Alexander Alfano- Building and Construction Technology

Matthew Faucher- Turf grass science and management

Brendan Clark- Environmental Science

In many places across the U.S. families are facing a crisis, a lack of clean drinking water. Water is the key to all life, so you would think that in a wealthy country like America, every citizen would have access to clean drinking water. This is not the case. In recent years there has been a growing issue of a lack of clean water in many parts of the country. Heather Blevins and her 7 and 8-year-old children are residents of Lovely, Kentucky. Unfortunately, as of recently, Lovely’s water has become less and less lovely. Their town water has become yellow and gives off a smell of bleach. When Heathers children take a bath their skin becomes red and itchy. With Heather only making $980/month from social security, buying bottled water can be an economic struggle. This is not a freak occurrence; many other parts of the country are facing the same problem. From Flint, MI to Lovely, KY, water quality is being degraded at rapid rates, and will only continue to become worse in the future.  

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        The first type of pollutant is total suspended solids or TSS.  This can include things like oil, sand, algae, industrial waste, animal matter, dirt, or anything else that could possible contaminate water and is smaller than two microns (Ning, 2016). This can be a good measurement of how contaminated the runoff is and how clean bodies of water are. In the Los Angeles river, 85% of the storm drains that flow into the river contain trash and algae (Ackerman, 2000). TSS levels in the Charles river are often around 15 mg/L, which can have a negative impact on migratory fish such as herring and salmon, and cannot be consumed (CRWA, 2015). TSS levels that reach 30 mg/L are considered an emergency nationwide and can have a negative impact on human health if exposed.  New York City’s inner harbor often has higher than safe TSS levels, which were 20 mg/L in 2016 (NYC, 2015). TSS is one of the main identifiers of a clean body of water, and in many urban areas across the country the TSS levels are currently higher than they should be.

        Another factor that contributes to the health of rivers is phosphorus and nitrogen levels. Phosphorus and nitrogen are both an essential component to plant life within water bodies, but when there is too much it can enhance eutrophication. Eutrophication is when more plants are growing in the water because of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen levels, it can create a lack of oxygen in the water, negatively impacting all other marine species (USGS, 2018). Rivers surrounded by an urban environment are much more susceptible to an increase in phosphorus and nitrogen levels, due to their lack of filtration. One study found that the rivers in the same area in Alabama that went from 3% urban land area to 22% of the land becoming urbanized experienced an increase of 66% in phosphorus loading of the rivers surrounding the area and a 59% increase in the amount of nitrogen within the rivers (Elias, 2011). Another study done on the Chickahominy River found that it had  nearly four times the amount of nitrogen and twelve times the amount of nitrogen than other rivers in the area with very similar geology. (Noe, 2005). They concluded that these findings were directed related to the fact that the area of the Chickahominy River they tested was directly downstream from metropolitan Richmond, Virginia. It can be concluded that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus increase in rivers that are near or downstream from an urban environment. The lack of filtration causes an increasing in eutrophication, diminishing the health of the rivers.

        We know that increases in TSS, nitrogen, and phosphorus levels can negatively impact rivers, especially in urban areas. So why are urban areas more susceptible to this decrease in water quality? The main reason for this is runoff. Runoff is the amount of water that does not get absorbed by vegetation or soil, causing the water to build up particulates with no method of filtering them out. Runoff in urban areas is storm water and melting snow running across impervious surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, roofs, and other buildings. When the water runs over these impervious surfaces, they collect contaminants and pollution such as oil, lawn fertilizer, dirt and other chemicals into streams and rivers where they can go on to harm water quality (EPA, 2003). One study done by the USDA in 2007 sampled 263 different streams in the Baltimore area that were classified as either “ultra-urban” or “suburban.” Their study found that ultra-urban rivers were much more susceptible to retaining large amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, metals, nutrients, and organic matter when compared to less urban river systems. The Capital Regional District website states that’s in natural watersheds about 50% of precipitation is absorbed by soil and vegetation and only 10% ends up in natural water bodies (the other 40% is evaporated). In urban areas, absorption into plants and soil is greatly reduced, only about 5-30%. Evaporation is reduced to about 20% due to the lack of vegetation. That means that in an urban environment, about 40-70% of rainfall goes directly from the urban landscape into a water body, typically with no form of filtration. This large difference in rural vs urban watersheds and their ability to filter and absorb water can play a large role on the quality of the water in rivers located in urban environments.

