Green Infrastructure in the Mystic River Watershed

The Mystic River Watershed Association’s (MyRWA’s) Deputy Director Patrick Herron, PhD, was the speaker at the August 5th monthly Committee Meeting. Patrick spoke about Green Infrastructure and the role it plays in the work being done by MyRWA. He began with a definition for this stormwater management approach, discussed the related concepts of Low Impact Development (LID) and Best Management Practices (BMPs), gave some practical examples, and addressed the question of “why focus on Green Infrastructure” for the Mystic River Watershed.

Common examples of Green Infrastructure include bio-swales, permeable pavement, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, and constructed wetlands. Patrick explained that a core guiding principle of these efforts is to achieve pre-development hydrology. In many cases, urbanized development of land increases the amount of impermeable surfaces, such as roads, roofs and parking lots. These types of surfaces block rain from infiltrating into the water table. When water can’t soak into the ground it leads to increased stormwater runoff which carries more pollutants, such as litter and nutrients into the water body. Increased runoff can also lead to flooding that damages wetland habitats, bridges, and roadways. Nutrients are not inherently dangerous, but high levels encourage excessive weed and algal growth that can lead to toxic conditions, as we have recently seen in Toledo, Ohio. Green Infrastructure can help to mitigate these issues by slowing down stormwater and allowing more water to be infiltrated into the ground, instead of flowing directly into water bodies. When water is absorbed by the ground, nutrients are captured by the soil and the water is released more slowly into rivers thereby reducing peak flows.

Patrick went on to explain how convincing all affected stakeholders to support Green Infrastructure comes with many challenges. Coordinating these newer strategies with traditional planning and design approaches can be met with resistance. Patrick highlighted the need to begin the Green Infrastructure projects as early as possible when included with larger projects. On the other hand, Green Infrastructures face the challenge of being seen as an added and unnecessary expenditure when considered alone. Patrick expressed optimism that new legislation currently being worked on may eventually provide an economic driver for this second issue. Until this becomes finalized, projects teams and supporters can look to “triple bottom line” (3BL) accounting, to identify the hidden value of Green Infrastructure. The 3BL approach realizes increased value by considering a wider set of parameters including people, and the planet, beyond traditional profits. A healthy and more attractive environment produces many of these values.    

MyRWA has had several grant-based projects to evaluate and prioritize potential locations for Green Infrastructure within the watershed. Patrick explained how this process has developed GIS maps that help municipalities and citizens select sites wisely, maximizing their return on investment. Some locations require major expensive construction works, and don’t have soil conditions that easily absorb stormwater. Meanwhile some sites don’t require as much investment in construction costs and provide better natural conditions. A potential site becomes very attractive when the second scenario is the case, and the public feels it is worthwhile to improve the aesthetics of a location. A significant takeaway has been the value of participatory stakeholder engagement. In some projects citizens became involved with the planning process through workshops. During these workshops, MyRWA and the rest of the project teams were able to identify more sites, and develop a better understanding of the total value for each location.

With each project MyRWA is learning more about the process of installing Green Infrastructure as well as educating both municipal staffers and the public about the importance of mitigating the effects of stormwater runoff.

More information about MyRWA’s Green Infrastructure projects, view the list of stormwater projects here.

The next Mystic River Watershed Association Joint Committee Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 2, in the Rabb Room of the Lincoln Filene Center at Tufts University.  We will be joined by guest speaker Aubrey Strause, co-facilitator of the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition – a group of 30 Massachusetts communities implementing a regional approach stormwater management.

The public is welcome at all Mystic River Watershed Association Committee Meetings.

For more information on the Mystic River Watershed Association, visit www.mysticriver.org.

---------------------
Thank you Tommy Chase for submitting this article!