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Nov 4, 2014

NALGEP Newsflash: Spotlight on Kansas City’s Green Infrastructure

Category: General
Posted by: rita

Like many older cities in the Northeast and Midwest, Kansas City, Missouri is faced with the challenge of safeguarding regional water resources by reducing combined sewer overflows (CSOs). While Kansas City's challenge is not unlike sewer infrastructure issues faced by many cities across the nation, Kansas City's CSO solutions are extraordinary.

Kansas City is committed to a city-wide approach to sustainability as a means to safeguard local water resources and support economic development now, and for future generations. In 2010, Kansas City became the first City in the nation to enter into a Federal Consent Decree incorporating green infrastructure solutions to reduce combined sewer overflows. The City, and its regulatory partners, agreed to meet objectives over a 25-year time period by completing a planned list of improvements targeted at capturing for treatment 88 percent of combined sewer overflows, and eliminating sanitary sewer overflows during a five-year rainfall event. Kansas City's Federal Consent Decree is part of the City's Overflow Control Program-- a city-wide approach to addressing CSOs, and the largest infrastructure investment in Kansas City's history.

"Kansas City is committed to implementing green solutions to improve regional water quality and enhance local communities," said Andy Shively, Engineering Officer for Kansas City Water Services. "Green infrastructure brings a solution to the surface that is normally buried underground; it prompts people to ask questions and to learn about the problems we are facing."

In 2012, the completion of Kansas City's nationally- recognized green infrastructure pilot project showcased the community and environmental benefits of incorporating green infrastructure solutions for the on-site control of rainwater. The pilot project in the Middle Blue River Basin, otherwise known as Target Green Marlborough, focuses on adding green amenities to the Marlborough neighborhood. In this 100-acre pilot area, 135 vegetated green infrastructure elements and 27,490 square feet of non-vegetated green infrastructure were installed during a 15-month construction period. Some examples of the types of projects include rain gardens, bioretention, curb extension rain gardens, permeable paver sidewalk, and porous sidewalk.

After completion of construction, the monitoring results have been more than encouraging: actual reduction in overflow volume is 292,000 gallons of stormwater, and the peak flow is reduced by 76 percent.

"Through the use of green solutions, Kansas City has successfully reduced the volume and the flow of rain water in the 100-acre area," said Andy Shively, Engineering Officer for Kansas City Water Services. "The green solutions have the added benefit of enhancing the Marlborough community through increased green space and traffic calming measures."

Social and economic benefits are important aspects of the pilot project, as well. When public outreach started at the earliest stages of the pilot project, it became clear that this mostly residential neighborhood was in need of more than just green infrastructure. The neighborhood had crumbling streets, sidewalks and curbs, and many people thought that traffic and speeding were problematic. From this process, the City was able to incorporate over $4 million of street improvements and sewer rehabilitation into the $10.4 million pilot project. Given that all of the green infrastructure elements were incorporated into street rights-of-way, this synergy improved the neighborhood’s appearance and safety, beyond the stormwater management enhancements.

None of this could have happened, however, without close coordination among a variety of different city departments. Led by Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo, monthly interdepartmental meetings with representatives from Kansas City's Water Services, Parks and Recreation, Community Development, Neighborhood and Housing Services, and Public Works Departments were held to ensure that the City had a coordinated effort in completing this important project. Coordinating with utility companies occurred as well, which accelerated neighborhood gas line replacement work to coincide with project area construction.

The next phase of green infrastructure design has begun, and the City's brownfields office is playing an important role. Brownfields assistance in the pilot project includes help with the assessment of a 10-acre site for stormwater capture, commercial and recreational development, and an urban community farm; coordination with special state incentives for urban agriculture and other potential space for federal agency programs; and working with Land Bank on the assessment of vacant lots near two other commercial nodes in the project area.

"Our brownfields office is poised to play an even larger role in upcoming green infrastructure projects, because work will be focused on publicly-owned vacant lots and surplus property," said Andrew Bracker, NALGEP Board member and the Brownfields Coordinator at the Department of City Planning and Development. "It is an exciting opportunity to harness the transformative effect of brownfields revitalization and innovative stormwater management in such a historic investment in Kansas City's infrastructure."

As the City takes the success and the lessons learned from the pilot project, and plans for the eventual installation of green infrastructure for the control of stormwater flows in an additional 644 acres, city officials are optimistic. They see a future with dramatically reduced sewer overflows, beautiful and functional green infrastructure elements, communities with better infrastructure, and enhanced water quality—all at a cost that is comparable to "grey" solutions using storage tanks and pipes.