Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sarah Wrede describes newly proposed stormwater ordinance during July 8, 2010, meeting of Environmental Action Committee

Some improvements over the past ordinance are included.

So it is better.

But some weaknesses are apparent.

For instance, the word DRAINAGE dominates many portions. The way to protect the quality of water reaching or underground aquifers, ditches, storm drains and streams is by KEEPING the WATER WHERE it FALLS.
Importance of keeping water where it falls: US Department of the Interior.

If someone plans a subdivision, the plan should show how rainwater will be captured and allowed to soak in or stored and used for irrigation later: Ideally both will occur,

INTERESTINGLY,  a member of the committee pointed out that the way the ordinance is written is the OPPOSITE of all the things people who attended the year-long series of watershed luncheons were taught.

Another fellow said that preventing "ponding" on the lots was the thing to do. Why is he on an environmental action committee? To learn, one would hope.

Another dominant word in the ordinance is GRADING. Minimizing grading is the key to keeping absorbent soil where it can do what it always has done. That isn't reflected in the wording of the ordinance. Nothing prevents the grading of the whole lot and destruction of all the vegetation and even dredging and filling a wetland lot with red dirt.

Something that could truly improve the writing of such ordinances would be the hiring of several experienced professionals to add to the troop of people trained in engineering and general city planning.

The first hire should be a certified wetland delineator with a background in botany, zoology, stream ecology, wildlife management and related fields. Maybe more important would be that the person hired have a high level of enthusiasm for overall environmental conservation.

Until such a person can be hired, a good preliminary step would be having one member of the staff of the transportation department, Community Resources and Code Enforcement, planning division, the water and sewer department, the park and recreation department plus everyone whose job title involves INSPECTING anything in the city and others I can't think of at the moment, be trained to delineate wetland and taught to understand its importance in the way water is handled in our city and region.

People trained in the various departments could then train others in their departments, not just the department heads and others at any level of management but all supervisors of any activity and especially every person who operates any construction or maintenance device all the way from giant track hoes and bulldozers and dump trucks all the way down to lawn mowers and weedeaters.

Now I am watching a Ward Four meeting at which the main presentation was about a proposed ordinance to create significant riparian buffers. It is a step forward. But it is weak:
Please use this link for an example of a slightly more progressive ordinance.

The time is NOW to pass a truly powerful riparian buffer to protect out water supply, Beaver Lake, whose watershed includes most of the southern and eastern portions of the city.

A weakness of particular concern in both these efforts to pass improved ordinances is an apparent reluctance of staff members who do understand the value of such rules to talk about all the benefits of using and protecting existing absorbent soil and allowing it to function as it historically always has and the benefits of keeping land near streams fully vegetated in one conversation.

These ordinances  may meet the goal of avoiding more expensive work to meet national water-quality standards but preventing flooding, preventing pollution and siltation, providing habitat for wildlife, both plant and animal, protecting AIR and WATER quality and avoiding creating the urban heat zones that plague so many cities and providing a higher quality of life for residents should all be addressed at once.

Taken together, all the values of maintaining healthy habitat for all creatures in cities provide powerful justification for a single all-encompassing ordinance to require doing the right thing.

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