Displaying items by tag: stormwater
A friend of mine, Debra Shore, is on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District which oversees management of the stormwater and sewage treatment and disposal systems in much of Cook County. In honor of World Water Day (March 22nd), she sent out the following message that I quote in its entirety.
"We have lived through the golden age of water, the era when water was safe, abundant, and cheap. At least that's what Charles Fishman asserts in his compelling book, The Big Thirst, published in 2011. In the 20th century, Fishman contends, in the United States and the developed world, "we could use as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted, for almost no cost." But in our uncertain future, no longer will those three characteristics be present at the same time. Fresh water may be abundant and safe, but it will not be cheap. Water may be cheap and abundant, but it won't be safe.
"The development of water filtration and treatment systems installed in municipalities throughout America between 1900 and 1915 led to the most dramatic improvements in quality of life and increases in life expectancy. "How much did clean water matter?" Fishman writes. "[Two professors] conducted a remarkable analysis, published in 2005, teasing out the impact of the new water treatment methods on the most dramatic reduction in death rates in U.S. history. By 1936, they conclude, simple filtration and chlorination of city water supplies reduced overall mortality in U.S. cities by 13 percent. Clean water cut child mortality in half."
"Yet the miracle of modern water utility - that throughout America we can turn on our taps and expect safe, fresh water to come out every time - has lulled us into thinking it will be like that always. Not so, says Fishman, and I agree.
"Those of us who live near the southern tip of one of the world's great lakes are both lucky and obliged: Lucky because the Great Lakes collectively hold nearly 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water; obliged because we must become better stewards of this precious, irreplaceable resource. In the last six years we have lived through water abundance - two of the wettest years on record (2008 and 2011) -- and water scarcity. The water level in Lake Michigan reached its all-time low in January and the Midwest experienced a severe drought in 2012. These wild swings are likely to continue, a possible sign of climate change.
"The average daily water consumption in Cook County is 165 gallons per capita (gpcpd), according to David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). "That's huge," he says. The national average is 100 gpcpd and in Atlanta, where water supplies are scarce, consumption has dropped to about 40 gpcpd. The MWRD treats 1.2 billion gallons a day of wastewater on average. "If we cut our water use in half," says St. Pierre, "that's like building another tunnel system to handle storm events. You've just significantly increased the size of your system [without spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new reservoirs or tunnels]."
"Biggest single thing you can do to conserve water? Get a new, dual-flush or low-flow toilet. I know, sounds funny, right? But old toilets are the largest single user of water in our homes and leaking toilets can waste huge volumes of water without noticing it (because water is still so cheap). Fishman again: "We use more water flushing toilets than bathing or cooking or washing our hands, our dishes, or our clothes. The typical American flushes the toilet five times a day at home, and uses 18.5 gallons of water, just for that. What that means is that every day, as a nation, just to flush our toilets, Americans use 5.7 billion gallons of water - 5.7 billion gallons of clean drinking water down the toilet."
"So, my friends, on this World Water Day, let's be mindful of our water use, thankful that we can depend on fresh, safe and, yes, still cheap water issuing reliably from our taps, and resolved to retrofit or replace our toilets. Because water matters."
The bottomline is that if we take water for granted, we do so at our own peril. Remember, people can live a few minutes without oxygen, a few weeks without food, and just a few days without water. Lisa
I heard them before I saw them, hundreds of Canada geese. A raucous honking as the birds circled a pond, vying for a spot to spend the night. The sun was near the horizon, and as I drove home, I noticed ribbons of the birds flying as far as my eyes could see – some in the classic V-formation, others in long lines. All, presumably, in search of open water where they would spend the night.
Branta canadensis, as it is known to scientists, has proved to be a highly adaptable species that benefitted greatly from the rapid suburbanization of metro areas like Chicago since 1980. In fact, the geese like the suburbs so much, that many have stopped migrating – they are now considered a year-round resident species. Geese like the suburbs for several reasons: habitat, food and safety from predators.
Canada geese like open water, especially when it is free of places where predators can hide. People call these areas stormwater detention ponds, and have a tendency to keep the lawn mowed right up to the edge of the water. To a flock of geese, these neatly manicured detention areas are perfect.
Geese are herbivores, meaning that they eat mostly plants. They like grass and corn (which is a type of grass). And if there is one thing the suburbs have in abundance, it is grass. Plus, as development marched steadily westward into agricultural areas, the suburbs also put detention ponds and farm fields in close proximity. To the geese, we could not have planned it any better.
Finally, the suburbs tend to have fewer predators to bother geese. Many suburban communities have implemented programs to cull coyotes that might otherwise prey on geese. (Cull means to reduce a species’ population deliberately through hunting). Additionally, hunting, for sport or food, is not permitted in most suburban areas, providing geese with a large safe haven in the ‘burbs.
The birds are now found in such high numbers that many consider them pests. There exists a whole industry that offers to keep geese from golf courses, corporate campuses, public parks and airports. Some use border collies that harass the geese enough that they will not stay in an area. Others have machines that make noise to scare the geese and keep them away.
There is a simple way to keep geese away from some areas: plant tall vegetation. Seriously. Geese will not be comfortable in a pond that is ringed with tall grasses or shrubs – there are too many places where predators can hide. Similarly, by maintaining more tall vegetation in a golf course’s “rough,” geese will choose to spend their time elsewhere.
Personally, I like Canada geese – they mate for life and the parents work together to raise their young. And I appreciate their hardiness. About a Century ago, the Canada goose appeared headed for extinction due to hunting and habitat loss. After conservation efforts began in the 1960’s, they rebounded. Then, as more suburban development occurred, their population exploded, thanks in large part to open water detention ponds and mowed lawns.
