Low-impact development (LID) may be transitioning from a smart but voluntary green building option to a local requirement. As P-I reporter Robert McClure wrote on Saturday:
In a landmark ruling that could shape Western Washington development for decades to come, a state appeals board ordered use of "low-impact" building techniques to rein in what scientists call the biggest pollution threat to the health of Puget Sound.
The rainwater runoff that carries oil, pesticides and a host of pollutants off streets and other hard surfaces should be controlled by environmentally friendly construction methods, the quasi-judicial Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled.
Low-impact development is a term for a variety of construction solutions that allow natural elements – native plants, soils, gravel – to soak up and filter rainwater. These systems, which can be as aesthetically pleasing as they are practical and ecologically responsible, include rain gardens, porous paving surfaces and landscaped roadside swales.
As McClure notes in a follow-up blog post on Monday, Washington state is a national leader when it comes to LID. Look to examples like SPU's Street Edge Alternatives Projects (SEA Streets), which SPU claims has "reduced the total volume of stormwater leaving the street by 99 percent." Or over in the High Point mixed-income development (pictured above) in West Seattle's Delridge neighborhood, a project led by architecture firm Mithun and Seattle Housing Authority, a natural drainage system protects the salmon-bearing Longfellow Creek, and also provides amenities for the residents, like a pond (where collected water is filtered) and swales that safely buffer both sides of the streets.
Seattle will benefit from taking LID seriously. Our current combined sewage system spills polluted stormwater – and even untreated sewage -- into the Sound every time there is a heavy rain. Given the value of our region's unique natural resources (both quantifiable and intangible), using this outdated model when a better system exists is unconscionable.
At Worldchanging, we've long supported the smart use of policy to spur necessary changes in practice, when new techniques and technologies make sense for everyone involved – as LID certainly seems to. It's exciting to see legislative action taking LID to the next level. We look forward to a future where we can understand and use rain as a resource, rather than treating it as a nuisance to be channeled away from homes and gardens (for more futuristic visions, see our piece, What Comes After Green).
Photo credit: Julia Steinberger