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Atlanta’s new plan would treat stormwater as resource, not waste

Old Fourth Ward Park

The water feature at Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward grew out of a paper written by Ryan Gravel, then a graduate student at Georgia Tech, to built the Atlanta BeltLine atop an out-of-use rail corridor. File/Credit: yeahletsgo.com

By David Pendered

“It is my goal for Atlanta to become one of the top tier sustainable cities in the nation,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says on the opening page of the city’s new green infrastructure plan.

Old Fourth Ward Park

The water feature at Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward is a green infrastructure project that manages stormwater on site, rather than at a sewage treatment plant. Credit: yeahletsgo.com

The GI plan has the potential to remake the way the city handles stormwater and put Atlanta at the forefront of water sustainability. It envisions viewing stormwater runoff as a resource rather than as waste.

In a nutshell, green infrastructure involves managing rain near where it falls, rather than at a sewer treatment plan. Think of retaining stormwater in the pond at Historic Fourth Ward Park, rather than processing it at the Clear Creek CSO Treatment Facility.

The task force that produced the plan was created after The Conservation Fund sponsored Atlanta officials on a trip in 2012 to Philadelphia. The purpose was for Atlanta officials to see how Philadelphia handles flooding and combined sewer overflows – two problems common in Atlanta.

A spokesperson for the mayor said Monday the administration can implement the plan without approval by the Atlanta City Council.

The plan’s No. 1 priority is to incorporate green infrastructure into the projects that are to be built with proceeds of the $252 million infrastructure bond Atlanta voters approved a year ago.

Swift action will be needed to meet this goal.

Lindsay Street Park

The Lindsay Street Park incorporates greenspace, another component of green infrastructure, to reduce stormwater runoff. Credit: conservationfund.org

Portions of 15 streets have already been repaved with traditional methods, according to a city website. The technical advisory team that is assembling the project list met as recently as April 5.

The No. 2 priority is to create a GI feasibility checklist for use by the Department of Public Works as it reviews projects.

Next in line are revising polices and procedures to support GI; devising funding mechanisms; developing public support; and tracking data and developing a pilot hydrologic and hydraulic model in the Nancy Creek watershed.

At this point, the GI plan is just that – a plan.

It acknowledges that implementation will depend on buy-in from departmental commissioners. Silos will have to be torn down to create partnerships:

  • “[T]his document serves as a comprehensive action plan for City-wide GI (green infrastructure) implementation: Removing institutional barriers, increasing cost-effectiveness, and engaging multiple city departments, citizens, the development community, and environmental groups in working towards GI goals.”
cDaniel Branch constructed wetlands

The McDaniel Branch constructed wetlands and ponds was created to help the South River. Credit: City Of Atlanta

Atlanta’s public works commissioner is fully on board.

“The Green Infrastructure Strategic Action Plan aligns with Mayor Kasim Reed’s goal of making Atlanta a top-tier city in sustainability,” Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina said in a statement.

“We are excited to work together with other departments and partners to break down policy, funding, and institutional barriers to incorporating green infrastructure into many of the City’s public infrastructure projects,” Macrina said.

Though clearly aspirational, the plan does set out a concrete objective.

Atlanta intends to remove 225 million gallons of runoff each year, starting with the coming year. This is to be achieved by reducing the amount of runoff from each 1-inch storm by 1 percent. The 1 percent equates to 6.4 millon gallons of the 640 million gallons of runoff generated by a 1-inch storm, according to the plan.

This effort would enhance efforts by the private sector already has implemented to reduce stormwater runoff.

As proof of GI’s potential, the plan observes that GI was used at nearly 2,000 construction projects. The plan reports that 350 million gallons a year of stormwater have been averted since the city enacted, and developers complied with, stricter stormwater management regulations in 2013.

The task force is comprised of representatives of Atlanta departments of watershed management; planning and community development; public work; parks and recreation; aviation; and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

Partners include American Rivers; Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.; The Conservation Fund; and Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Chad Carlson April 13, 2016 7:52 pm

    How does filling up a landfill with the Civic Center, the 20 year old Georgia Dome, and two historically African-American churches and replacing them with car-centric parking lots and crap construction qualify as green sustainability?Report

  2. neildempsey April 19, 2016 9:26 am

    Mr. Pendered,

    Climate, Incorporated, a water sustainability systems and product company based in Atlanta, would like to become a partner in this sustainability goal for the city of Atlanta.  We are so pleased to know Atlanta is embracing the incorporation of green infrastructure.  What is your recommendation for contacting the appropriate persons?  NeilReport


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