MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
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
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
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
We've got River Birch, we've got Black Gum, there's another River Birch, there's...
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.
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.
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.
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.
This building stops that process where it starts.
The whole building is designed to capture rainwater and to hold it.
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.
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.
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
You got to comply with the code. So if the code doesn't permit it, you can't do it.
Amy Edwards chairs the environment committee with D.C.'s Building Industry Association.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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