on how the operations and maintenance of green infrastructure systems can create long-term green jobs. The report is quite good and closes an important hole in our discussion of green infrastructure by addressing the long-term care for these facilities and the social justice aspect of maintaining this infrastructure.
The interest in rivers isn’t reserved for the waterways we can see, but is also about re-discovering and re-claiming those hidden waterways that were long-ago covered over in our cities. A new movie, called Lost Rivers, chronicles the urban explorers, the activists, the archivists and the politicians who are leading the charge. We think that the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel was also an example of one rediscovering a lost river. The trailer for the movie is below.
Lost Rivers – OFFICIAL TRAILER from Catbird Productions on Vimeo.
Another interesting manifestation of the urban waterway meme comes via the New York Times. Los Angeles, it turns out, has horrid beaches after it rains. Combined sewer overflows make them putrid and polluted due to stormwater runoff, but now the City is trying to improve their beaches and reuse that stormwater runoff as drinking water. The Times reports:
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued new rules that include strong incentives for cities to work together on projects that capture and filter rainwater in the ground. Not only would those projects keep runoff pollution out of the waterways, they would also bolster groundwater supplies, which could eventually be used for drinking water.
Over at Sustainable Cities Collective, Adrian Benepe pens an excellent exploration of the many ways New York City is using green infrastructure strategies within its parks and school grounds. It’s forward thinking urban policy that many other cities are looking at and trying to emulate, because, as Benepe notes, “As we work to create sustainable, resilient cities, green infrastructure, with appropriate planning, will be a way to create new, well-funded, multi-functional public parks and open spaces, large and small.”
Surprising no one, we completely agree. In fact, on Wednesday Brice and Amalia presented to the WRPA conference in Vancouver, WA on very similar themes in a talk entitled Stormwater and Parks: 10 Ways Washington’s Revised Stormwater Regulations are Good for Parks. You can find a PDF of their presentation here.