        The pollution of U.S. urban river systems is only going to get worse in the future. The effects of urban landscapes on water quality combined with the changes predicted and already observed from climate change will further worsen urban river quality. One aspect of climatology that is expected to change is the amount of precipitation received across the U.S. Nearly all projections in the U.S. show an increases in precipitation in the near future. This can vary depending on which region of the U.S. you are focused on and what prediction model you are using. Overall, mean precipitation for the entire U.S. has increased by approximately 5% over the last century and is expected to increase by as much as 15% over the next few decades. (globalchange.gov). Even more shocking is the observed and predicted frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events. Since 1958, all regions of the U.S. have seen large increases in observed heavy precipitation events, of which the Northeast U.S. has the highest increase of 71% (CSRC). With the increasing temperatures due to climate change, the planets mean temperature is now about 1.5° F above the 20th century average (NOAA). This extra heat allows our atmosphere to store more water. This increased storage combined with the fact that water evaporates faster at higher temperatures is the cause for the observed and expected increases in regular and heavy precipitation events. As discussed earlier, precipitation is the leading cause of pollutants being washed into urban river systems. Climate change is not causing our urban rivers to be polluted, but it is and will increase the overall amount of pollution that enters into the rivers.

        Climate change is expected to increase the amounts of TSS, phosphorus, and nitrogen that enter urban rivers, due to huge increases in unfiltered runoff. Many studies predict the possible increases in these pollutants in the future. Ning et. al. predicts an increase in total suspended solids of about 182% in urban rivers by 2070. This is a predicted average and the increases in TSS are expected to be different depending on the season. Another study done by Praskievicz and Chang et al. found that TSS could increase by an astonishing 503% in the fall months by 2070. The same study found an increase in TSS of 47% in the spring, 259% in the winter, and a slight decrease of -81% in the summer. Looking at a third source, Johnson et. al. found that the average increase of TSS in five U.S. urban rivers would be about 250% by 2070. It is important to note that all three of these sources used RCP 8.5 for their predictions, which is the most severe climate model (business as usual).

        Another urban river water quality factor that is predicted to increase with climate change is the total amount of phosphorus (TP). The findings for expected phosphorus levels are very similar to that of total suspended solids. Ning et. al. concluded that TP could increase as much as 74% in urban U.S. river systems by 2070. Praskievicz and Chang also predict a TP load increase in streams during the winter, spring, and fall of about 40% but a decrease in TP loads during the summer of -43%. Johnson et. al. looks at future TP levels for five urban river systems in the U.S. and using climate and urban development models for the future predicts an average TP increase of 175% by 2070. Using climate models, it is possible to predict the effects climate change will have on urban river quality. From these sources it is safe to conclude that total suspended solids as well as phosphorus levels are expected to increase in the future in most U.S. urban rivers during most months.

To mitigate the negative effects, the urban environment and climate change have on urban river systems, we propose the implementation of residential rain gardens to decrease pollution and runoff. Rain gardens are gardens of native shrubs and vegetation planted in a small depression, usually formed on a natural slope. They can essentially mimic the natural environment and healthily retain foreign and deleterious pollutant loads. Rain gardens are capable of removing up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from rainwater runoff (Groundwater Foundation, 2019). There is a large amount of literature to support the former claim. Dietz et al conducted a study with results showing an 18% reduction in total nitrogen due to the implementation of a rain garden in Haddam, Connecticut. Hatt et al studied the pollutant removal performance of bio filtration systems which included rain gardens and came away with positive results. Results showed a 90% suspended solid load reduction. Lastly, Li et al evaluated the effect rain gardens had on urbanized areas with results concluding an overall decrease in pollutant loads. Reduction of peak concentrations of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids was by 13.1%. The load reduction rates of total nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended solids was by 42.8%. The USDA also found that rain gardens were up to 40% more effective at capturing pollutants compared to a normal grass lawn. Rain gardens are extremely effective at filtering pollutants and reducing storm water runoff, especially in urban environments with little to no filtration mechanisms.

