Greening Up the Urban Environment- Part III

The following is Part III of a three part series focusing on the City of Scottsbluff’s 319 grant projects.  These projects are designed to reduce impervious cover in parking lots, filtering and infiltrating stormwater runoff.  This article will go over project successes.  For an overview of the projects, see Part I.  For project challenges and lessons learned, see Part II.

In the last article, we went over the challenges of landscaping a hot, harsh urban environment.  Now that we have gone over the difficulties of these projects, we are going to outline some of the practices we used that worked well.  The following is a list of some of the techniques that were effective and that we will be using in the future:

A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
  • Plant Selection- Thanks to the help of the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, we were able to use a very carefully chosen plant list.  This plant list included several tried and true plants for our area, such as catmint, yarrow, jupiter’s beard, butterfly milkweed, and asters, as well as some lesser-known selections, such as thelosperma and plumbago.  We will be monitoring these landscapes to see which of these plants do well over time, helping to expand our palette of plants we know to be successful in this area.
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
  • Sedges- While this also refers to plant selection, the unique functionality of our sedges merits them their own bullet point.  Because the projects are designed to capture stormwater, and because the soils were in such poor condition when we started our projects, we had several areas that were poorly drained.  These were the areas where we planted sedges, some of them which were literally planted in standing water.  These sedges have thrived, looking very attractive while serving the very important function of cleaning and filtering stormwater before it reaches the storm drain or is infiltrated into the ground.  There are very few plants that do well when exposed to extended periods of standing water; we have had great success with using sedges in these difficult areas.
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
  • Beehive Storm Grate- The previous storm drain was a typical rectangle grate that was flush with the ground.  We talked about some of the challenges of mulch in our previous article; one of the other challenges is that it can plug a storm drain.  The storm drain we chose for the overflow of our retention area, shown below, is designed to keep from plugging when the water gets deeper and mulch starts floating.  After experiencing a few strong thunderstorms, it appears that this design has been very effective at keeping the storm drain open to receive overflowing stormwater runoff.
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
  • Strategic Placement of Hardscape- We allowed several areas throughout the landscape for people to pass through as they were leaving their vehicles.  This seems to have cut down on the amount of foot traffic we receive in the landscape itself.  Additionally, in an area that was constantly being driven over, we strategically placed a boulder.  This not only has aesthetic value, it has completely stopped vehicles from driving over this part of the landscape.
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds

At this time, those are the most noticeable successes that we have seen.  We are hoping that over time, using large landscape beds with adequate soil rooting volume for trees will help the trees to be more successful long-term; however, it will be several years before we know for sure if it is a success.  We are also hoping to turn off the drip irrigation systems in the future.  During their first summer, though, we will be leaving the irrigation on to help the plants establish their root systems.  We may have to continue irrigating during extended dry periods.  We will also be observing our plants over time to see how they do- watch for future articles outlining specific plant selections that have done well.  All in all, perhaps the greatest success has been being able to remove over 9,500 square feet of concrete from our parking lots and replace it with a beautiful, functional landscape that will have great environmental benefits for years to come.

downtown landscaping

Greening Up the Urban Environment- Part II

The following is Part II of a three part series focusing on the City of Scottsbluff’s 319 grant projects.  These projects are designed to reduce impervious cover in parking lots, filtering and infiltrating stormwater runoff.  This article will go over challenges and lessons learned from the projects.  For an overview of the projects, see Part I.

street trees, urban landscaping, parking lot landscaping, downtown landscaping
This landscape is designed to reduce stormwater runoff and eventually help cool the parking lot, combating the heat island effect and moderating the temperature of stormwater runoff

In our last article, we went over the process of removing concrete and installing landscaping to create green areas throughout our downtown parking lots.  There are several factors that, when combined, make it extremely difficult for a landscape to be successful in an urban environment. The following is a list of those challenges, along with a few of the lessons that we have learned so far.  Over time, we will be continuing to observe and experiment with these landscapes to determine the best ways to make them successful. Continue reading Greening Up the Urban Environment- Part II

Greening Up The Urban Environment- Part I

The following is Part I of a three part series focusing on the City of Scottsbluff’s 319 grant projects.  These projects are designed to reduce impervious cover in parking lots, filtering and infiltrating stormwater runoff.

Reduced impervious surface
The addition of landscaping reduces the amount of impervious surface in the parking lot, helping to infiltrate stormwater runoff. Trees will eventually shade and cool the lot.

