There has been a scare regarding unsafe levels of ecoli in our river. This is largely a result of particularly heavy rainfalls this summer, which is overwhelming our stormwater management system. Because of this overload, we are seeing the integration of wastewater into our stormwater runoff. This runoff, which now contains ecoli, then eventually makes its way into the Chattahoochee River.
Urbanized watersheds are exacerbating the longstanding problem of runoff pollution. This evolves as vegetation is replaced with impervious surfaces such as buildings, concrete, and asphalt. As Atlanta rapidly develops, we greatly increase the amount of impervious surface in the Chattahoochee watershed. This in turn reduces the area available for water infiltration, creating more storm water runoff. Furthermore, this stormwater runoff is typically highly polluted with wastes, debris, nutrients, and air pollution sediment, which continually gets dumped into the river. Now, it is all adding up.
According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, 18.9% of the Chattahoochee watershed is covered in impervious surfaces. Unfortunately, sensitive stream elements begin disappearing when impervious surfaces reach 10% of the watershed. We must take action in order to protect the quality of the river by limiting impervious surfaces to 10% or less in our watershed. In order to achieve this, we need to decrease impervious surfaces by 1% each year, until 2020. We can accomplish this by using alternate, pervious materials. We provide alternate paths for stormwater through the installation of green spaces. Now the excess water can filter through the soil or be absorbed by the plants. This slows the load of stormwater runoff.
There are two main areas where I believe we should target for this transformation – roofs and parking lots. Green roofs are an effective solution with several benefits. They insulate buildings, reduce energy use, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in addition to enhancing stormwater management and water quality. If residents were to install greenroofs on their homes and pressured corporations to install them on the tops of business buildings, they would directly benefit both themselves and the environment. A second viable solution relates to parking lots. If we were to replace just 2 out of every 100 parking spots with green spaces, we could benefit wastewater management. These effects could be magnified through the installation of pervious parking lots.
We must individually take these actions in addition to pressuring surrounding business and corporations to do this same. This transformation is necessary for the protection of this environmental treasure and preservation of the tradition of enjoying the Chattahoochee River.
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