White Pine - The Sustainable Real Estate Journal

Sustainable Design Principles and Innovation,
Merging Building Technology with the Forces of Nature

Solving Problems at the Source for Permanent, Cost-Effective Solutions

by Don Kulak

Whether you consider yourself a Republican, Independent, Democrat, Green Party, Liberal, Conservative… the agendas of big business, special interest groups, and lobbyists still trump (sorry for the pun) the peoples’ real wants and needs.

Ask the citizens of western Pennsylvania who continue to have their drinking water contaminated by fracking wastewater being injected into underground aquifers.

This is happening despite the passing of local ordinances that prohibit such practices. However, the way our constitution is written, corporations are granted “personhood” which effectively gives them rights. In the case of fracking against the peoples’ demands, they have the right to conduct interstate commerce, which takes priority over local peoples’ health and welfare.

Ask the people of South St. Petersburg, Florida how they like raw sewage seeping into their homes, businesses, schools and waterways after a heavy rain. City and state governments are having a very hard time figuring it out. More precisely, they don’t want to spend the time or resources to fix the problem. More often than not the SOURCE of the problem is not discussed. Putting expensive, temporary band-aides on a given problem appear to be the “solutions” of choice.

The source of the problem here is that stormwater cannot be absorbed fast enough at its point or origin, that being buildings, roads, and other impervious surfaces that dominant the landscape.

Look at most new housing developments today. Old growth trees and local foliage are bull-dozed and completely leveled, turning a once beautiful, self-regulating ecosystem into a barren desert wasteland, paved over and built up, unable to absorb its own stormwater. This creates massive sewage overflows nation-wide, creating billions of dollars in clean-up costs, health costs, property devaluation, loss of business…

Why isn’t this being addressed at city planners’ meetings. Ordinances could be put in place that would require all development to absorb most or all of its own stormwater. Currently there is very little regulation on them, and that being the case, builders typically opt for the least expensive way to deal with it. This is because in the end, it is not their problem, but rather the problem for home/business own-ers and municipalities.

If the onus was placed on builders, permitting, and plan-ning boards, the source of the problems would be addressed, and at far less expense. In addition there would be less need for federal stormwater infrastructure expansion.

The situation today is that the United States is in dire need of updated infrastructure. What is being done about all this? Practically nothing. The typical response is “we don’t have the money.” We absolutely have the money to overthrow foreign governments, maintain hundreds of military bases worldwide, give massive subsidies to the very industries that contaminate our air and water…

The infrastructure improvements needed in 7 Midwestern states for wastewater and drinking water alone is just under $70 billion.
It never ceases to amaze me how people start crying about the costs involved with any kind of sustainable solutions, when the cost for NOT doing anything are many times greater than implementing the solutions. Here are some more facts that will hit you right where it hurts the most – in your wallet.

If you are the proud owner of a waterfront property, particularly lake front in this example, please read on. A comprehensive study was con-ducted in Minnesota which documented the how property values around 37 lakes were directly proportional to lake water clarity.

Hedonic regression analysis was used to isolate lake water clarity alone among the many other vari-ables that affect property values. The findings were as follows: total property appreciation for a 1-meter increase in water clarity was $217,635,420. Total property depreciation for a 1-meter decrease in water clarity was $362,867,775.

That’s a major financial loss, not only for the property owners, but for the municipalities (lost tax revenue) as well. This is not to mention the diminished recreational benefits and loss of tourism which translates into lost revenue for local sporting good business-es, not to mention health costs associated with contaminated water. It’s a viscous cycle. More often than not there is a simple, in-expensive, yet effective solution. In this case restoring submerged native plant life along the lake edges will restore the lakes’ health and balance. These plants not only purify the water while adding oxygen, they provide habitat for fish to spawn and food for other lake life.

This procedure alone will take care of most pollution. Need-less to say, very severe cases of contaminated discharge into the lake will have to be addressed at their source. For much more on this, see the Lakes chapter of my book Sustainable Real Estate – the Big Payback: Creating Synergy and Balance with the Natural World.

It’s not high tech and it’s not sexy. It can’t be patented or pack-aged in a fancy box. It doesn’t make for extraordinary headlines or public relations. It doesn’t wear out from use or have to be replaced. On the contrary, it only gets stronger and better over time, and with no maintenance.
This runs counter to what is “important” in a consumer-based capitalistic society. Maybe we should take a brief break from the treadmill of commerce, technology, and consumption, and work with, not against the world around us.

If you want solutions without creating even more problems in the process, it would do us all a great service to under-stand the complexity and interrelationships of the natural world. There are problem-solving, cost effective solutions literally at out feet. If we take the time to analyze and fully utilize the dynamics of local terrain, foliage and ecosystems, many problems would never happen in the first place.

This is not a priority in the United States. If its not high tech, its not interesting. Better put, if its not high tech there is no money to be made for the manufacturer, distributor, installers, etc. It fuels the wheels of commerce in an overly–consumptive society.

Our focus of attention is on man made things and gadgets. Are our egos that fragile that we cannot respect and work with something we don’t either make, own, or control? Is adding to the GDP that important, even if the true costs to society are far greater?

If infrastructure savings, lower health care costs, increased property values, reduced insurance claims, etc. were all taken into account, it would be a very easy decision to make. But we are in a tunnel-vision society that for the most part, cannot see the for-est through the trees, the larger picture that takes into account ALL the variables and costs is not in the debate. In the end, we all pay for it.