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Green Laws That Require On-site Storm Water Management

By Buck Abbey, ASLA

The State of Virginia Department of Forestry suggests 'rain gardens' as a landscape tool to improve water quality. These shallow planted depressions absorb excess water, uptake nutrients and other yard use chemicals and provide habit for small water loving creatures.

The newest green regulations are those that preserve and reconstruct open space on development sites to manage storm water.

Low areas of building sites, often along the perimeter of the lot or within parking lots, are being planted with wetland plants to better manage storm water. These unique drainage facilities are often called rain gardens, parking lot detentions and infiltration trenches. In the hands of a landscape architect and a landscape contractor, the drainage facilities can become a beautiful, ornamentally planted addition to the landscape of any city or town. On-site storm water management areas are imaginative ways of cutting down on flooding and non-point pollution from sediments, organic materials, inorganic compounds, microorganisms and heavy metals.

New methods of urban storm water management promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promote natural retention, infiltration, evaporation, filtration, recycling of nutrients, and removal of non-point pollutants. This approach to site construction favors nature and works to utilize natural methods for controlling site development impacts while at the same time reducing development costs to the development community.

The State of New Jersey promotes the use of low impact development techniques to manage urban storm water run off. Methods are suggested in their code based upon sound site planning principles that will mimic the site's pre-developed hydrologic response. This method controls storm water and its non-point pollution load where it falls. Managing rainfall at its source is not only easier to do, but is less costly, and does not require investment in underground drainage pipes, catch basins or outfall. Low impact development drainage methods in New Jersey are reducing the overall impact of land development.

Other states manage storm water in slightly different ways based upon their specific landscape codes or storm water design manuals. Washington State Department of Ecology for instance, recommends such storm water best management practices as down spout collection, sheet flow dispersion, permeable paving and vegetated rooftops. The State of Virginia Department of Forestry suggests 'rain gardens' as a landscape tool to improve water quality.

Maryland has long been a leader in on-site storm water management. The Maryland Department of the Environment, Water Management Administration, created a storm water management ordinance several years ago that is being adapted across the state. The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR 26:17.02) provides guidance to communities who wish to establish minimum criteria for county and municipal codes. The Maryland code sets design criteria, provides for review of storm water plans, issues permits, requires inspection and provides for maintenance activities.

Louisiana Model Landscape Code

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. EPA are crafting a model storm water landscape code.

This new code includes both landscaping and on-site storm water management design standards. The model will allow communities to broaden their storm water management regulations by supplementing traditional methods of "centralized storm water management," conveyance and disposal by promoting a "decentralized storm water management" approach where a proscribed percentage of site rainfall is captured on site. This site sensitive approach works to filter, detain, evaporate, absorb and infiltrate a percentage of storm water where it falls, rather than convey it to centralized disposal areas at public expense. The use of 'non-structural storm water best management practices,' BMP's, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency are an essential element of this new model code. BMP's reduce the use of traditional drainage methods. Instead of underground pipe, storm water BMP's use vegetation, natural filters, soil and sun light as the primary means of disposing of rain water in environmentally friendly ways.

The landscape industry should adopt on-site storm water management as an essential service provided by landscape architects as well as landscape contracting and maintenance businesses. The green industry should become more blue, by embracing on-site storm water management.

For more information, contact

D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Legislation.

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June 18, 2019, 8:40 am PDT

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