Poor Stormwater Management Systems and Infrastructure Set Ground for an Environmental Crisis - TRUEGRID Pavers

Poor Stormwater Management Systems and Infrastructure Set Ground for an Environmental Crisis

Kevin Meinhardt
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Stormwater management systems are intended to help control the flow of runoff water in populated areas from impermeable surfaces such as asphalt and concrete, and to combat the negative effects of runoff, flooding and erosion.

Stormwater runoff is caused by precipitation from either rainfall or snowmelt that runs off the surface of the land instead of permeating into the soil.  When there is excess runoff, flooding becomes a problem. Where there is flooding, there is loss and damage of property, accelerated erosion of land and unfastened muddy ground.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]The increase of impervious surface has overwhelmed our country’s aging stormwater infrastructure. Infrastructure is made up of roads, highways, sidewalks, parking areas and stormwater management systems are made up of drains, sewers, detention ponds. The United States‘ stormwater mamagement infrastructure has not kept up with the rate of development and population growth and suffers dwindling investment. In 2002, U.S. transportation plummeted from its 5th spot in rankings to twenty-fourth in 2011. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has rated our infrastructure a D or D+ grade in infrastructure since 1998.

Stormwater infrastructure is important for numerous reasons. To name a few, having a strong, reliable infrastructure boosts the economy by creating more jobs and increasing the flow of trade. Better infrastructure creates improved living standards by controlling the flow or runoff water to prevent flooding and spread of disease.

Regardless of having an infrastructure in place, the aging system is giving way to decay and prevents the natural bioremediation process; water’s natural process of filtration, which in time is greatly affecting the environment and climate.In recent news, Louisiana suffered another flood disaster with over two feet of rain falling in the span of 72 hours that required 20,000 people to be rescued and over 10,000 placed in public shelters. President Obama declared it a major disaster in the Gulf Coast region. The area is notorious for dealing with monstrous flooding in the past but this particular storm was not expected to become such a sudden, catastrophic event and it took the region by surprise. Events of this magnitude are known as 100-year or 500-year storms due to the likelihood of it happening once in a century or half millennium.

Southeast Texas has experienced at least 6 major floods in only the past 12 months. This year, April’s Tax Day saw rainfall records of between 10 – 20 inches that should only be seen once in a thousand years. Eight people were killed during that flood and many lost their homes and properties. These storms cost the economy billions of dollars every year. In the southern region of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, there have been more than a dozen massive, flood events since March 2015 and average rainfall is exponentially rising each month. Historical records of monthly rainfall are being repeatedly broken in these states in the span of 18 months. Over time, research on the implications of impervious surfaces shed light on the cause of climate change and current issues such as urban heat island effect and the greenhouse effect.  

As a by-product of photosynthesis, vegetation releases moisture back into the atmosphere which cools down surrounding landscapes. The addition of impervious surfaces severely depletes the amount of vegetation and instead soaks the heat of the sun during the day to release back into the environment at night. Night temperatures in cities tend to be as much as 14 degrees hotter than in rural areas, according to research. This is called urban heat island effect and only an addition to the greenhouse effect, which involves greenhouse gases trapping the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere. As water flows over impermeable surfaces, pollutants from car fluids, insecticides, scattered trash, bacteria, and backed up sewage waste are also picked up by this flow. This runoff continues its track and dumps into our lakes, rivers and important bodies of water that we depend on providing communities with drinkable water. Infrastructures with old piping, rusting lead and other contaminants jump on the bandwagon and make it to our homes.

The city of Flint, Michigan, knows all too well the importance of having access to safe, drinkable water to sustain their community. The water in Flint has become so contaminated with lead from its poor infrastructure and stormwater management that bottled water must be shipped directly to the community. This is not the first case of water contamination and will certainly not be the last so long as infrastructure continues to lay in disrepair. The flow of the Mississippi river ends in the Gulf of Mexico. Its long trail runs across the Midwest and dumps contaminants into the gulf which has created one of the largest dead zones in the world. These contaminants include nitrogen and phosphorus from animal waste, sewage, fertilizers and soil erosion which halts the growth of algae in the water. Algae are essential in the food chain and creation of oxygen in water for fish to thrive. Without the presence of algae, these areas of water with little to no oxygen become hypoxic where fish can’t survive to eat, let alone “breathe”. These dead zones greatly impact the ecosystems. To add more, even the economy takes a blow when the seafood industry can’t collect their seasonal product. The same effect can be seen in small bodies of water, such as lakes and ponds, where birds and fish inhabit. Sedimentation and contaminants decrease the amount of aquatic insects many animals depend on for food. Impervious surfaces also destroy habitats and areas of vegetation where animals can create habitats and reproduce. For example, the increase of urbanization directly correlates with the decrease of bee species, a study has found, due to decrease in floral species for pollination and habitat-building purposes.

