This week I attended one of my favorite meetings. It’s a quarterly meeting held at KC Water, the city department in charge of stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water in Missouri. It terms of water departments, it is such a big job it is unusual for one department to handle all three water services. KC Water handles all three services very well.
In this meeting, engineers, scientists, nonprofit organizations and interested residents gather to discuss the state of affairs, projects, and funding for the rivers and watersheds affected in the Kansas City, Missouri water services pay-rate area. Of course, the state of flooding, or non-flooding, was one of the main topics this week. After nearly 40 years of work (due to federal funding spurts) the city’s streets did not flood even after four days of near constant rain adding up to 10 inches of rain. Media coverage seemed to exaggerate flooding streets
After the meeting, I drove around the city. I found water rushing down street gutters into street inlets, but did not find “flooded streets.” I drove by a new green infrastructure project funded by the Overflow Control Program, a 20-year program between KC Water and the EPA through a consent decree in 2010. According to KC Water’s website, the purpose of the consent decree is “to reduce overflows from combined sewer systems and prevent overflows from separate sewer systems. The OCP is the largest infrastructure investment in Kansas City’s history. The program will be implemented over a 25-year time period …”
Green infrastructure is constructing and implementing methods that help slow down, or capture, stormwater runoff before it reaches nearby rivers. It can be something as small as the rain garden in your yard, or as complicated as a parking lot with pervious asphalt that includes an underground storage containment system for water.
For example, if there were several large hills that all converged into one valley and at the bottom was a major thoroughfare that flooded every time there was large rain event. This might be the perfect place to install green infrastructure project. Since the site is large and likely has a lot of water flowing down, a lot of structures would need to be designed. It might include several large rain gardens tiered (or terraced) at the top third of the hill to help slow the water down.
Midway down the hill, it might include large containers buried underneath. I’m not an engineer, but picture something two-thirds the size of an oil tractor-trailer. It is designed, so that the water goes into the container and slowly releases several days later. Green infrastructure is only one aspect of OCP. Separating sewers systems, repairing and replacing old pipes, joints, etc., are also part of the decree.
I can tell you I have met people who began and retired from their careers trying to make the rivers in Kansas City safer, cleaner with better water quality, and more beautiful for recreational and educational benefit for everyone reading this, and those who know nothing about what people do behind the scenes. I hope you enjoy a river this month!
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.