People are often against anything that could potentially raise their taxes and many would be unwilling to install rain gardens on their private properties simply because of the potential cost. A solution to this that has already been seen in many cities in the U.S. Cities like Seattle have large organizations solely devoted to offering rebates and subsidies to homeowners looking to install rain gardens. A group in Seattle called RainWise offers up to $5,000 back on rain garden projects, which is about 90% of the total cost (RainWise, 2019). Other cities like Washington D.C. also have rebate programs for rain gardens. Some are more strict than others with a minimum square footage and a minimum distance to a storm drain but they can all be very generous. Washington’s Department of Energy provides $3/sq. ft. of rain garden planted, which when planted right can be almost 100% of the cost to install (Department of Energy and the Environment). The EPA has a large list of all of the different incentives offered in cities across the U.S. They include stormwater fee discounts, development incentives, grants, installation finance, and awards. There are 43 cities in the U.S. that incorporate at least one of these incentives and many that have all four (Municipal handbook, 2009). The more people that gain an understanding of the importance of runoff and its contributions to urban water quality, hopefully the more people that will install rain gardens on their own property. With the added incentives already in place in many large cities across the country, it would not be hard for smaller cities and towns, like Amherst, to implement these incentives and rebates as well.

Runoff in urban areas is much higher than in rural areas, leading to urban rivers having a much lower water quality. This degraded water quality is only projected to go up in the future with the added effects of climate change. As our changing climate continues to produce more precipitation and a higher frequency is extreme precipitation events, it is of increasing importance we address the problems of keeping urban water quality at a responsible level. Higher levels of TSS, TP, and nitrogen will have lasting effect on our river’s quality. This can lead to eutrophication, deoxygenating the water and killing many aquatic species. Humans rely heavily on urban rivers for consumption and recreation, which are vital to the economy and public health of everyone around the world. In order to solve this pressing issue, it would be of immense help to implement residential rain gardens in urban areas. Rain gardens are proven to effectively mitigate runoff and the pollution that comes with it. If cities and town across America made use of already existing rebates and incentives, or created their own, it would be much more economically feasible for citizens to implement these rain gardens on their own properties.

***Dramatically better than first draft. Very well done problem section. Remaining weakness is in the “how” of the proposal.

Proposal:

  •      Introduce rain gardens as a solution giving examples of how exactly it works, how much it costs, and what that cost is in relation to other green solutions
  •      Examples of cities that are already using incentive methods (counter argument) and introduce Worcester as a potential city to implement these programs as well
  •      Outline the steps needed for a rural city like Worcester to begin this process, what it can gain from it, discuss feasibility and effectiveness (has it positively impacted other cities)

 

Sources

Ackerman, D. (2000). Characterization of water quality in the los angeles river. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from file:///Users/brendanclark/Downloads/08_ar08-drew.pdf

Belinda E.HattTim D.FletcherAnaDeletic(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169408005969

Charles River Monthly Monitoring Program. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.crwa.org/hubfs/Our_Work/Field_Science/Volunteer_Monthly_Monitoring_Program/Water_Quality_Reports_and_Data/Year_End_Reports/CRWA_VMM_2014_Final.pdf

Elias, E. (2011, July 14). The impact of forest to urban land conversion on streamflow, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total organic carbon inputs to the converse reservoir, Southern Alabama, USA. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://link-springer-com.silk.library.umass.edu/content/pdf/10.1007/s11252-011-0198-z.pdf

EPA. (2003, February). Protecting Water Quality from Urban Runoff. Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/nps_urban-facts_final.pdf

Johnson, T. E., Butcher, J. B., Parker, A., & Weaver, C. P. (2012). Investigating the sensitivity of U.S. streamflow and water quality to climate change: U.S. EPA global change research program’s 20 watersheds project. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, (5), 453.New York Harbor Water Quality Report. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/hwqs2016.pdf

Ning, S., Yearsley, J., Baptiste, M., Qian, C., Lettenmaier, D. P., & Nijssen, B. (2016). A spatially distributed model for assessment of the effects of changing land use and climate on urban stream quality. Hydrological Processes, 30(25), 4779-4798.

