Save It Lancaster! A Move from Gray to Green Infrastructure

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The protection of our water systems and the problems associated with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflow are not going to go away.  Following my blog about the efforts gearing up in Philadelphia to control stormwater run-off, I recently became aware of an initiative taking place in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country.

The city has launched a major educational initiative and website to help residents control contamination of the Chesapeake Bay. Save It Lancaster is part of Lancaster City’s Green Infrastructure Plan.  The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, Save It Lancaster serves as a model for other small cities. The focus is to move from gray infrastructure, defined as the human-made system essential in every community that includes sewer and wastewater facilities to green infrastructure which employs natural systems to manage rainwater where it falls. This allows water to soak into the ground, evaporate into the air or collect in a rain barrel or cistern thereby using natural systems (such as the ground) to essentially treat rainwater instead of more expensive gray systems. 

According to the Save It Lancaster website property owners in the City of Lancaster are responsible for approximately 750 million gallons of polluted water flowing into the Conestoga River and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay annually. The rainwater falling on the streets and buildings picks up pollutants before running into the storm drains.  Add to that, the water and sewage from homes and buildings that enter the co-mingled system and Lancaster’s wastewater treatment plant manages more than 7 billion gallons per year. This is probably similar for many small cities.

The website provides ideas for projects that can be done by residents as well as commercial property owners to let nature treat the rainwater.  The goal is to upgrade everything from buildings to sidewalks to parking lots with green technologies. The website even provides ideas based on the amount of time one can commit to making changes in their lifestyle to conserve clean water. 

Many older small cities in the United States share the same problems that are now being addressed by Lancaster. Now there is a model for how to educate and provide projects that property owners can do to make lasting, sustainable change.

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