It seems ironic that humans provide the ideal conditions for the geese to thrive, and then complain that there are too many of them.
It seems that local trees have been in the news a lot this year. And it looks like the trees are often losing to "progress" or "infrastructure."
Here are just a few of the items I've heard about recently:
Utilities wanting greater power to remove trees if they think they are a potential problem.
Illinois' State Rep from Marengo introduced legislation last fall that proposed giving electric utilities the ability to remove any tree that they deemed a potential problem if it were within 20 feet of one of their power lines. If the bill had passed, utilities would have been able to remove trees on private property, and it would have been a crime for the homeowner to interfere.
My response: Okay, the whole proposal was an enormous give away to the power companies. In communities where power lines run through back yards, it could have resulted in the removal of thousands of trees, forever changing the character of communities, in addition to increasing stormwater run off and reducing property values. The reason for the legislation was to reduce prolonged power outages due to downed power lines following storms. If the utilities really wanted to reduce power outages, they would bury the lines instead of removing the trees.
IDOT taking down "hazardous" trees along their routes.
You may have noticed that quite a few trees came down this spring along Route 120 between Woodstock and McHenry, and Route 23 between Marengo and Harvard. This work was commissioned by the Illinois Department of Transportation as part of their regular maintenance. Trees in the right-of-way that were dead or leaning over the road were marked and then removed to prevent them from one-day falling on someone.
My response: IDOT is well within their rights to do this, and their intentions are good. I just wish they didn't view the trees that are located in the right of way as "their" trees, and I wish there were some requirement that the public be notified when a project like that is proposed. The trees do not belong to the state, they belong to the residents of Illinois, and it seems the public should receive some notice before our trees are removed.
Municipalities proposing to remove many large, old trees to rebuild roads, put in sidewalks and/or install stormsewers.
Recent proposals in Algonquin, along Fleming Road, and Alden Road between rural Woodstock and the Wisconsin state line, all gained public notice in large part because so many large, old trees were proposed to be removed. To some people, if a tree is located in the public right of way, and the road authority wants to widen or "improve" the road with curbs and stormsewers, those trees are just in the way.
My response: There seems to be a general lack of understanding that trees are an important part of a community's infrastructure. They reduce stormwater run-off, clean the air, enhance property values, reduce the "heat island" effect in urban and suburban areas, provide habitat for birds and insects, and are generally good for our mental and physical health and well-being. Yet, rather than factoring tree preservation in to built infrastructure plans from the beginning, it seems that road authorities and local communities view even historic trees as just something to be removed if they are in the way. While sometimes there are provisions made to plant replacement trees, a 2" diameter tree is going to take a generation or more before it provides the benefits to the community that a 150 year-old bur oak provides.
Farmers removing fence row trees and tearing off tree branches that overhang their fields, all to get a few more rows of corn.
With corn and soybean prices at record high levels, we have been seeing some really aggressive tree removal by farmers who have a strong financial incentive to plant a few more rows of corn (or beans). In several cases, entire fence rows have been removed and burned. 150+ year old oak groves have been cut down and the stumps grubbed out to open up less than an additional acre of farmland. Some farmers have even used equipment to rip the branches off of neighbors trees if those branches overhang the farm field - otherwise the ginormous equipment used these days won't fit.
My response: Back in the day, farmers wanted to have diversified operations and land holdings that typically included a wood lot to provide fire wood, timber, grazing for the cattle in summer, etc. They also left large trees in the middle of fields to provide shady spots where they could stop and have lunch during the middle of a hot summer day. Now, many farmers don't even own the land they farm, and their only goal is getting as much income off the land as possible. Besides that, the combines and planting equipment have enclosed cabs with airconditioning these days, so there is no need to sit in the shade for lunch! A family's farm was their home back in the day, so most families tried to be good stewards of the land resources to be sure the next generation would be able to make a living there too. Today, land is seen as a commodity - something to be bought and sold. Something to wring the most money from today without a thought given to the next generation.
Some highway officials believe that shade from trees damages road asphalt.
There is a rumor that has been passed along for a few years now that says tree shade damages asphalt roads because it prevents them from drying following a rain storm. So, some road departments are getting rid of the road-shading trees. In the most obnoxious cases, road agencies have removed every tree branch that is overhanging a road, severing the branches in the middle rather than pruning them back to the trunk.
My response: This is a rumor based on partial information. This is one of the most dangerous kinds of rumors, because once acted upon, it is impossible to undo the damage done. Namely, once a tree has been damaged through irresponsible cutting of limbs, or removed entirely, it is ruined or gone forever. There is a kernel of truth in the rumor, as is often the case, but it isn't the whole story. Water on asphalt does damage the road surface, so the thinking is that anything that prevents the water from leaving quickly is bad. Thus, shade from trees becomes bad since it prevents the water on roads from evaporating as quickly as it would in direct sun. What this story omits, however is that branches overhanging roads actually reduce the amount of rainfall that strikes the road. That's right, the tree leaves catch a good amount of the water, especially during a light rain, so the road actually may stay dry under the tree. The tree leaves also catch and slow the rainfall, which further reduces the direct impact of rain on asphalt. Plus, shade is only a factor on a sunny day after a rainfall. What happens when it rains at night? Trees or not, there is no sunlight hitting the road during the night. Additionally, trees only generate meaningful shade during the growing season - typically May-October in our area. That means for half of the year, shade from trees is a non-issue.
All this is a long way of saying that I wish more people would view trees as important cultural, historic, infrastructure, aesthetic and community resources, and do more to think about the ways trees contribute to our health and general well-being as a society, and stop viewing them as obstacles to be removed. In some cases they were here long before we were - and if we take care of them, they could be here long after we are gone.