Sourced from Ensia
In Lafayette, Indiana, six people spent half the summer of 2019 hand-sweeping a road. That’s not how the city typically cleans its streets, but in this case, the road was permeable pavement, which puts gravel in between the pavers to let water filter into the soil below. Sweeping by hand was necessary to get the loose gravel back between the brick pavers after cleaning, says Vanessa Rainwater, the city’s green infrastructure manager. The process was time consuming, but was the only way to remove debris without damaging the underlying drainage system, she says.
While Rainwater has another, more efficient sweeping method lined up for next summer, her year as the city’s first supervisor overseeing water-absorbing infrastructure installed as a climate adaptation measure has shown her several other ways Lafayette can improve how it cares for such installations. “It’s been a year of trial and error, for me and the city, and we’re still figuring out how to do all of this,” she says.
Other cities building similar stormwater management tools are reaching this conclusion, too. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines green infrastructure as an installation that “uses vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier urban environments.” Things like porous parking lots, wetlands, green roofs and rain gardens can help reduce flooding in neighborhoods and on roadways. Cities from Philadelphia to Detroit to Atlanta are installing green infrastructure.
The success of these installations, however, hinges on vegetation and underlying filtration systems being in good shape — a status that has been surprisingly difficult to achieve. And the concern is, when people see botched care as a failure of the installations, they’re tempted to think green infrastructure can’t improve their town, says Lucy Joyce, a former landscape architect supervisor who worked with the Nevada Department of Transportation to implement sustainable roadside development. “But in reality, it would work if you had the proper training or knowledge,” she says.
To ensure green infrastructure has a long future, experts like Rainwater are tackling the maintenance needs of the installations as they arise — often as surprises — and are working to formalize project care as an official job.