EPA Conference : Eric Burnette

EPA conference

At the EPA's recent Sustainable Redevelopment conference, I saw three presentations, each dealing with very different issues.

Perhaps the most surprising and memorable was by a water flow engineer on the topic of "fluvial morphology."  Despite the erudite name, the concept is actually pretty straightforward:  water shapes the earth.  This is an issue that has gotten greater recognition and importance as we have seen how fluvial morphology can impact areas like the Mississippi River Delta and Hurricane Katrina (the Army Corps of Engineers has essentially turned the river into a fire hose and obliterated the natural sediment land/wetlands formation that may have weakened the storm).

Now that "fluvial morphology" is in my vocabulary, I see it everywhere in Louisville.  When it rains, where does our water go?  It runs off of buildings, into streets, down trenches, and into storm drains.  Most storm drains funnel water into a few select repositories--the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek, for example.  The result is that when it rains, these water channels quickly swell way beyond their average capacity, while most of the time they're left low.  Bad water flow planning causes predictable flooding, erosion, and a host of other problems. 

Solutions include green roofs (roof gardens that absorb the water) and water channeled into smaller places (such as vegetation beds) scattered throughout an area. 

The presenter pointed out that even if a developer is not interested in water quality, they may very well be interested in water flow.  Without the right awareness, it's an easy area to overlook.  But it may be as important to building a sustainable world as many of the more well-known environmental issues.

It was a presentation worth seeing. 

Eric Burnette