Friday, November 1, 2013

Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure

Image via Ryan Somma
It’s getting a little gray and dreary out there right now, so it seems like a good time to talk about green things!  Green infrastructure, for example.  Green infrastructure uses natural processes to manage stormwater in cities (US EPA).  Low impact development refers to using green infrastructure techniques on new land developments and redevelopments.  The EPA has a comprehensive website about green infrastructure with information about techniques, benefits, and resources located at
Some techniques that you can employ to manage stormwater on site as a homeowner are things that we’ve mentioned several times in the past.  One simple example is downspout redirection.  All this entails is redirecting your roof’s downspout from draining onto impervious area to draining into a rain barrel or pervious area (i.e. your yard).  When you redirect into a rain barrel, you can store the water for use later.  Rain barrel water is good for plants and doesn’t cost you anything.  Rain barrels are fairly simple to make or can be purchased when the City or WLSSD has a sale.  Learn more about rain barrels here (webinar), here, and here.
Redirecting your downspout into a pervious area (your yard) instead of letting it flow down your driveway and into the storm sewer is a good option if rain barrels aren’t allowed in your area or you don’t want to make/purchase one.  This allows the water to soak in rather than run off. 
Rain gardens are also known as bioretention cells and are a good way to put the rain to a good, aesthetically pleasing use.  Rain gardens are built into shallow depressions.  If you’re thinking about building one in your yard, look at where water pools naturally when it rains.  That would be a good spot for a rain garden.  You should use native plants because they are hardier and cost less to maintain.  They also provide food and habitat for native insect and animal species.  Learn more here, here, here (webinar) and here.
Green roofs (like the one that can be seen in the picture above or here at UW Superior’s Yellowjacket Union) are an option for homeowners, too.   Green roofs are a layer of vegetation over a waterproofed roof.  Green roofs are typically used on roofs that don’t have much of a slope and the plant/water weight must be considered before installation.  For more information, go here and here.
Many other LID and green infrastructure techniques are used on a neighborhood or city-wide basis rather than by individual homeowners.  Examples of techniques used include: vegetated swales, smaller sidewalks, narrower roads, pervious pavement (although you can do this at home too!), and natural feature protection.

There is a lot of information about green infrastructure and low impact development; look around and see what kinds of techniques you could use.

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

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