Rochester chosen for new green infrastructure program

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 9, 2014

ROCHESTER — The city of Rochester is one of three local municipalities chosen by the Clinton River Watershed Council for a new project organizers say will help identify innovative ways to manage stormwater.

Watershed Planner Nina Misuraca-Ignaczak said the project is a continuation of last year’s WaterTowns initiative. Made possible by a three-year commitment from the Erb Family Foundation, the WaterTowns initiative is a community-based effort to help towns and cities in the watershed leverage the assets of the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair for water-oriented community development. In Rochester, the project focused on the area under the south Main Street bridge that runs above the Clinton River in downtown Rochester.

Rochester City Manager Jaymes Vettraino said the city participated in CRWC’s WaterTowns program to help the community envision how an underutilized area below the south bridge could be reimagined and redeveloped into a place where people want to be.

“Now that we have a vision, we can pursue projects to convert this area into a hub of activity along the Clinton River,” he said in a statement.

As part of that project, Misuraca-Ignaczak said, the council looked a little bit at stormwater management options, which they refer to as green infrastructure.

“Green infrastructure is essentially stormwater management techniques that take into account trying to retain water on site and trying to use natural systems to treat runoff, as opposed to just piping it into the river,” she said.

The new program, according to Misuraca-Ignaczak, will focus on identifying site-specific concepts to filter and retain stormwater while also adding beauty and community amenities in the downtown areas of Rochester and Clarkston, and at Clinton Township’s civic center. Examples may include bioswales, rain gardens, rain chains, tree boxes and porous surfaces, she said.

Bioswales, which are shallow depressions created in the ground to filter stormwater with vegetation and soil, could be added. Rain gardens could also be added, which are small gardens designed to withstand and take advantage of extreme amounts of water.

Rain chains are decorative alternatives to downspouts, and make a water feature out of rain traveling toward a drain or management container. Tree boxes may also be used, which are in-ground containers, typically made around trees. Stormwater runoff can be directed to tree boxes, which then filters the water prior to discharge into the sewer system or soil.

“This project will take a look at the site and come up with detailed strategies and recommendations, as well as some very preliminary engineering calculations that will detail how much runoff could be retained on site that is currently going to the river and trying to tie the amenities in with public use and enjoyment of the site,” she explained.

Stormwater is the No. 1 source of pollution in the Clinton River, she added.

“As a source of pollution, stormwater carries all of the things that are on the landscape pavement area — so oil, grease and sediment are all delivered with that stormwater runoff, in addition to the fact that it’s just more water than the river can actually hold, so it causes problems with the river being too flashy — the river rises so fast and can flood in storms that can erode the banks, so it just causes a whole host of problems, so the more stormwater that we can keep out of the river and we can return into the ground, the better off the river will be,” she said. “It’s essentially the result of the fact that we have paved over so much of the landscape with pavement and rooftops and roadways — what we call impervious surface — and so all of the water that once infiltrated into the soil and into the groundwater aquifers, and then slowly replenished the wetlands and the river, are instead now directed directly to the river via stormwater pipes.”

The CRWC is partnering with professor Don Carpenter of Lawrence Technological University’s Civil Engineering program — an expert in the field of green infrastructure who was instrumental in the creation of innovative stormwater management techniques on LTU’s campus — for the program.

Carpenter will be assisted by his graduate student, Rachel Pieschek, who graduated from LTU in May with degrees in architecture and civil engineering, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering.

The project was launched in June, and it should wrap up by October.

The watershed council has valued its partnership with the city of Rochester over the years, Misuraca-Ignaczak said.

“They are typically the first ones we go to when we have a new project idea because they are so open and supportive of working with us on these kind of innovative projects,” she added.