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@ scottsbluff.org

 

 

The Garden Coffee Break – Summer Gardening Series

Talk & Walk:  The Garden Coffeebreak

A Gardening Series

presented by
City Of Scottsbluff, Stormwater Department

     Join us for The Garden Coffeebreak.  Each month we’ll learn  an aspect of gardening from our featured speaker then see the concepts at work in one or more of the downtown gardens.     

     Wear walking shoes and pre-order your lunch at least two days ahead so your food will be ready upon arrival. We’ll spend 20-25 minutes in the restaurant for the presentation then walk to the gardens for the remainder of the program.  Eateries will be providing specials or special menus a week before the event for you to pre-order.  Meals  range from $5.00—$12.00 per meal.

Spring Cleanup with Anita Gall,  Anita’s Greenscaping

  • Friday, April 10, Noon – 1:00 PM
  • Location: Cappuccino & Company, 1703 Broadway
  • Garden: 1st Avenue & 18th  Street
  • Lunch:  Lunch Menu Please call Cappuccino & Company 308-635-9997 to pre-order your lunch by Wednesday, April 8.

 

Tree Selection Galen Wittrock, South Platte NRD

  • Friday, May 8, Noon – 1:00 PM
  • Location: Grace, 1625 1st Avenue
  • Garden(s): Constitution Park, 1809 3rd Avenue, with stops at  1st Avenue & 17th Street , 1st Avenue & 18th Street .
  • Lunch:  Please call Grace at 308-633-4722 to pre-order your lunch by Wednesday, May 6.

 

Downtown Garden Dedication  & Wildflower Presentation,  Justin Evertson and Bob Henrickson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

  • Friday, June 5, 10:00 AM – Noon
  • Location: Emporium deck,  1818 1st Avenue
  • Garden(s): All downtown gardens, please plan on walking/standing for an hour
  • Brunch:  Light brunch foods will be provided by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and The Emporium.

 

Insects, Pollinators & Habitat with  Jeff Bradshaw, UNL Extension, Entymologist

  • Friday, July 10, 11:00 AM – Noon
  • Location: Sam & Louie’s,  1522 Broadway
  • Garden: 18th  Street & Avenue A
  • Lunch:  Please call Sam & Louie’s at 308-633-2345 to pre-order your lunch by Wednesday, July 8.

 

The Stormwater Perspective with Leann Sato, City of Scottsbluff Stormwater Program Specialist

  • Friday, August 7, 11:00 AM – Noon
  • Location: Café de Paris, 15 16th Street
  • Garden(s):  18th Street  & Avenue A , 18th Street & 1st Avenue
  • Lunch:  Please call Café de Paris 308-633-2529 to pre-order lunch by Wednesday, August 4.

 

Sustainable Landscapes with Lucinda Mays, Chadron State College

  • Friday, September 11, 11:00 AM – Noon,
  • Location: Runza Conference Room,  1823 Broadway
  • Garden(s):  Library Bioswale, 18th Street & Avenue A
  • Lunch:  Please arrive a few minutes early to order lunch.

 

Fall Grass Showcase with Jim Schild, UNL Extension

  • Friday, October 2, 11:00 AM – Noon
  • Location: Runza Conference Room,  1823 Broadway
  • Garden(s):  1st Avenue & 18th Street, 18th  Street & Avenue A
  • Lunch:  Please arrive a few minutes early to order lunch.

 

 

Questions?, please call or email:

Phone: 308-630-8011

E-mail: stormwater@scotttsbluff.org

 

Where the Water Flows by Leann Sato

Ahh, the smell of Spring after an April rain shower.  Clean and fresh.    The rain washes away the dry and dirty leaving the beauty of a refreshed landscape. 

 

And then I wonder. Where did the rain go that carried away the dry and dirty? And what was so dirty that needed to be cleaned?

 

The rain runs down the gutter to the storm drain, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) to be exact.   The storm sewer takes rain, snowmelt, and anything that floats down the gutter to the North Platte River. This is often confused with the Sanitary Sewer which takes our home’s wastewater from the shower, laundry, dishwasher, and toilets to the wastewater treatment plant.

The two sewer systems are separate and function differently. The Sanitary Sewer takes water to be cleaned and treated at the wastewater treatment plant.  A constant flow and steady volume of wastewater runs through the plant.  First, trash and non-organic materials are screened out and taken to the landfill. In the next step, the raw sewage flows to an aeration basin where organisms are introduced to help decompose the organic material.  Then the wastewater flows into a clarifier, where those organisms are settled out of the water, producing a sludge which can be composted and reused.  The water is then disinfected using ultraviolet radiation and returned in clean condition to the North Platte River.

The storm drainage system in Scottsbluff and Gering runs straight to the North Platte River; it is not cleaned or treated.  Unlike wastewater, stormwater runoff is unpredictable and varies in volume, making it infeasible to treat with the same process as waste water.  When rain, snowmelt, or the occasional sprinkler causes water to run down the gutter, it can pick up pollutants such as bacteria from pet waste, leaking oil and other fluids from our vehicles, heavy metals from brake pads, and phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers. The stormwater and its pollutants deposits directly into our waterways.  This type of pollution is called non-point source (NPS) pollution, since there’s no specific source, and it is the largest cause of impaired waterways in the United States.