In 2014, the City of Scottsbluff was awarded $40,000 through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality’s 319 grant program.  The purpose of the grant was to allow the City to install demonstration projects that would promote better stormwater management throughout the City.  Through this project, the City was able to remove over 9,600 square feet of concrete throughout several parking lots and replace it with landscaping.  In addition, some of the remaining concrete in the parking lots were sloped so as to allow runoff from the concrete to be captured by the landscaped areas. Continue reading Greening Up The Urban Environment- Part I

Construction Bulletin April 2015

Vegetation – The Green BMP                                                       

Spring means green – literally and figuratively.  When the weather warms and grass starts growing, building begins and business gets busy, your livelihood in full swing.  One way to keep green in the business pocket it to keep the building site green too.

2015-04-02 12.54.27
Stabilized site with vegetation at The Residency, Scottsbluff, NE

One of the best management practices (BMPs) for construction is to preserve exisiting vegetation or to stabilize a site by planting vegetation on the site.   Keeping as much natural growth as possible is a cost effective sediment and erosion control solution on a construction site.  Vegetation stabilizes ground in three main ways:

  1. Vegetation slows stormwater runoff,  slower velocity keeps more sediment on site with less shearing water force.
  2. Vegetation spreads storm runoff across a wider area, preventing the concentrated flows that cause rills and gullies.
  3. Vegetation helps stormwater soak in, reducing runoff and protecting your site from erosion.

Vegetation can be utilized in a variety of ways as a BMP.

First, preserve as much of the natural vegetation as possible.  Let the grass remain around the borders of the site, against the street, under the stockpiles, and any other spots on the site that do not need to be disturbed.

Second, if there is bare ground that will be untouched more than 14 days, re-seed it with grass seed mix. The grasses germinate and sprout in 5-10 days when soil is moist and ground temperatures are about 50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer.

Third, seed for final stabilization as soon as all soil disturbing activity is complete, instead of waiting until the end of the project. Using vegetation for final stabilization of a site not only provides effective stormwater management but also makes a site more natural and aesthetically pleasing.


 The right plant, at the right time,  in the right place

One key to effective vegetative BMPs is choosing the proper seed mix for area.  In the Panhandle, a mix of drought tolerant  annual and perennial grasses is preferred.  Jim Neuwirth, owner of ABC Nursery, often mixes a variety perennial wheat grasses  or thick spike weed with barley or oats.  The annual vegetation, barely or oats, grow quickly  and knit together to form a quick cover over the ground. The perennial wheat grasses develop more slowly under the the cover crop, establishing deep root systems that will sustain the plants and provide cover year      after year.

The second key to successful vegetative stablization is timing.  Neuwirth has seeded throughout the year by tailoring the grass mixes for the conditions at the time.  For example, using barely when seeding in cooler seasons and oats in the warmer seasons.  He’s planted dormant mixes in fall and early spring allowing for a quick cover to establish and the perennial grasses to germinate later.

More important than the seed mix, Neuwirth notes, is the moisture level in the soil. Water is crucial for germination and growth.  Seeding with a polymer  to hold moisture or the luck of a well -timed rains storm can make or break the success of a seeding that is sown and left to grow.  Irrigation, on the other hand,  dramatically increases the success rate of a vegetative cover to germinate, establish, and become self-sustaining. Neuwirth recommends irrigation to establish the cover, citing irrigation also reduces both risk and future costs for the contractor.

Antelope Creek - Lincoln, NE
Vegetated slopes at Antelope Creek, Lincoln, NE

Using vegetative cover also provides a sense of place and beauty, an intangible benefit for a property.  Seed mixes are typically designed with the site’s function and owner’s preferences in mind. The vegetation used can make the site more distinct, attractive, and environmentally sustainable. Neuwirth likes to add wildflowers to a seed mix if the site is highly visible. The sense of a native Panhandle prairie is more attractive with a splash of color and adds another dimension to the site.

Green grass, green building, and green in the pocket – all are advantages of using vegetative cover as a construction BMP.

