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Environment


Cleveland study shows vacant lots may yield storm water solutions
Green infrastructure could keep sewage out of Lake Erie
Story by ANNE GLAUSSER


 
In The Region:

The idea of retooling vacant land to better absorb storm water and help prevent overloads to the sewage system is a hot topic among those concerned with the environment and city planning. It is a concept called “green infrastructure.”
Now there is more scientific evidence behind its effectiveness.

LISTEN: GLAUSSER ON STORM WATER

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Cleveland, like other rustbelt cities, was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis and still struggles with a sea of vacant lots. It is also a city with aging sewers that spew raw sewage into Lake Erie during heavy rains.

One idea gaining momentum among urban planners is to use one problem to address the other. Bill Shuster is a Cincinnati-based researcher with the federal EPA. His team surveyed the soils and hydrology of more than 50 of Cleveland’s nearly 30,000 vacant lots.

With computer modelling, they found that some simple fixes in management could turn these lots from producers of runoff to sinks for all that water, keeping it out of the sewage system.

"The solutions are there, in the landscape," Shuster says.

One surprising finding was that more than half of the lots he studied had demolition debris buried on-site. This prevents the soil from absorbing storm water. 

"We’d find phonebooks, mattresses, bedsprings, ashes where there was a hearth, so it really was going back in the deep urban history," Shuster says. 

His modelling suggests requirements for demolition debris removal, as well as site leveling and re-vegetation, could go a long way in making vacant lots a key part of the city’s overall efforts towards storm water management.

The research will be published in the May edition of the journal, "Landscape and Urban Planning."

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