Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It Starts and Ends With the River

It starts and ends with the river.  This refers to the lovely film created by Russell Oliver that was shown during the Downtown Development Plan Town Hall Meeting on November 27.  It started with beautiful footage of the North Oconee River then proceeded through a virtual tour of the downtown planning area.  It concluded with more footage of the North Oconee River, framing the downtown discussion.  It was brilliant!

Athens is creating a Downtown Master Plan that will define and direct the type of development for the area.  All of the ideas presented at the Town Hall Meeting include more greenspace.  I agree that downtown would benefit from more trees and open spaces for people to gather, but how will that affect our water resources?  As the frequency and duration of drought increases, and most climate scientists say it will, we need to protect our limited water supply.  Fortunately, additional greenspace does not have to dramatically increase the stress on our water supply.  If planned properly it can even protect our water.

Cisterns can be incorporated into the infrastructure of downtown to collect rainwater and condensate from HVAC systems.   The water collected in the cisterns could be used for irrigation, reducing the amount of potable water needed to maintain the additional greenspace.  Hotel Indigo, Athens-Clarke County, UGA, and others in Athens already use captured rainwater or condensate to irrigate landscapes.  All new developments in downtown should do the same.  Other communities even incorporate underground cisterns into their street infrastructure.

New Jersey's Canal Park includes a linear rain garden, low impact design tree pits, and approximately 80,000 gallons of underground cistern capacity.  Almost all of the stormwater generated by the park will be used to satisfy 95% of the park's needs for irrigation, fountains, toilet flushing, and an ice rink.

Other communities have extensive plans for green infrastructure.  Philadelphia protects and enhances its water resources by using innovative green stormwater infrastructure.  Nashville's Green Infrastructure Master Plan includes the use of underground cisterns for irrigation.

Some large developments, such as the Dallas Omni Hotel, have underground cisterns that capture recycled condensate water that is used to irrigate the landscape instead of using city drinking water.  I am not proposing that a hotel of this scale is appropriate in Athens, but if this place can protect water we can too.

-Marilyn Hall
Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Coordinator


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