“It’s a matter of understanding the landscape and soils,” he said. “Developers have to work with nature, work with the land.”
But stormwater control is slow going. Despite the many techniques available for developers to curtail their stormwater output, few jump at the chance.
“Low impact development is not very prevalent at all,” Carpenter said.
Local governments have been more likely to embrace green infrastructure and incorporate it into public buildings.One of the best examples can be found in Chicago, Beckman said. The city has converted some alleys to absorb water and has more than 2 million square feet of green roofs – including City Hall. In 2008, the city passed a stormwater ordinance requiring new developments and redevelopments to capture the first half inch of runoff or reduce impermeable surfaces by 15 percent.
Developers lag behind municipalities because low impact development goes against the status quo, Carpenter said.
“People fear the unknown,” he said.
And even though studies have shown green development is economically sound, the initial price tag proves to be too much of a hurdle.
“There’s a big misconception that low impact development will cost a lot more money,” he said. “A green roof is more expensive, but you have to look at the whole site and its lifecycle … A simple green roof will pay for itself in five to seven years.”
A green roof, which consists of a roof covered with soil and plants, generally costs about $10 per foot, but it lasts longer than a standard roof and provides insulation that cuts down energy costs. In addition, just three inches of plant growth can reduce runoff by about 50 percent.
Most developers only do what they have to, Carpenter said. As a result, few private properties do a good job controlling stormwater.
One high profile exception is the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich. The Ford Rouge Center has the world’s largest green roof. The Rouge Center redesign started in 2003 as part of the plant’s $2 billion overhaul. At project’s end, the facility had porous paving, 10.4 acres of green roof, and wetlands with native vegetation. The natural stormwater management can handle millions of gallons of water and cost the plant roughly one-third of the $50 million necessary to construct a conventional water treatment plant.
The redesign is a “living laboratory of ideas,” said Roger Gaudette, the director of assets management for Ford Land. “We were really at the forefront" of stormwater control, he said.
Keith Schroeder, president of Schroeder Builders, knows the cost of tackling stormwater all too well.
He has spent more than $1 million attempting to prevent runoff from his 100-acre development in DeWitt, Mich., from reaching a nearby manmade lake. He researched ways to limit runoff and overhauled his construction process to curtail contamination during the building phase.
“It is difficult, but it can be done. It’s one of the things I believe is worth the expense,” he said.
But, despite his efforts, the ground won’t soak up enough water to meet his self-appointed goal of restraining runoff from a 100-year flood. It’s left Schroeder in a quandary – the local government already approved his ambitious building plan. Now he worries about running up against tough stormwater standards.
“Cleaning up stormwater is a good thing to do, but they can get requirements that can’t be met,” he said. “Then what do we do?”
The EPA held listening sessions in January for stakeholders and the general public to help develop the new rules. The agency will send questionnaires to developers, state governments and storm sewer operators this year to find out how widespread green techniques already are, and what impacts new rules may have on developers.