Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

Kaid Benfield

We must protect watersheds

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We don’t have to choose between a growing population and healthy economy, on the one hand, and a healthy and sustainable environment, on the other. We really can have it both ways.

But we need to be smart about it. I’m particularly interested in smart strategies that deliver greener, healthier cities and towns while allowing them to grow.

In particular, in parts of watersheds that remain rural or natural, we need to curb the spread of suburban sprawl, which inevitably brings with it more impervious surface in the form of roads, streets, parking lots, and rooftops. Impervious surface, in turn, in turn prevents rainwater and other precipitation from soaking into the ground and, instead, causes it to run off, picking up volume and pollutants along the way to receiving waters. In many urban areas, polluted runoff is the greatest cause of dirty water.

In parts of watersheds that are already developed - which, by the way, are where we want as much future growth to go as possible - we need to undertake remedial measures such as strategically designed tree plantings, native landscaping, green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels and other “green infrastructure” that can capture precipitation and filter it gradually into the ground instead of allowing it to become polluted runoff.

In both cases - preserving undeveloped landscapes outside of cities while we bring more greenery into them - we are taking advantage of the functions of nature along with its beauty.

The result can be great for the environment, for the economy, and for people if we do it right.

Full commentary: Protecting watersheds as we grow our cities and towns
Source: Better Cities & Towns, November 17, 2014

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