Noe, G. (2005, August 1). CARBON, NITROGEN, AND PHOSPHORUS ACCUMULATION IN FLOODPLAINS OF ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN RIVERS, USA. https://esajournals-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.silk.library.umass.edu/doi/full/10.1890/04-1677

Perlman, H., & Usgs. (n.d.). Phosphorus and Water. Retrieved from https://water.usgs.gov/edu/phosphorus.html

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650-671. doi:10.1177/0309133309348098Urban Streams and Runoff. (2011, November 10). Retrieved from https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/urban/water_air_quality/urban_streams/

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Rain Gardens. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens-more.html

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Hook Article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/a-crisis-in-kentucky-shows-the-high-cost-of-clean-drinking-water/2019/04/16/fd959692-56e8-11e9-8ef3-fbd41a2ce4d5_story.html?utm_term=.c2a6233e2009

Ackerman, D. (2000). Characterization of water quality in the los angeles river. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from file:///Users/brendanclark/Downloads/08_ar08-drew.pdf

Belinda E.HattTim D.FletcherAnaDeletic(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169408005969

 

Charles River Monthly Monitoring Program. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.crwa.org/hubfs/Our_Work/Field_Science/Volunteer_Monthly_Monitoring_Program/Water_Quality_Reports_and_Data/Year_End_Reports/CRWA_VMM_2014_Final.pdf

Elias, E. (2011, July 14). The impact of forest to urban land conversion on streamflow, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total organic carbon inputs to the converse reservoir, Southern Alabama, USA. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://link-springer-com.silk.library.umass.edu/content/pdf/10.1007/s11252-011-0198-z.pdf

EPA. (2003, February). Protecting Water Quality from Urban Runoff. Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/nps_urban-facts_final.pdf

 

Johnson, T. E., Butcher, J. B., Parker, A., & Weaver, C. P. (2012). Investigating the sensitivity of U.S. streamflow and water quality to climate change: U.S. EPA global change research program’s 20 watersheds project. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, (5), 453.New York Harbor Water Quality Report. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/hwqs2016.pdf

Ning, S., Yearsley, J., Baptiste, M., Qian, C., Lettenmaier, D. P., & Nijssen, B. (2016). A spatially distributed model for assessment of the effects of changing land use and climate on urban stream quality. Hydrological Processes, 30(25), 4779-4798.

 Noe, G. (2005, August 1). CARBON, NITROGEN, AND PHOSPHORUS ACCUMULATION IN FLOODPLAINS OF ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN RIVERS, USA. https://esajournals-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.silk.library.umass.edu/doi/full/10.1890/04-1677

Perlman, H., & Usgs. (n.d.). Phosphorus and Water. Retrieved from https://water.usgs.gov/edu/phosphorus.html

Praskievicz, S., & Chang, H. (2009). A review of hydrological modelling of basin-scale climate change and urban development impacts. Progress in

Physical Geography, 33(5),

650-671. doi:10.1177/0309133309348098Urban Streams and Runoff. (2011, November 10). Retrieved from https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/urban/water_air_quality/urban_streams/

Watershed Basics: Natural versus Urban Watersheds. (2013, December 24). Retrieved from https://www.crd.bc.ca/education/our-environment/watersheds/watershed-basics/natural-vs-urban-watersheds

12)Rain Gardens. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens-more.html

 

13)Michael E. Dietz, and John C. ClausenSaturation to Improve Pollutant Retention in a Rain Garden. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es051644f

 

Li, J., Li, Y., & Li, Y. (2015, December 19). SWMM-based evaluation of the effect of rain gardens on urbanized areas. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12665-015-4807-7

 

16) 17)Urban Stormwater Runoff. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/69422.html

 

https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/defining-impaired-waters

 

Asleson, B. C., Nestingen, R. S., Gulliver, J. S., Hozalski, R. M., & Nieber, J. L. (2009, June 26). Performance Assessment of Rain Gardens1. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1752-1688.2009.00344.x

 

Rain Gardens. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens-more.html

 

Saturation to Improve Pollutant Retention in a Rain Garden. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es051644f

 

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