By Jacqueline Gray Miller
For many people in Birmingham, Village Creek and the late Dr. Mable Anderson are synonymous terms. Dr. Anderson was a formidable protector of the largest urban watershed in Alabama. Dr. Anderson was also an educator who would explain and share the importance of stormwater management and climate resilience. Today, Yohance Owens takes up the mantle bringing in partners like the National Wildlife Federation.
“Stormwater management is the effort aimed at reducing and channeling rainwater runoff or melted snow from urban areas, streets, lawns, and homes to improve water quality,” said Yohance Owens. Owens is the Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society, Inc., Executive Director. “Stormwater management also helps reverse the negative effects of urban and rural stormwater flooding caused by agriculture and human activities such as infrastructural constructions.”
GREEN STORMWATER MANAGEMENT
Green infrastructure is an integrated approach to stormwater management that uses features such as rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales (i.e., vegetated trenches), and permeable pavement in strategic areas to capture stormwater runoff as close as possible to where it generates. Conventional stormwater management approaches focus on speeding water downstream, resulting in flooding and degraded water quality.
In contrast, green infrastructure approaches are specifically designed to slow the flow of runoff to facilitate absorption in soil and vegetation and takes the pressure off over-capacity sewage treatment plants. This is particularly important in cities with older “combined sewer systems,” in which one piping system conveys sanitary sewage and stormwater. Not only does green infrastructure help improve water quality by diverting and filtering pollutants, but it can also help mitigate surface flooding during storms, often at significant cost savings.
GREEN WORKS FOR CLIMATE RESILIENCE
Today, more than half of the world’s people, and 80 percent of the U.S. population, live in urban areas. Cities are on the front lines of climate change impacts, such as the sea-level rise and coastal flooding, drought, and extreme weather—all of which exacerbate existing urban challenges, including resource degradation, economic downturns, and affordable housing crises, and others. The ability of cities to thrive in the face of rapid growth and a changing climate will depend on how we plan, develop, and manage our cities in the coming decades.
Climate change intensifies existing stresses on wildlife and their habitats and amplifies natural hazards that threaten people and property. The National Wildlife Federation Climate-Smart Communities program helps cities and towns use nature-based approaches to prepare themselves for climate change impacts in ways that support people, wildlife, and habitats.
INVESTING IN BIRMINGHAM
In 2018, Birmingham City Councilor John R. Hilliard, District 9, connected to America’s largest education conservation organization to create direct opportunities for Birmingham residents. To date, partners include Build UP, the East Thomas Neighborhood Association, Ensley Reimagined, Pneuma Gallery, Slade Land Use, Environmental and Transportation Planning, LLC, and the Village Creek Human & Environmental Justice Society, Inc.
Many of the nation’s most significant environmental challenges and opportunities are in our urban centers. From increasing air and water quality to updating housing and transportation infrastructure, the possibilities are endless to improve people’s environments, decrease pollution, and create local jobs. The National Wildlife Federation is committed to addressing the priorities of urban communities.
Simone Lightfoot serves as the national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation. She oversees the organization’s Birmingham grant efforts. For more information, call (313) 585-1052 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.