As an example of this, the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer are good for plants, in proper amounts. But consider what happens when the “little bit” that runs off the lawn to join the other “little bits” already in the storm sewer, North Platte River, Missouri River, and Mississippi River.  The excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other fertilizer nutrients in the water lead to large blooms of algae. When the algae die and decompose, this dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen in the water creating hypoxic zones, more commonly called “dead zones,” in which organisms cannot survive.[1] The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, where “little bits” of fertilizer run-off from across the country end up, was estimated to be 5,840 square miles in 2013[2], roughly the land size of Nebraska’s largest county, Cherry County. [3]

Stormwater pollution is difficult to treat, but there are many easy to help prevent it.  The main goal is to let only rain go down the drain. Pick up pet waste, throw litter in the trash can, keep the car in good condition by checking for leaks and regular maintenance, fertilize according to the directions and sweep any extra back onto the yard. The list of suggestions is long the list of benefits even longer.

It all begins by being aware of stormwater – where it goes, what it picks up, and the simple ways to help keep it clean.   So savor the scent of Spring after an April shower and the knowledge of how to help keep our waterways just as clean and fresh.

 

 

Sidebar: 

Only Rain Down the Drain:  Simple Ways to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution

Trash:

Put litter in the garbage

Pick up pet waste and put it in the trash or flush it.

Recycle

 

Vehicles:

Wash your car on the lawn or in a commercial car wash

Monitor, fix Leaks, and clean spills properly

Maintain vehicle regularly

Recycle used motor oil

 

Home:

Properly dispose of hazardous household chemicals

Use non-toxic household products

Sweep the driveway or sidewalk instead of hosing it down

Redirect downspouts to run onto the yard instead of a sidewalk or driveway

Harvest rain water

 

Yards:

Fertilizer and pesticides

Apply according to directions

Store indoors

Sweep any extra back onto the lawn

Use natural fertilizers and pesticides

Keep your grass clippings on the lawn

Compost yard waste

Sweep up leaves and dispose in yard waste containers

Don’t overwater

Water the lawn, not the sidewalk

Vegetate Bare Spots

Use de-icers sparingly

 

Landscape:

Plant “the right plant in the right place”

Plant a rain garden

Use native or well-adapted plants



[1] http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/ hypoxia101.htm

[2] http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/Research/Shelfwide%20Cruises/2013/PressRelease2013.pdf

[3] http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/nebraska/land-area#table

More Than Just Another Pretty Landscape by Dick Meyer

A Prairie Garden Journal                              

When I was learning how to design landscapes half a lifetime ago, the most important aspects of the design process were function and aesthetics.   “Function” was the first phase of the design process—identifying the landscape rooms and connecting paths which best served the activities and lifestyle of the family or persons living in the home or on the property, and then arranging those rooms and paths on the site in much the same way that one would plan the floorplan of a new home.   “Aesthetics” was the second phase of the landscape design process—creating the walls, floors, and ceilings of the landscape rooms and making those walls, floors, and ceilings look pretty—especially the walls.   This is where having a long list of colorful trees, shrubs, flowers, and ornamental grasses came in handy.

But over the past two decades, another important aspect of landscape design has slowly been emerging and it almost certainly will become as important as function and aesthetics in the design process.   This new and important aspect of the landscape design process doesn’t even have an agreed upon name yet–some are calling it ecological functionality or ecological sustainability, others call it ecological coherence or  restorative landscape design.    The lack of a clear name for this new aspect of landscape design reflects the underlying complexity of what it attempts to do—nothing less than to make your home landscape as ecologically functional as a natural landscape.  That may sound like an easy thing to do, but it turns out that God was a little smarter than most of us humans.

Landscape phenomena or trends such as xeriscaping, use of native plants, raingardens and bioswales, are, without a doubt, all a part of the growing awareness of both the importance of landscape to the health of human beings and the complexity of recreating man-made landscapes that are functionally as healthy as natural landscapes.

At this point it might be worthwhile to review just exactly what it is that the earth’s natural landscape does for us human beings (and all other living things).   Let’s see.  Well it creates the air that we breathe—that’s pretty important.   And it creates the pure, clean water that we drink.  I like water, how about you?  And it grows the food that we eat.  Anyone else get hungry?   And on top of that, many of the earth’s natural landscapes are just downright beautiful to look at.

With only a billion or two human beings on the planet, the capacity of the earth’s natural landscape to provide plenty of clean air, pure water, and healthy food was not a problem.  But with the earth’s human population predicted to reach 9 billion within a few decades, most of those who study the subject say that we humans are going to have to make dramatic changes to how we live in order to allow the earth to continue to create enough clean air, pure water, and healthy food for that many people (and all of the other living things, too.)

Just to be clear, I am not one of those wild-eyed environmentalists running around with my hair on fire and a “THE END IS NEAR” sign.   OK, I may be a wild eyed environmentalist, but my hair’s not on fire and I don’t think that the end is near.    There are two reasons why my hair’s not on fire and I’m not carrying a sign.   First, I have great optimism about the capacity of we humans to learn and eventually do the right things, and, second, I have an even greater optimism about the capacity of Nature to heal itself and endure.

Which brings me back to what’s going on in western Nebraska.   The downtown Scottsbluff parking lot raingardens/bioswales, the bioswale at the Scottsbluff Public Library, the proposed landscape development for the downtown business district in Scottsbluff are all part of larger process to make the landscapes in which we humans live to be more than just pretty landscapes.   These are a part of the early attempts of we humans to create landscapes which are not only pretty, but which also do a better job of producing clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and healthy food to eat.

So make no mistake about it.  These are cutting edge landscape concepts being implemented in a small community in western Nebraska.   That said, no one who has worked on designing or building these projects would claim that they already know how to create man-made landscapes that function as well as natural landscapes—but we will learn more from these projects than we knew before, and in the not too distant future I think we will be able to create highly ecologically functional landscapes for homes, businesses and public spaces which also just happen to be pretty.