Press Releases

We’re Drinking Dinosaur Tears

Nobody wants to think about it, but all water is essentially recycled—it’s dinosaur tears, a colleague of mine likes to joke. Since most of the water that we drink each day has passed through other humans at some point before it reaches us, why are we so repelled by the concept of water reuse and terms like “toilet to tap”? A recent study examined people’s feelings about adopting recycled water.
A 2015 internet survey of 1,500 Californians revealed that only 11% of Californians indicate that they would drink recycled water. Stanford political scientists Iris Hui and Bruce Cain launched a study to better understand why.  The researchers discovered a number of fascinating results. While 87% and 86% of survey respondents indicated that they were comfortable watering their lawns and flushing toilets with recycled water, the study found that “direct consumption or skin contact with recycled water stirs the strongest resistance,” specifically drinking, bathing, and cooking with recycled water.
In general, males were more willing to use recycled water than women. Self-identified Democrats were less resistant to using recycled water than Republicans or Independents. And people living in areas adversely affected by limited water resources such as the Central Valley showed more support for recycled water, though they too balked at drinking and cooking with recycled water.
Contrary to previous research, Hui and Cain’s study discovered that the respondents’ educational level didn’t affect their views of recycled water. What did influence their perspective, however, was learning about the existence of other reuse systems, specifically the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System’s indirect potable reuse process.
“When we give people more information about the recycled water system and how it gets purified and injected into local groundwater before being taken out for use, those details make people feel more comfortable using it in certain applications,” Hui tells Water Deeply. “The public information on this particular topic is very shallow. When you frame it differently, people react differently.”
In fact, after people were informed that Orange County has a “toilet to tap wastewater recycling program for outdoor and indoor water use, including drinking and bathing,” and that this system provides 70% of the county’s water, their willingness to drink recycled water increased from 11% to 17%. When the “toilet to tap” moniker was dropped and additional positive insight was provided about the treatment process, support for using recycled water increased further, but the share of Californians willing to drink it was still only 21%.
The study indicates that successful existing water recycling programs have a reassuring effect on people—a factor that could impact the rate of adoption. “As more communities adopt recycled water without harmful effects, the resistance to recycled water in other communities may break down over time,” write Hui and Cain.

Laura Sanchez • November 8, 2017

Never Enough Parking Spaces

Did you drive to work this morning? Was a parking space waiting for you when you arrived? Many cities require developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces for office, retail, and residential buildings; sometimes the number is based on the square footage of the building, sometimes on occupancy. Many calculate the required number of spaces based on peak demand. As this article from the Economist notes, some cities ask for what seems like an excessive amount. Cupertino, CA—home to Apple’s new headquarters building—requires two parking spaces per apartment, one space for every three seats in a fast-food restaurant, and seven spaces per lane in a bowling alley (plus more for employees). Apple’s headquarters will have 11,000 parking spaces for 14,000 workers, and the parking will take up more area than the offices and laboratories.

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Another thing parking does, although the Economist article doesn’t mention it, is add impervious surface to the landscape. This article from Stormwater by Lisa Nisenson and Clark Anderson suggests that cities reviewing their ordinances and codes can and should eliminate excess parking: “Like street design, parking occupies a conspicuous spot on the impervious audit radar. Almost all code reviews recommend reducing the amount of parking in standards. However, there is no magic code change wand that reduces spaces without some pushback from retailers, landowners, and stakeholders concerned about spillover parking. We found that successful efforts often began with parking space utilization studies. These studies look at the degree of over- and undersupply, how to handle peak parking events, and management options within a ‘parking-shed.’ Parking studies usually initiate a broader effort to ‘find’ parking spaces on existing paved areas. Even so, there are a couple of quick fixes. For example, basing parking requirements on staffed space rather than gross square footage can reflect demand while reducing spaces needed.”

