State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Green Infrastructure

Since May is American Wetlands Month, I want to highlight the use of constructed wetlands, or green infrastructure, as a way to manage or restore natural hydrologies to an ecosystem.

The technologies mentioned below are not necessarily new or revolutionary. However, with the recent government emphasis on infrastructure and green projects, I think the scale will be tipping towards their use.

Constructed Wetlands

Constructed wetlands are literally man-made wetlands that are designed to store and filter discharge such as stormwater, wastewater, or sewage treatment using natural processes.  The Garfield Wetland in Topeka, Kansas is a good example with a web presence. Locally, the Queens Botanical Garden has a functioning constructed wetland that is used for educational purposes.

The technology has been in use for at least the past 20 years, and a Google Scholar search provides ample research and case studies; however, the recent infrastructure stimulus package has focused attention on water and wastewater projects. In April, the EPA put up a website dedicated to wetlands and watersheds, and I expect that constructed wetlands or man-made restoration of natural wetlands will see a boost.

Green Infrastructure

The EPA also put up a website dedicated to green infrastructure. Constructed wetlands are considered “green”, but this category also includes smaller projects such as rain gardens, porous pavements, green roofs, infiltration planters, trees and tree boxes, and rainwater harvesting.

Chicago’s pervious pavement has received lots of press and in March, New York started providing tax abatements for green roofs.

Each of these technologies is a story in itself, but I hope seeing the adoption of these techologies increases your awareness that change is happening and that the tipping point for widespread use may be just around the corner.

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Jennifer Vettel
Jennifer Vettel
15 years ago

Thanks for posting on this! These terms are used so commonly that people often don’t truely understand what they mean. When talking about green indrastructure, people don’t always understand waht they are talking about! Thanks for clarifying these terms, and I am paticularly excited to see how green infrastructure is implemented on largers scales in the future. Rainwater harvesting is an easy way to save money on irrigation, and if it could be implemented on a larger scale, we could see significant drops in water withdrawals, since in areas such as Florida, water for irrigaiton is close to 50% of all water use

14 years ago

Thanks for the timely especially now that the earth is facing some troubles..

Joe Sortais
Joe Sortais
13 years ago

Great article. It seems one of the critical elements in adoption speed will be the pace at which conservative building and construction codes can be modified to accept new ideas in this area.