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Using Funding From Water Agencies to Help Parks

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the eighteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Some city water agencies financially reward park agencies for collecting stormwater and keeping it out of the sewer system. That’s the procedure in Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Chesapeake, to name just a few, with credit programs being planned in other cities across the nation. In Austin, where the water utility often uses parkland to manage stormwater, the Parks and Recreation Department has a formalized procedure to charge mitigation fees based on the level of damage to the park and the length of time that the park is impacted. Fees range from 35 percent of the park’s calculated annual value if a park is temporarily inaccessible (such as for underground utility work) to 75 percent if future park development is severely precluded, to 100 percent if the park becomes fully subsumed by an installation. Calculations are based on the number of square feet involved and the going price per square foot of private property adjacent to the particular park. Funds generated are spent to improve the affected park or a nearby site.

“Our mitigation fees aren’t popular with the other agencies,” admitted Parks Director Sara Hensley, “but this policy makes sure we take care of residents when their parks are temporarily closed.” The mitigation requirement has been used to acquire more land or install needed improvements. “We wanted to install a reclaimed water irrigation system at Hancock Golf Course – where we were irrigating with precious and expensive potable water – but we couldn’t afford the upfront costs to build the separate pipes,” she explained. “The water utility covered the $300,000 for us in exchange for easements to construct sewer lines under parkland.” Continue reading

How Cleveland is Paying For Water-Smart Parks

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the seventeenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Installing natural stormwater controls within a park is not inexpensive and is usually not a quick process. But the relevant comparison of costs and impacts must be made against any typical park improvement project, as well as against traditional gray approaches, which are usually much more expensive and take far longer. How much a water-smart park costs and how long it takes to build depends on innumerable factors of geography, geology, weather, bureaucratic rules and, often, city and neighborhood politics. Nothing about urban water management is easy, but the evidence shows that the natural approach is more economical.

A survey of 20 stormwater park projects in 13 states, carried out by The Trust for Public Land, illustrates the variety of forms a water management project can take, as well as the relative cost effectiveness of green versus gray infrastructure. The parks ranged in size from half an acre to more than 300 acres, with stormwater management features ranging from only a small corner of some facilities to the whole park in others. The median size of the parks is 8 acres, and the median size of the stormwater portion is 2.5 acres. The following charts compare some of the costs of traditional gray infrastructure vs. green infrastructure in selected projects.

CSO cost

(The Trust for Public Land)

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Maintaining Water-Smart Parks

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the thirteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Finding space isn’t the only difficulty in designing water-smart parks. Green infrastructure needs to be kept green in order to function properly and to remain attractive. Swales, rain gardens, and detention ponds are critical components for stormwater management. Long-term aesthetics may take a back seat, especially for wastewater utility staff focused primarily on regulatory compliance, but many such landscape components that are beautiful in initial design renderings will over time start to look mangy. To keep these park areas attractive, experts must choose plants carefully and support good maintenance. Smart planting design (choosing a mix of woody, evergreen, and perennial plants, for example) and rigorous attention and maintenance—especially in the first few years—are important to the success of a water-smart park.

Buffalo BAyou flooding - cred Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle

Buffalo Bayou in Houston is designed to flood – and the parks department is prepared for that. (Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle)

And what about maintaining the rest of a park’s green infrastructure? Continue reading

Making Room: Finding the Space in Urban Parks for Stormwater Management

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the twelfth installment in a series of 19 posts.

In all considerations of urban stormwater management, space is a factor. A prime difficulty with liberating a stream from a fortified channel is that it then requires a wider footprint – but over the years that historic floodplain has usually been covered with housing, shops or industry. Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Landscape Architect Brian Baldauf has calculated that the present 50- to 100-foot-wide riparian corridor of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries (including Tujunga Wash) would need to be five to seven times wider to be naturally resilient against flooding. The problem is more severe in arid regions with their wider fluctuations between droughts and deluges, but the challenge reaches from coast to coast. In the Charlotte, North Carolina area, which has seen rapid recent development (including a widespread increase in new pavement) and higher water levels, Mecklenburg County has an aggressive program to buy out willing sellers in the flood zone, remove built structures, and turn the land into open space (often resulting in the construction of a natural greenway to be maintained by the parks department).  Austin and El Paso similarly have created broad swaths of parkland from former residential neighborhoods decimated by floods.

Saipan

Saipan-Ledo Park in El Paso, TX was created when low-lying homes were destroyed in a flood. (El Paso Water Utility)

Continue reading

Pervious Pavement: One Way to Make Parks more Water-Smart

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the eleventh installment in a series of 19 posts.

A widely suggested solution for managing runoff is to use pervious (or permeable) pavement. Permeable pavements are engineered surfaces designed to function like standard construction materials while still allowing stormwater to pass into the ground. Materials can include asphalt, concrete, and spaced paver blocks. In urban parks, pervious pavement can make a difference in the form of anything from walkways to basketball courts. In theory, replacing all the asphalt and concrete in the United States with pervious forms would make a huge dent in the runoff problem. The reality, however, is more complex.

Pervious Pavement Demo - City of Columbus

Pervious pavement comes in many forms. In this example, specially designed pavers allow runoff to pass through, into the soil below where it can be filtered and absorbed. (City of Columbus)

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