Going green: Design imitates Mother Nature | SierraSun.com

Going green: Design imitates Mother Nature

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Targeting new residential development in town, advocates for the protection of the Truckee River are hoping to promote innovative green building techniques to improve water quality.

The Truckee River Watershed Council received a $50,000 grant awarded to the nonprofit by the California State Water Resources Control Board to initiate the use of low-impact design as a strategy for stormwater management practices.

In Truckee, no building mandates currently exist that would require homeowners to incorporate low impact design; however, several locations in the Tahoe Basin are required by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to install stormwater drainage ditches on their home sites, said Stefan Schuster, a civil engineer with CDM Inc.

“There’s lots of definitions for low-impact development,” said David Parsons, project manager with the Truckee River Watershed Council. “It’s a set of techniques that tries to mimic the previous hydrology of a site.”

Low-impact design includes the use of native vegetation, different kinds of soil, rock and other landscaping features to imitate Mother Nature’s way of dealing with storm water runoff, Parsons said.

“The benefits include an increase in water quality, in some cases, flood control,” Parsons said. “Basically, just to improve water quality.”

The watershed council will be working with Geosyntec, an environmental-consulting firm based in Oakland, to develop two training sessions, a workshop and a site tour to educate area contractors and landscape architects of the new green design. The first training session is set for May at the beginning of construction season, and the watershed council plans on holding the second session in October, Parsons said.

The storm water management program is an extension of the watershed council’s best management plan project, introduced to local contractors in 2006 to demonstrating how to winterize construction sites and decrease storm water runoff.

Low-impact design is pretty far advanced and a first step toward green building on residential sites, said hydrologist Cadie Olsen of Balance Hydrologics, Inc. In larger cities such as Seattle and Portland, Ore., the design techniques are already written into their general plans, she said.

Any property can incorporate low-impact design into its stormwater management. Implementing low-impact design might help reduce costs of stormwater management as a preventive measure, Parsons said.

By boosting a property’s eco-friendliness, the design might attract more prospective homeowners, Parsons added.

Schuster said the low-impact design improvements are worthwhile, especially if Truckee decides to make the design a requirement for residential properties.

“I don’t see any downsides,” Olsen said. “One of the challenges is to put the (low-impact design) concept side-by-side on top of already designed drainage.”

Retrofitting an existing property with the low-impact design techniques might prove challenging for some homeowners depending on the parcel, Olsen said. But improvement projects such as landscaping with deep-rooted plants to help maintain the soil, or loosening compacted soil around the yard to allow water to better absorb into the ground, are simple tasks homeowners can take to decrease environmental impacts, she said.

“People that live here like clean water and clean air,” Schuster said. “Let’s do what we can to protect that.”