White Pine - The Sustainable Real Estate Journal

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

Stormwater Problems, Solutions, and a New Paradigm for Real Estate Development

by Don Kulak

Municipalities across the country are beginning to implement new or increased stormwater fees for residential and commercial properties. These are being imposed to generate revenue for water management infrastructure upgrades to handle increased flooding and sewage backups across the country.

Climate activists blame this on global warming and the higher incidence of major storms.  I see it as an antiquated, inefficient and dirty property development model with little or no consideration for effective water management.

The massive impervious surface areas created with new building developments is where most of the water problems originate. Water that normally would have been absorbed into the ground (while at the same time replenishing the aquifers) is redirected into the storm sewer lines. The problem which began with the new development is now someone else’s problem “downstream” when the antiquated, overworked sewer lines begin to back up and cause major flooding.

The best way to mitigate or eliminate completely stormwater flooding problems is to solve them at the source ─ the building development. Ideally, each new structure should be able to absorb most, if not all of its stormwater as a result of the additional impervious surface areas it created.
The construction industry, for the most part, refuses to consider, or even acknowledge this fact. Why? Just follow the money.

Redesigning new subdivisions and commercial properties to effectively reduce the additional stormwater they create would mean rewriting the script with more end-user and community benefits, i.e. less flooding. That is to say, builders would have to redesign developments so the problems do not occur in the first place. Sustainable develop concepts are outlined in exhaustive detail in my books and reports, but are beyond the scope of this article.

The problems created by unsustainable developments are now everyone else’s problem, through the implementation of much higher stormwater fees attached to utility bills, and/or as direct victims of flooding.

The borough of Hanover in Pennsylvania has seen significant growth over the last 10 years. As such it is now designated an urban area. In order to handle the massive amounts of additional stormwater, not only from the new conventional construction, but from aging stormwater infrastructure, a new “rain tax” was enacted.

The proceeds from this tax would, in theory, help the county better manage water-related issues.

Needless to say, residents were up in arms about yet another tax, on the rain no less. The disgruntled residents are most probably thinking, “Why should we have to pay for a problem someone else (the builders) created?” “Why are they not held accountable for the additional stormwater generated by their developments?” Well, in theory they are, through impact fees, etc., but the problems still remain, so someone is dropping the ball on these matters.

These impact fees are also implemented in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, yet sewage overflows, red tide, flooding, dying wildlife and new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now almost commonplace. The scientific community agrees red tide and the new strains of bacteria are directly tied to nutrient-rich fertilizers and raw sewage overflowing into the waterways.

If new building developments were designed to absorb their own stormwater, most of these water-related problems would disappear. However, no one is holding the builders, designers, and land/water “managers” accountable.

The conventional business model of real estate development and management is way outdated, inefficient, and destructive. It is based on centralized, outdated infrastructure and economy, rather that more efficient and less expensive localized models.

Power systems, drainage, even food production is all more efficient due in part to proximity to the end users. Long electrical transmission lines are not only expensive but are responsible for significant energy loss.

Food requiring long truck transport and refrigerated storage is costly. As mentioned before, long stormwater sewer lines are expensive to build and maintain, while they still dump polluted runoff directly into the waterways, causing all kind of health problems.

A new paradigm in real estate development and management is desperately wanted and needed. The methods and technology already exist, but mainstream planning and development authorities  refuse to change.

You can be the change. The principles outlined in Synergy and Balance with the Natural World can help create a paradigm where everyone wins, including wildlife and ecosystems.