waste water magic (or, what the city is doing to try to stop us drowning in our own filth)

Are you sick of hearing about Baltimore Green Week yet? You better now be because you have some serious blogging coming your way about all things water-related: rain and runoff, sewage and streams. Let's get down to the murky business of what happens between a raincloud and a river.

Monday was my day-long BWG marathon, with two back to back "City Day Tours" collectively called "Energy and Stormwater Solutions." Oh man, were we all over town! We learned about energy saving technologies the city is implementing, such as those at the Back River Treatment Plant. There, they use the residual methane gas to power the treatment plant, and even put energy back on the grid in the summer! It's a little horrifying to me that we are producing that much grossness, but.... at least they're making good use of it. It was really neat to see how the whole plant runs, with myriad
steps to ensure that water being released back in to our rivers and bay are free of nutrients (that lead to algae blooms, and ultimately fish kills). Of course, we got to see the enormous golden digesters which have become infamous icons of Dundalk, as well as tour the engine rooms that make sure things keep flowing forward. One thing which was really disheartening was hearing about how our old sewage system is rife with cracking pipes, which inevitably lead to the cross-contamination between rain run off and sewage. With our bay already in dire straights, thinking about a constant leakage of sewage into ground water and run off drains is really....awful.

Our next stop was brand new, soon-to-be-opened LEED silver Homeless Services Center on Fallsway. It is just beautiful! With 275 beds, a green roof, reused materials, and a million other fancy energy efficiency features, this facility is truly inspiring on a lot of levels. What better way to help someone get back on their feet than giving them an address to temporarily call home with quality facilities, inspiring design, solid social services on hand, beautiful outdoor space and respect? As a society, this is what we should be striving to offer all our citizens. Way to go, Baltimore!

After some free lunch donated by Chipotle, we were off again to see various rain gardens and run-off control designs. Long story short, the more you can slow down rain run-offer and get it out of the storm drains and back in to the soil, the better we all are. Soil and plants naturally filter and clean the water they absorb, so that
by the time it gets back in to our waterways it is a lot more environmentally sound than if it just shoots in to a storm drain and out to the bay.

Additionally, projects to restore the health of our streams have aided in improving the health of our waterways, such as the restoration we visited in Mt. Washington's Western Run. Blue Water Baltimore and the Department of Public Works have been doing
great work creating bio-retention systems, tree boxes, community-lead storm drain initiatives and helping residents create low-cost rain gardens, such as the one pictured here (in Roland Park) which also had a rain barrel.

Start thinking about options and ideas you have for decreasing your impact on our waterways. Beyond using less water in your day to day life, could you install a rain barrel? Create a rain garden? Make a green roof? Replace pavement and cement with permeable surfaces to enable rain to seep rather than drain? Can you inspire others to do the same and more?

Oh man, I could go in to so much more detail, but I just wanted to give you all an overview of what we learned, what we saw, and what we can do to help! What questions do you have? What ideas have you implemented?

love k


missrabi said...

Awesome post, Kimi! You caught all the details as well as the hopeful vibe of the day! I think the next thing we could consider, household by household, is downspout disconnection. Its a low tech, low cost, easily accessible action that individuals can take. Collectively, it can make a huge difference. See you at our PPNA green visioning workshop on May 14th! Thanks for this!

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