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Residents can put green infrastructure into place at home

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published September 5, 2019

 The city of Royal Oak recently installed a rain garden on Vinsetta Boulevard, west of Main Street, to address surface flooding issues.

The city of Royal Oak recently installed a rain garden on Vinsetta Boulevard, west of Main Street, to address surface flooding issues.

File photo by Sarah Wojcik

METRO DETROIT — With new developments sprouting up all over metro Detroit, homeowners and communities are looking at  implementing green infrastructure at a residential level. 

With more permeable surfaces, rain gardens, native plantings and bioswales, property owners can circumvent stormwater away from sewers, preventing the contamination of lakes and also heading off flooding.

“In the past several years, especially in Macomb County, we’ve seen large buildups of urban environments — large parking lots, tearing down natural resources for developments like grocery stores,” Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Environmental Planner Katie Grantham said. “But in doing this, we removed a lot of those natural features that helped control stormwater runoff.”

A couple of ways that homeowners can reduce the negative impact of stormwater runoff, Grantham said, are to pick up pet waste and reduce the amount of chemicals flowing into sewers, either by using more organic products or avoiding fertilizing before a rain event.

Flooding has been a major issue in metro Detroit, Grantham said, as evidenced in the flood of August 2014, as well as more recently with the flooding of basements and the Southfield Freeway.

“A lot of service lines are old, and it’s hard for those systems to handle everything we’re putting through it,” she said.

Don Carpenter, vice president of environmental and water resources design firm Drummond Carpenter PLLC, said the two easiest ways for homeowners to direct stormwater away from drains are to install rain gardens and to reduce the amount of turf grass by using as many native plants as possible.

“Rain gardens are really kind of shallow depression areas in your landscape created by removing some existing soil and backfilling it with a mixture of compost and sand, and planting it with native plants,” Carpenter said. “They act as a sponge to soak up runoff.”

Native plants, he said, have deep root systems and are accustomed to longer periods of drought, so they are heartier and more resilient in nature than grass, which has a shallow root system and requires copious amounts of water and fertilizer to appear pristine.

“Native plants are also really good for pollinators, like butterflies and bees,” Carpenter said. “When you have a lot of turf grass and a lot of pavement and insecticides and pesticides, all of that relates to an environment that is really bad for pollinators.”

Other ways to implement green infrastructure, he said, come in the form of permeable pavers and chip stone gravel driveways.

Local municipalities have, of late, also been focusing on implementing more green infrastructure, such as reinventing parking lots, Carpenter said.

“They are implementing bioswales along the edges of parking lots and incorporating depressed parking islands, so water flows into them instead of off of them,” he said. 

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier said Royal Oak is focused on the implementation of green infrastructure, most evidenced by its “aggressive” tree-planting program.

“We are also working within our ordinances to ensure if anyone comes to us with a (planned unit development), we require them to replace two trees for every one removed,” Fournier said.

Fournier added that the city has installed bioswales and rain gardens in multiple locations in the city, and is working to install green infrastructure in Normandy Oaks Park.

Royal Oak is also encouraging residents to use rain barrels, which collect precipitation and can be used to water plants.

“These intense rainstorms aren’t going away. That’s not me speaking; that’s science talking,” Fournier said.

City Attorney and interim City Manager David Gillam said the city of Royal Oak is working to implement a new stormwater utility, which would bill property owners based on the amount of stormwater runoff they contribute.

“Right now, the stormwater charges are handled as a function of the water rates,” Gillam said. “We are trying to encourage people to look at alternatives.”

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.