To the editor:
The Environmental Action Plan, approved by the Alexandria City Council on June 13, is an impressive achievement. What is needed now is a genuine commitment from the Council to implement it, including the significant funding that will be required.
The next City Council must have a serious discussion about how actions to improve our environmental health and quality of life should fit into overall city funding priorities. In the past, the environment has generally been lower on the priority list, and the citys position that new environmental initiatives can only be funded during good economic times is disheartening.
We need to recognize that many of the actions in the plan could help prolong lives and help many people live healthier lives. In deciding funding priorities, how do you weigh these benefits versus, say, the benefits that might be reaped by upgrading to four-person firefighting teams, instead of the current three-person teams, as is being considered? In the past, this kind of trade-off hasnt even been considered. But it needs to be in the future; that is, if the Councils concern about environmental quality is genuine.
I believe that one aspect of the plan is particularly important: reducing storm water runoff. Runoff is a big problem, for a variety of reasons, including its effects on the Chesapeake Bay. To deal with it, we have invested in a system that is overtaxed and very expensive to upgrade and maintain. If we can reduce the burden on this system through water reuse, rain gardens, and green roofs and other green infrastructures we can help save the bay and potentially save taxpayers a huge amount of money in the long run (in terms of lower maintenance costs and a reduced need for upgrades).
To do this, though, were going to have to do even more than is directly outlined in the Environmental Action Plan. Indeed, were going to have to become obsessive about removing impervious surfaces in the city. A 2001 study estimated that 46 percent of the citys surface is impervious; that is, built on or paved over. Because of recent development, this figure is now probably more than 50 percent.
Perhaps a quarter to a third of this area, however, is under city control, because it is made up of streets and sidewalks. Removing unnecessary street and sidewalk paving and replacing it with trees, rain gardens and so on, could capture a significant amount of rainfall that otherwise would have gone into the storm water system.
I urge the next City Council to consider more pilot programs to experiment with various green street techniques and examine the potential savings of using these techniques vis–vis the status quo system. Although the upfront costs of redesigning and reengineering streets may be high, the longer-term savings could be substantial. And these greener streets would lead to a significantly greener city.