This week, the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science of America, and Soil Science Society of America hosted a Capitol Hill briefing entitled “Urban Soil and Water: Geoscience that Underlies our Economic Prosperity” that explored the important role that soil – buried beneath our urban concrete jungles – plays in reducing stormwater runoff and in reducing many of the harmful environmental impacts of urban development.
ASCE member Dr. Robert Traver, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University’s College of Engineering, was one of the presenters, along with Chris Peot, Director of Resource Recovery at the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, and Gregory Evanylo, Professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
One of the negative effects of urban development are combined sewer overflows, or CSOs. Shared stormwater and wastewater treatment systems often face capacity issues when there is a large influx of water; the resulting CSOs discharge untreated wastewater and stormwater, often containing agricultural runoff and toxic substances, directly into nearby bodies of water and are one of the leading sources of water pollution in the nation. As a growing number of Americans rely on centralized wastewater utilities, the occurrence of CSOs puts the public health of communities and local ecosystems at great risk.
Dr. Traver spoke about the groundbreaking green infrastructure work being done at Villanova University and in the City of Philadelphia in developing resilient, green infrastructure systems to mitigate stormwater runoff, including porous pavements, rain gardens (and here and here), and stormwater tree trenches. Several of these systems are designed to capture up to two inches of rainfall per rainfall, better managing stormwater overflows and helping prevent pollutants from entering our rivers and lakes. Green infrastructure systems provide ancillary benefits such as improved air and water quality, reduced noise pollution, increased recreational opportunities, aesthetic value to communities, and cost competitiveness with more gray forms of infrastructure.
As advocates of policies that ensure public health, a strong economy, and clean and safe water sources, ASCE has been proud to endorse two bipartisan pieces of legislation that advance green infrastructure systems – H.R. 3906, the Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act of 2017, and H.R. 2943, the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant Program Act. The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act establishes up to five nationwide centers of excellence, invests in community-based stormwater control projects, and promotes public-private partnerships in the design and construction of innovative stormwater control infrastructure. The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant Program Act creates a dedicated source of funding of up to $25 million to expand outdoor recreation opportunities in urban communities and to promote the development of public-private partnerships for such projects. In addition to acting as strong economic drivers, urban parks create dual-use spaces for both recreation and green infrastructure stormwater management systems such as rain gardens.
As we work towards closing our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure investment gap, we must utilize new approaches, materials, and technologies to ensure our infrastructure is more resilient and sustainable. ASCE applauds the efforts being made to develop innovative green infrastructure systems and will continue to work to advance such policies at all levels of government.