The first two sections of the City of Grand Rapids Sustainability Plan provide excellent background information about our community. The Green Grand Rapids Master Plan Update provides the vision for the future of Grand Rapids and the use of Green Infrastructure.
Grand Rapids is also a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Community which began a separation program in 1991. The program is being performed under Michigan’s requirements which are more protective than the Federal Requirements. The main difference is that the Michigan standard is a 25-year, 24-hour SCS Type II growing season rain event while the Federal Requirement is less than four overflows per year. For the first fifteen years, the program only utilized gray pipe without a triple bottom line (TBL) analysis (economic, ecological, and social). Over the last few years, green infrastructure has been included in most of the contracts.
When the opportunity to participate in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS) arose it was welcomed. We had been investing as a community (both public and private) in Green Infrastructure and LEED Certified Buildings. The metrics to measure success and plan are nonexistent. The benefits are difficult to measure and explain.
Green Infrastructure (building on success):
The first rain garden (River of Stars) which the Environmental Services Department (ESD) installed was at the Sewer Maintenance building and captured storm water from the back roof and a limited area of the site.
The second Rain Garden (River of Dreams) took a more aggressive approach. The Garden is located at the Wastewater Treatment Facility and captures stormwater from 1.5 acres of the site. During 2008 there were three rain events exceeding a 75 years storm and the Garden captured and infiltrated 100% of the runoff in this area. This proved that Green Infrastructure can address 100% of the Stormwater on a site. The cost of the Garden was about $35,000 and the estimated cost for gray infrastructure to serve the same area approached $60,000. The gray infrastructure would have routed the stormwater to the plants final effluent channel impacting the quality of the plant’s final effluent.
The third rain Garden (River of Two Cities) was smaller. However, in addition five infiltration basins were installed. The rain garden and infiltration basins provide 100% of the stormwater management for 11 acres of the plant's grounds. The cost for this infrastructure was $88,750 and was less expensive than an estimated $774,950 for gray infrastructure. The gray infrastructure would have included a lift station to pump the stormwater into the final effluent channel and impacting the quality of the plant’s final effluent. This project was part of the Grand Valley Regional Biosolids Authority (GVRBA) which is a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids and the City of Wyoming to address Biosolids using a regional approach.
During the same period, the City incorporated the TBL approach into CSO Contract #19. The result of this approach was Joe Taylor Park that increases existing park acreage and incorporates a range of green strategies including rain gardens to infiltrate runoff from paved surfaces. An underground stormwater infiltration basin is designed to manage the 90-95 storm event from a 47-acre sub-watershed before water is released to the Grand River. Native plant materials were used and the tree canopy was increased. The park also included expanded recreational facilities (spray park; picnic shelter). In addition, the design also incorporated porous pavement, a splash park and urban gardens. The water from the splash park is stored in a cistern and utilized to irrigate the urban gardens. The cost of the infiltration basin was approximately $230,000 and the TBL effect on this previously underserved area of the City and the receiving waters have not been established.
CSO Contracts 26a and 26b have been approached with Green Infrastructure as a requirement. Contract 26b incorporates an infiltration basin under Mary Waters Park that will manage a minimum of 90-95 percentile storm for nearly 85 acres. Porous pavement, bulb outs, bio-swales and trees are also incorporated. These areas are included in the GIPS project and the effect on the stormwater runoff will be estimated and documented. To date, the sewer sheds have been defined and preconstruction stormwater volumes estimated.
Maryland Estates Neighborhood is currently part of a footing drain disconnection program. The neighborhood soils and water table prohibited the usage of porous pavement, rain gardens, infiltration basins and bio-swales. The downstream stormwater system, which is part of the county drain, has a detention basin designed for a 100 year storm event. As part of the project the detention basin is being enlarged to address the additional flow. On a similar project in the East Leonard Heights Neighborhood, an infiltration basin was evaluated to manage stormwater however, it was not implemented due to the cost.
Private entities in Grand Rapids also have a culture that promotes Green Infrastructure. For example, in 2010, the City was ranked first nationally in the number of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings per capita and fifth overall.
Traditional storm water gray infrastructure is designed for a ten year one hour storm event. Based on Grand Rapids experience, Green Infrastructure can provide full storm water management in a cost effective manner and must be evaluated as part of any infrastructure improvements.
If Grand Rapids went back to 1985 and began addressing CSO and storm water issues, it would begin with a focus on sustainability and TBL. An integrated planning approach that begins with the City’s Master Plan, similar to the Green Grand Rapids Master Plan update, and which includes all aspects of the City would be implemented. This is far beyond the approach suggested in the EPA Draft Integrated Planning document.
Once CSO construction is complete in 2013, there will be a two year time period for Grand Rapids to utilize GIPS, EPA SUSTAIN and EPA CREATE to incorporate the TBL into remaining projects. We are looking forward to this process and the results. Foundations and other private entities are interested in investing in Green Infrastructure and, with this advance planning allowing them an opportunity, there will be a greater chance to receive additional funding.
Stormwater is currently funded through the City’s General Fund, Capital Reserve Fund, and Local and Major Streets Fund. These funds have been significantly reduced during the past few due to the economic downturn. Addressing the TBL and partnering with private identities remains part of Grand Rapids culture.
For further information regarding Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS) Click the links below.