The spread of urbanized areas, lack of vegetation and water contamination can lead to the endangerment and extinction of animal species.We see what the problem is; we have room for improvement and now we need the tools to solve this issue before things get out of hand.

The current options, asphalt and concrete, are the most common materials to create infrastructure and water management systems but the old methodology needs to be changed when their implications are becoming more and more obvious.

Between the two, asphalt deteriorates faster than concrete but maintenance and repairs can be costly and time-consuming for both. Sediment and trash tends to accumulate quickly in detention ponds and sewer systems. Money and time must then be spent to periodically clean these systems to prevent further clogging and contamination. This method may sound new but it has been around for centuries. It was first seen in Europe in the 1800s but wasn’t introduced to the United States until the 1960s to reduce flooding and replenish aquifers. The idea of sustainability has grown more and more in recent years with the tangible threats the negative effects of climate change has over our heads.

Permeable pavement can come in different forms such as pervious concrete, paving grids and plastic grid pavers.  These systems are permeable to varying degrees and have different rates of long term efficiency and maintaining porosity. Water is able to filter through these pavement systems, reducing flooding, making them environmentally friendly.

Some permeable pavement methods are more expensive than others and require more installation time. Paving grids are blocks of cement that are strategically placed on the ground with a small space between each block for water to seep in. This method takes up time and tends to cost more than concrete due to its specifically placed installation. These interlocking plastic grids are placed on top of a 4” – 6” layer of permeable rock, such as limestone and granite. This layer of granite or limestone creates a detention area underneath the grid for water to go to, to avoid flooding on top. The plastic grids are then filled with gravel within the grooves to hold the system in place. This system allows water to seep back into the ground and mimics the natural process of filtration water goes through when percolating through rocks that pulls out pollutants.  The detention area holds naturally occurring bacteria that consume the remains of these pollutants.

This system cuts out or reduces the need for detention ponds, which is added cost to large projects, and alleviates the pressure sewage systems have when it rains. The underground detention in the rock requires little or no maintenance and saves land. The amount of flooding is cut dramatically, stormwater systems and bodies of waters are less likely to be contaminated, the ground is stabilized and kept from accelerated erosion and natural habitats can coexist with these systems and thrive. Choosing this sustainable solution, cities benefit by saving money on building, maintenance and energy costs while saving land that can be used for green space and/or revenue generation. These paving grids can also be used as grass pavers to stabilize the ground and preserve vegetation that will help with heat island effect and beautify urban areas.

Cities can thrive and also co-exist with nature letting water go through its natural filtration process, bio-remediation, and having low impact on the environment which in turn will create a better world for future generations, literallyFortunately, plastic paving grids are low cost and efficient and can fit the needs of homeowners and small businesses. These paving grids can be used for almost anything, such as driveways, parking lots, walkways, and gravel stabilizer.

Permeable pavement is not only beneficial to the environment and your community but also to your pocket. The value of your property goes up when you install permeable pavement to your property due to your home’s low risk of flooding. Gravel or grass filled plastic paving grids also help surrounding land cool down and in the long run can save you money on energy bills.

Not only that, you would be a part of the solution and setting an example for others to follow will help others consider making better, sustainable choices in their everyday life.You’ve already begun that process! Having the interest to solve current environmental issues pushes you to ask questions and find answers.

Here are some options you can take to take you to the next step:

– Research available alternative options
– Find others who are advocates of environmental change and ask them how they are sustainable.
– Locate sites that have alternative pavement to see proven alternative methods first-hand.
– Study available products online and compare.  
– Set your budget and reach out to people who can help you with the purchasing and installing process.
– Most importantly, let others in your community know about these sustainable solutions and how to be a part of this movement.

Now you can start being an advocate for environmental change!

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