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Border Green Infrastructure First Panel: Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Management

Posted on October 13, 2014

Border Green Infrastructure First Panel: Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Management

Stormwater management was addressed as part of the discussions of the Border Green Infrastructure Forum hosted by the BECC and NADB in Ciudad Juarez on September 18 and 19. On the first day of activities, the event's formal opening was followed by a keynote presentation by Doug Liden, and the first discussion panel featured experts Brad Lancaster, Irene Ogata, and Samuel Brier.

The keynote address, originally prepared by Claudia Hosch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and presented by her colleague, Doug Liden, also of the EPA, addressed the subject of stormwater capture and reuse in the context of green infrastructure. This was significant because it showed the audience that EPA has implemented these programs and supported projects in border cities such as Tijuana and Nogales, as well as other U.S. cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Santa Fe. With these actions, Doug Liden said, the EPA has joined the green infrastructure movement by recommending practices that "mimic natural stormwater drainage processes," such as rainwater harvesting, retention ponds, permeable pavement, green roofs, infiltration, evapotranspiration, or on-site rainwater reuse, in addition to the use of vegetation, soils, and natural processes. 

The EPA expert said rainwater gets contaminated when it runs off in urban areas, where it is usually drained by means of engineering systems and discharged into water bodies. This system causes rainwater to sweep along waste, bacteria, heavy metals, and other contaminants, degrading natural or artificial bodies of water. In the United States, this is a major cause of water pollution, he said.  

Green stormwater infrastructure components have proven to be cost-effective for controlling pollution and also provide additional benefits by making communities more resilient to extreme rainfall events, furthering a better quality of life, reducing heat islands by making better use of energy, reducing sediment transport, and improving air quality, said Doug Linden in closing. He also showed that EPA's programs promote green infrastructure and in this regard, federal efforts are underway to incorporate these practices, including the construction of permeable pavement in Tijuana, or a future project to install rainwater catchment basins in Nogales. 

Discussion Panel 1 featured a highly recognized speaker on the subject, Brad Lancaster, a community activist and promoter of regenerative systems to sustainably enhance local resources. He is the author of the award-winning, best-selling book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. Incidentally, he put up 60 of his books for sale at the forum and they sold out immediately. Brad Lancaster's presentation referred to regenerative rights-of-way, local rainwater harvesting, and improving community conditions. He presented a successful case developed in Tucson as part of the restoration of the Santa Cruz River.   

His program is based on making rainwater a primary element of plant irrigation throughout the cities and using graywater in private properties as a secondary irrigation source. He reported that U.S. households, in general, do not harvest rainwater that comes free of contaminants and instead, use between 30% and 70% of drinking water for plant irrigation.

Among the lessons learned from his successful program in Tucson, he highlighted that rainwater must be reused on-site and conveyed in various ways to better take advantage of it (such as installing gutters along roadways to channel water into traffic islands). He cited that Tucson, which gets about 11 inches (280 mm) o annual rainfall, could use this volume of water to irrigate 225 native trees per kilometer. He noted that the soil has great capacity to capture rainwater and this improves community life, as it happened in Tucson, if it becomes a participatory process under this scheme.

In Tucson, Brad Lancaster has been instrumental in promoting on-site rainwater harvesting off medians and sidewalks. He emphasized that these solutions must begin with the community. He showed that this program can make it possible to change the paradigm of wasting rainwater for a more sustainable reuse model. In addition, the use of rainwater can result in economic benefits if the fruits of regional plants irrigated with this water, such as mesquite, are marketed. Furthermore, the program creates a sense of community and ownership, and contributes to improve the living conditions of local residents. He underscored that the program helps to create "reforesting citizens" who improve their living habitats. He presented a guide to promote this "rainwater harvesting" concept, which is available at HarvestingRainwater.com.

In the same discussion panel, Irene Ogata, Tucson's Urban Landscape Manager, presented Tucson's experience in formalizing city regulations related to green infrastructure, in a state that has the highest rates of heat-related mortality in the U.S.  She said regulatory policies have been critical for Tucson's urban planning by including green infrastructure elements for rainwater harvesting. This was achieved in less than two years, considering input from real estate developers, architects associations, professionals in general, and NGOs. She said that changing paradigms to introduce green elements in stormwater management infrastructure requires collaboration and communication, and a major community management component.  It was precisely the community, she said, who called for rainwater harvesting to be regulated and incorporated into Tucson's future infrastructure planning. She said the city has been at the forefront in the adoption of this type of green elements. Thanks to the outreach and community management process, Tucson was able to pass a rainwater harvesting ordinance, a great achievement for this city. 

Samuel Brier, of Raiz de Fondo, Jardines y Educación, A.C., made a presentation on the implementation of the concepts learned from Brad Lancaster in Tucson and adapted to La Paz, Baja California. His program followed three distinct strategies, including community outreach and advocacy with public officials; intervention for solving issues such as the installation of rainwater harvesting ditches along La Paz's main roadway (Forjadores Avenue); legal issues, and the translation of a Green Infrastructure Manual for Sonoran Desert communities, published by the Watershed Management Group. 

In La Paz, Baja California, the organization's work focused on creating community gardens where plots have been adopted to grow organic vegetables. This effort includes environmental education to promote family and community gardens. The environmentalist believes these elements are important for a city suffering from cyclonic rainfall (the city recently experienced the worst hurricane in history), informal settlements, and an evident soil degradation and deforestation in recharge areas.

Their work in this community was based on the premise that there are no municipal standards for building water harvesting ditches, the expert said, and therefore, they first worked with the community to promote green activities and "put pressure" on the authorities to create the appropriate legislation. 

The forum was attended by CONAGUA Border Affairs Manager, Mario Lopez, as panel moderator. He recognized the importance of having cities integrate this type of water harvesting elements. He noted that, although there are no regulations for rainwater harvesting in Mexico, the concept has been addressed for the first time in the General Water Law. There is potential to receive federal funding for developing rainwater harvesting projects and matching funds from other agencies, possibly EPA, under a joint program to support such projects, at least along the border. He recommended implementing an appropriate training process at all levels for new rainwater harvesting strategies. 

For video of the Panel 1 discussion, please use the following link:Border Green Infrastructure Forum Panel 1




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