TagEPA

Readers Ask: Recommending bioswales

The second post in “Readers Ask,” from a planning student in Chicago.

I want to recommend bioswales for my Complete Streets project area which consists of a part of Grand in Chicago, Illinois  There are a lot of surface parking lots over there, and a big shopping mall which is built on a weird arrangement of slopes (Brickyard).  Since I know nothing about bioswales, I’m wondering what you could tell me about how I could go about recommending this. I have no idea what the rainwater runoff issue is over there, but I could only imagine that there would be one, with all the surface parking and weird slopage.

Bioswales are just one of many solutions to water runoff and stormwater collection. Another option is using permeable pavers in the parking lot. The real experts on this are Janet Attarian and David Leopold at CDOT. As a project manager at the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program, he’s dealt with and implemented bioswales, permeable parking lots, and pollution fighting bike lanes – the works. There’s a parking lot, designed by CDOT, built with a bioswale AND permeable pavement on Desplaines between Polk and Taylor in Chicago (photo below)/

Parking lot has permeable pavement and a bioswale. The site is monitored by CDOT to see how it performs in the winter. Photo by Bryce.

EVERY parking lot has runoff – every parking lot should do a better job managing it. By not better managing our stormwater, we all pay the costs, be it through flood insurance, recovering from floods, or having to build bigger pumps and sewers.

Permeable pavement at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, Illinois.

Perhaps you shouldn’t recommend a bioswale, but a parking lot that “captures 80% of its runoff” or something through a “variety of methods.”

Bioswale in Portland, Oregon, as part of a green street transformation.

The EPA lists additional Best Management Practices. The Cities of  Seattle and Portland are experts in this. Portland was even able to get parts of its bikeway built by rolling them into the Department of Environment’s Green Streets program, their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and thus reduce the costs they pass on to their customers that pay for sewer service (like, everyone). I recommend this blog article about Portland’s sustainable design, written by a fellow planning student.

Pilsen pollution

Pilsen is a neighborhood in Chicago’s Lower West Side that is made mostly of Mexican immigrants and descendants. It’s sister neighborhood is Little Village, which is close by to the southwest. I lived here for two years from 2006-2008.

When I moved in, the smoke from a nearby, but yet unseen, exhaust stack was quite apparent. An uninformed or malicious local offered that it was a heat generation plant for the nearby public housing homes. This seemed unlikely, and only slightly plausible, but I didn’t question it.

Both neighborhoods have coal-fired power plants. There is Fisk Generating Station at 1111 W. Cermak in Pilsen (which I mentioned above and pictured above), and Crawford Generating Station at 3501 S. Pulaski in Little Village. Both are owned by Midwest Generation

It was not long until I read several news reports in the major Chicago newspapers about the actions of local social advocacy organizations trying to bring awareness about the danger the Fisk plant was causing for the minority residents in Pilsen. The problems became well-known in 2001 after a group of five researchers from Harvard and two private consulting agencies (one for wind, and one for environment) studied coal-fired power plants in the Midwest exempt from the provisions of the Clean Air Act. See “More information” below for a local group’s opinion on these plants’ impacts on health using information derived from the study.

The most recent call for action was from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, who, in August 2008, demanded that Mayor Daley close the Fisk plant on Cermak.

Now, the Sierra Club magazine is reporting on a new and younger organization ready and willing to fight alongside LVEJO the battle to fix the pollution problems in Chicago’s west side Latino neighborhoods. I recently read this article at work in our “office lending library” – this along with the fact that I pass by the station quite often prompted me to write this blog entry.

More information:

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