For additional information on the City of Scottsbluff Stormwater Program 

Leann Sato, Stormwater Program Specialist, City of Scottsbluff

308.630.8011  -or-  stormwater@



Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

The City of Scottsbluff, working with the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, has recently completed a project that will help reduce stormwater runoff and pollution.  We started with a parking lot that had over 16,000 square feet of impervious surface and no landscaping.  We broke out over 4,000 square feet of concrete and replaced it will trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials.  Not only did we reduce the impervious surface area of the parking lot by about 1/4, we also designed the project so that runoff from the impervious areas that were left would run into the landscaped areas, where much of it can be filtered into the soil and utilized by the plants.  Keep reading for a step by step explanation of what went into this project. Continue reading Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

State of Nebraska Construction Storm Water (CSW) Permit Update

The State of Nebraska NPDES Permit for Construction Sites to Waters was to expire on December 31, 2012.  It has now been administratively extended until a new permit is issued.  This post will address some frequently asked questions such as when the permit will be issued, how to reapply, and changes to the permit.  It has been reviewed by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for accuracy.

Q. The current state Construction Storm Water (CSW) permit expired in December 2012.  What permit should I be operating under right now?

A. The current permit (NER110000) is still in effect (under administrative extension).  Coverage under this permit is valid until the new permit is issued.

 Q. My project was authorized under the old permit.  Do I need to reapply after the new permit is issued?

A. Yes.  Once the new permit is issued, you will have a reapplication period.  This period will be either 90 or 180 days, depending on what the EPA allows.  During this period, you will either need to complete your project and apply for the termination of your current permit, or you will need to apply for authorization under the new permit.

Q. When will the new permit be issued?

A. The new permit will most likely be issued some time in 2013.  Before the new permit is issued, it will have to go through a ninety day EPA review, address any comments by the EPA, be on public notice for 30 days, and possibly undergo a public hearing, if so requested and justified by the development community.  NPDES permits are issued quarterly, so the soonest the permit could be issued at this point is October 1, 2013.  If this process takes more time, then it may be pushed to January 1, 2014, or later.

Q. What are some of the changes we can expect in the permit itself?

A. The new permit will include much more guidance in the permit itself, meaning it will be much longer.  It will include requirements for new controls, such as topsoil preservation, minimization of disturbance on steep slopes, and natural buffers.

Q. When will turbidity tests for construction site runoff be required?

A. The Effluent Limit Guidelines (ELG) numeric standard has officially been withdrawn, meaning that at this time, the EPA has no plans to require permits to include a requirement for stormwater sampling and testing on construction sites.

Q. Will the process of applying for a permit change in any way?

A. Yes.  Currently, a project is authorized seven days from the date that a Notice of Intent (NOI) is sent to the NDEQ.   Under the new permit, projects will be authorized fourteen days from the date that the NOI is mailed to the NDEQ.  This means that project managers will have to plan ahead a little more in order to obtain proper permit coverage before beginning a project.

Q. My project began under the old permit.  Will the site controls that I have installed such as sedimentation basins be grandfathered in to the new permit?

A. No.  Any ongoing project must update its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan and all of its on-site controls to meet the requirements of the new state permit.

Q. Who can I contact for help in obtaining new permit coverage?

A. The NDEQ will not be hiring any additional staff for compliance assistance.  Since every project in the state will need to go through this process, you can expect a longer wait time when contacting the NDEQ.  To aid in this process, NebraskaH2O will do our best to keep you informed of permit requirements via this website.  If you have specific questions not addressed here, feel free to contact us directly at (308) 630-8011.  If you wish to contact the NDEQ directly, the staff member you need to speak to is

Blayne Renner

(402) 471-8330





Scottsbluff Rain Garden and Tree Planting Demonstration Project

In 2011, the City of Scottsbluff was awarded a grant through the Greener Nebraska Towns Initiative.  The grant is funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and administered by the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.  This grant has made several demonstration projects possible throughout the City, and one of these projects was recently completed.  This project included an extensive tree planting demonstration and a series of three rain gardens designed to capture and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff.

The Site

The area for the demonstration project is a long, narrow strip of land alongside a one-lane, one-way street.  This area used to be underneath a two-way street, but when the street was reduced to one-lane as part of a quiet zone project, it left this long, oddly shaped area between the lane of traffic and the existing buildings and parking lot.  The west half of the project is essentially the entryway to our downtown area, and this made an excellent spot for a tree planting project to frame this entryway and make it more attractive. Continue reading Scottsbluff Rain Garden and Tree Planting Demonstration Project

Scottsbluff Rain Garden Update

In spite of having less than a third of our normal moisture for the year, the rain garden at the Scottsbluff Public Safety Building is looking great!


Rain Garden located at the corner of Ave B and 19th St in Scottsbluff

The Bee Balm is the only thing in bloom at the moment, but the rest of these plants are doing very well and we should start seeing more of them bloom soon!