Is It Easy Being Green? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Is It Easy Being Green?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:33:10
Now, if you leave Georgetown and go southeast, winding your way through foggy bottom, heading past the White House, you'll eventually reach the Ronald Regan Building and the massive campus of the Environmental Protection Agency.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:33:22
Once there, you're not too far from the headquarters of some pretty big environmental organizations, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of The Earth, The Ocean Conservancy, so it's not really an exaggeration to say Washington is home to the brain trust of the environmental movement.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:33:37
But bringing all the big green ideas of that movement to the streets of D.C., well, that's another matter. Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, brings us this story on a place in the District that's trying to make one of those green ideas a reality.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:33:53
At the headquarters of KC Trees, a non-profit working to preserve D.C.'s tree canopy, there's a new, full-time employee. It's nature.

MR. MARK BUSCAINO

13:34:00
We've got River Birch, we've got Black Gum, there's another River Birch, there's...

BEN-ACHOUR

13:34:03
Mark Buscaino is KC Tree's executive director. He's giving a tour of his building and right in front is a scenic garden. But this is much more than a garden, it's a filtration system, also known as a bio-retention planner or rain garden.

BUSCAINO

13:34:16
These are all wet foot species. It means it can take prolonged periods in moisture. You typically find these on streamsides, by rivers and those kinds of things so we're recreating that here.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:34:27
Its task is to absorb and filter all the rainwater that hits the parking lot and the roof when it rains. Storm water is actually one of the biggest sources of urban water pollution.

BUSCAINO

13:34:36
In the District of Columbia, 40 percent of the surface area of the city is paved. So what happens is when the rain falls down, as opposed to hitting a forested area or a field where all that water could filter through the ground level, it's drained into the storm drains and then it, you know, it's a torrent and it goes down to those pipes into the Anacostia and the Potomac at a very high -- at a very high rate and it scours the streams that it goes through. It takes all that pollutant load, all the oil that comes off the street.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:06
This building stops that process where it starts.

BUSCAINO

13:35:08
The whole building is designed to capture rainwater and to hold it.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:12
There's a carpet of plants on the roof, what's known as a green roof, that filters and stores water. Even the sidewalk is green.

BUSCAINO

13:35:18
You can see these curb cuts here. When it rains hard enough, the water will come, hit that street. It'll run down and come into these inlets here, into the street tree box area and it helps to water and keep all this vegetation out here healthy and alive.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:32
All of this is what's known as Green Infrastructure. It's letting nature clean up the mess that we humans create. The EPA and more broadly the environmental movement as a whole is all about. But big ideas take time to trickle down and then there's reality.

MS. AMY EDWARDS

13:35:46
You got to comply with the code. So if the code doesn't permit it, you can't do it.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:35:49
Amy Edwards chairs the environment committee with D.C.'s Building Industry Association.

EDWARDS

13:35:54
It really depends upon what type of infrastructure is being considered, whether the building code has caught up so that they can actually use it.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:02
She and developers say builders are quite willing to experiment with the idea of green infrastructure. But when it comes to new development, permitting agencies and building codes just aren't up to speed. Sean Cahill is vice-president of development for the Louis Dreyfus Property Group.

MR. SEAN CAHILL

13:36:16
The bureaucracy of a number of different agencies within Washington D.C. that you have to deal with that would need a certain level of coordination and that would be DDOE, DC WATER and D.Public Space.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:31
Designers and advocates say permitters don't always know what they're looking at. They aren't always comfortable with new technologies and Cahill says in highly built up D.C., one big roadblock is the sidewalk.

CAHILL

13:36:42
D.C. builds to the lot line so unless we're allowed to do these rain gardens in the public space, then we're not going to be able to achieve what they want to try and achieve. So there's got to be some give and take here.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:36:55
Figuring that out is on the shoulders of D.C.'s Department of the Environment. Rebecca Stack is a low-impact development specialist with DDOE.

MS. REBECCA STACK

13:37:02
There's a lot of demands for the public right-of-way. So sometimes the questions are quite reasonable, their utilities, you want bicycle lanes, you want safe access.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:37:12
She says DDOE has test projects going around the city to work some of these issues out and DDOE is talking to other agencies to streamline approval for green infrastructure. Mark Buscaino with KC Trees says this can't happen fast enough. Even his project was an uphill slog to get approved.

BUSCAINO

13:37:28
This is a very, very simple, natural system that any home, any commercial establishment can use to control storm water and you can see the beauty and the greenery that it provides.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:37:39
And because D.C. is among the first major cities to try and make green infrastructure work, it'll be setting a national example if it does. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

13:37:48
To see photos of KC Tree's rain garden and to get ideas on how to design your building or home in an eco-friendly way, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
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