The Economist article notes that after London got rid of parking minimums altogether in 2004, essentially letting market forces decide how much would be available, the number of spaces in residential areas actually dropped. In general, eliminating excess parking is a good thing, not only in terms of managing stormwater but in making a city more livable: “The more spread out and car-oriented a city… the less appealing walking and cycling become,” the article points out. “Parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else.”

Cities with minimum parking requirements also make things tough for redevelopment and infill projects, which often don’t have enough land available to satisfy them. Going underground is not an attractive option, either: “Creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping center in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground.” And everyone—even those who rely on public transportation—subsidize that parking by paying more for restaurant meals, theater tickets, and retail goods.

It’s a fine line, though—what happens when there’s not enough parking? Drivers spend time and gasoline—and get frustrated and angry—driving around searching for an empty space. By one estimate, cars in Los Angeles’ Westwood area, which has very few spaces, drive an additional 950,000 miles per year just in the quest for parking spots.
By Janice Kaspersen

Bite Size Solutions To Large Problems

As with many other cities that have combined sanitary and storm sewer systems, Chicago has a combined sewer overflow problem, with an average of more than 60 overflows a year. And, as many other cities are doing, it’s turning to green infrastructure to help solve the problem—infiltrating as much water as possible to keep runoff out of the now-undersized and overburdened sewer system during storms. In addition to traditional methods of dealing with runoff and wastewater, Chicago and other cities are looking to smaller, decentralized solutions.

Chicago has taken some early and visible steps toward green infrastructure, such as its Green Alley program 1 and the famous green roof atop its City Hall 2. One thing the city is doing that some others are not is taking active measures to see how well green infrastructure is working. It’s notoriously difficult to do.

Several years ago, Gordon England wrote an article 4 for Stormwater magazine outlining how more widespread use of green infrastructure (then commonly referred to as low impact development) would affect municipal development processes, as well as the difficulties of inspecting and maintaining these widely dispersed installations. Who’s responsible for long-term maintenance on single-family residential properties, for example? The city, the homebuilder, the homeowner, or some combination?

Maintenance is only part of the question. How can we be sure the many individual green infrastructure measures—bioswales, areas of permeable pavers, and so on—are removing as much volume from the system as intended? Even with the best design, who’s checking to ensure they’re still working as efficiently as they should after several years—that the media in the rain gardens and swales hasn’t clogged with silt, or that some of the residential rain gardens haven’t been completely replaced by the homeowners?

Questions like these make some strong proponents of LID and green infrastructure touchy, as we’ve seen from the responses to England’s article and others. But they’re necessary, and Chicago is asking them. Quoted in this article 5, Marcus Quigley, CEO of Opti, sums up the problem: “One of the challenges…is that you have these vast numbers of small assets, and green infrastructure makes this problem infinitely more challenging than the historical approach to having large civil engineering projects that deal with stormwater. Instead of having a million-gallon tank, you may have several-thousand-gallon bioretention cells to store and treat this water. And those assets are much harder to track.”

His company and others have collaborated on a system called Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring (SGIM), led by UI Labs. SGIM involves a network of above- and below-ground sensors to monitor everything from weather conditions to soil moisture and various water-quality parameters. It’s still a work in progress, but data will be sent via a cellular network to help determine how various installations are working—“the quantity of water, how it flows, and if it’s flowing,” says Quigley. Ultimately, the goal is to allow real-time monitoring of different types of green infrastructure in different locations around the city to see which measures work best under particular conditions, and to alert the city when something isn’t working as intended—clogged with particulates or trash, perhaps. The data will be available to the public and should help developers and designers—in Chicago and in other cities—figure out what will work in their own situations. As green infrastructure measures become more widely adopted, and in some cases required, this is the kind of thing more cities should be doing.

By Janice Kaspersen

Usgbc Cces
Triton Stormwater Solutions, LLC
7600 Grand River Rd, Suite 195
Brighton, Michigan 48114
Phone: (810) 222-7652 - Fax: (810) 222-1769
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