In a region known as much for its municipal rivalries as its collectively strong economy, managing storm water is an umbrella big enough to cover everyone.
Rain has no city limits. It falls on Mounties and Tigers, on Bulldogs — Red and Purple — alike.
Government regulations can be obstacles to getting a project off the drawing board, but low-impact methods to manage storm water quantity and quality have provided a unique opportunity for ecology and economy to merge.
Engineers and architects are changing to low-impact methods and developers are finding these new practices can also be cost-effective.
Preserving the creeks and tributaries feeding the White River, Illinois River and Beaver Lake has also made for a rare chance at regional cooperation with 15 jurisdictions in Washington and Benton counties facing deadlines in early 2009 to comply with Phase II of the Clean Water Act, which includes urbanized areas of 50,000 or more and the communities they surround.
In 2003, experts from the Environmental Protection Agency gave local officials a cost estimate of $2.50 to $7 per capita per year for compliance in the urbanized area of 176,000 people.
Municipalities contribute money from their planning budgets to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission and trail construction has been a way to simultaneously restore creek banks and satisfy CWA requirements for public education and outreach.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have credited the two-county area as an example of inter-municipality coordination to other communities attempting to comply with the CWA.
Jennifer Bonner, engineer and mapper for the city of Rogers, is hosting the 2007 Region 6 MS4 Operators Conference June 18-22 at the Embassy Suites in Rogers and has invited representatives from nine states in addition to the five covered in Region 6.
“It’s been a team process,” said Katie Teague of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. “There’s been a lot of communication and cross sharing. We’re dealing with watershed quality, not political lines.”
Teague said developers have been eager to learn about the latest in low-impact practices.
“There are some very proactive people,” she said. “Developers are saying, ‘I want to be the first one to do this.'”
For years, standard practice was to use curb-and-gutter systems, drainage pipes and concrete channels to direct storm water runoff away from a property as quickly as possible.
Old methods move storm water quickly, but do nothing to help the quality. Fast moving water over impervious surfaces has no chance to have pollutants filtered out and the uncooled water has major scouring power capable of causing serious creek bank erosion.
Uncontrolled and unfiltered runoff can turn a perennially flowing creek into an intermittent one with devastating effects on animal and plant life.
The alternatives are to utilize existing low-lying areas to create water-slowing structures like rain gardens, bay savers, bioswales and wet meadows.
Later savings on infrastructure, grading and maintenance offset extra design costs up front. Upkeep of the systems in the future amounts to normal landscaping, if anything.
Ideally, these designs will keep storm water on-site, allowing it to percolate through native plants, sand and compost before reentering the ground water system and replenishing creeks at a natural pace.
Large commercial projects like the Sam’s Club in Fayetteville must deal with parking lot runoff that contains pollutants like metals and petroleum products. Five acres at the site is dedicated to mitigating runoff.
A BaySaver system, often used in California’s coastal areas, directs runoff around a giant tube, or centrifuge system, before it steps down through a series of ponds that filter, cool and slow down the water.
The project is particularly important at the Sam’s Club site because of its impact on Wilson Springs and Clabber Creek, a home to the Arkansas darter fish, a candidate for the endangered species list.
Manuel Barnes, president and CEO of EGIS Natural Development Inc. of Bentonville, was the man behind the restoration and preservation of 40 acres along Mud Creek at the CMN Business Park in Fayetteville.
Barnes has worked with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. since 1990 on various environmental projects from creek reconstruction and monitoring in Iowa to consulting on the Sam’s Club site.
EGIS, the leading environmental engineering firm in Northwest Arkansas, works on projects all over the country. Barnes said costs for water projects, which make up about 30 percent of his business, range from $3,000 to $150,000 per acre depending on the location and site requirements.
“There is always going to be tension between economy and the environment,” Barnes said. “When a company like Wal-Mart shows the commitment it has, it has the power to effect real change.”
Barnes stood just a couple hundred feet from four-lane Steele Boulevard, naming birds by their distinctive calls one by one.
Intermittent traffic cruised by, but red-winged blackbirds, finches and swallows drowned out the road noise and even muffled the construction just north at the site of a new movie theater.
One could close his eyes and never know he was in the heart of Fayetteville’s bustling commercial district.
Barnes walked along the city’s trail system, pointing out the trees where a fledgling hawk moved after nesting in a large tree while Kohl’s department store was under construction.
“Places like this are the diamonds of the future for cities like Fayetteville,” Barnes said. “These set-aside areas are safe harbors for wildlife and they promote social well-being.”
Haynes Ltd. of Rogers has been ahead of the sustainability curve long before ‘going green’ became a hot industry catchphrase.
The father-son team of Collins and Hunter Haynes has incorporated environmentally sensitive practices at its MetroPark office complex in Rogers and they are passionate about plans for subdivisions like The Farms in Rogers and Springwoods in Fayetteville.
“We’ve always tried to approach a site by letting the site dictate the building, not letting the building dictate the site,” Collins Haynes said. “You want to see how many amenities of the property you can capture without being invasive.”
With requirements for green space dedication, Hunter Haynes said it doesn’t make sense to disturb large areas of a property.
“You’re throwing away 30 years of growth,” Hunter Haynes said. “You’re going to have to salvage and store your topsoil and then put it back all while mitigating your runoff. It is very expensive.”
Collins said his wife, Cynthia, designed the MetroPark buildings deliberately with a low profile so as not to be obtrusive and they’ve incorporated recycled carpet, recycled steel and self-renewing bamboo in the buildings.
“It looks like the buildings have always been here,” he said.
Haynes Ltd. has already seen cost advantages with the retention pond just out the back door on the west side of their offices. The natural beauty is something to behold just over the hill from the center of Rogers’ commercial district and helped them land major tenants like Nestlé. The 145,000-SF complex is fully leased.
The pond is a free water source of irrigation for their property, the terracing the firm built on the property slows, filters and directs the storm water from the entire development into the creek channel and they save on landscaping with a “no-mow” zone everywhere except along the road.
“If you can provide that environment at a net cost,” said Hunter Haynes, “then why not?”