If asked “What is the biggest threat facing humanity,” what would you say? Wildfires? Extreme Weather Events? Floods? Mass migration? Drought? Climate change? Mass Extinction? Our refusal to deal with our big issues? Ennui? If I had to pick, I’d say impermeable surfaces makes the top ten list.
“Really?” you reply, somewhat incredulous. Let me explain.
Impermeable surfaces, a/k/a impervious surfaces do not allow water to pass through them so when you combine superstorms with a whole lot of asphalt (or macadam, depending on where you’re from), you end up with a whole lot of property damage like:
Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans, 2005) – 2.5 billion in water infrastructure damage;
Tropical Storm Sandy (New Jersey and New York, 2012) – $3billion in damage to NYC’s water/wastewater treatment plants alone.
Hurricane Harvey (Houston, 2017) – over $125 billion total costs with damage to more than 800 wastewater treatment plants and 50 drinking water systems.
You’ve probably noticed that climate change is among the hot topics in our 24/7 news cycle. I’m not going to go into whether it’s real — 99% of scientists agree that it is so why are we still questioning it (a convo for another day) — but the truth is, 100-year storm events are more frequent then every hundred years these days, likely due to climate change, and now they’re starting to bunch up on us as you probably noted from the three just mentioned.
- In the last 100 years, the earth lost 50% of the world’s wetlands;
- Major port cities like Houston (founded June 5, 1837), and Philadelphia (founded October 27, 1682) were built on marshes, swamp, and forested land, areas that used to hold flood waters;
- wetlands and permeable surfaces provide $23 billion in storm protection each year in U.S. alone.
Houston has no formal zoning code, meaning developers get to build wherever and whenever. If you’ve ever driven in Houston, it’s one long traffic light, miles of pavement and highways and byways with nary an open green space in sight. So when it rains, and rains hard, the water has no where to go because the pavement is blocking its return to groundwater.
Instead, it skitters along the sidewalk looking for the low spots, ultimately finding the streams and rivers until those back up like a basement built in a flood plain without a sump pump and then where does the water go? Well, to the streets, of course. And that’s when it becomes an emergency.
Green infrastructure can help avoid this scenario because it can: control flooding; improve water quality; act as a wildlife nursery; provide buffering from winds and storms; provide recreation and tourism opportunities; hold onto carbon dioxide to slow its release into the atmosphere; and its nice to look at!
Want to move from impermeable surfaces like highways and driveways to pervious ones like rain gardens; green roofs; bioswales; retention basins; and pollinator gardens? Instructions abound on the internet or you can email me and I’ll send you step-by-step instructions.
Let’s keep water off the roads and in the rivers where it belongs. Where you can, switch out those impermeable surfaces in your yard for something green and growing. The benefits to you and the planet, over time, will be enormous.