PLATTSBURGH — With a snip of golden scissors, the city unveiled its latest green infrastructure project Monday.
At the U.S. Oval, citizens and government officials alike gathered to celebrate the completion of a new stormwater bioretention basin.
"I think we really have reason to celebrate," City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong (D-Ward 1) said at the event, "because this project represents a significant turning point in the way we regard our relationship to nature — a relationship that, as a result of climate change, we've been forced to reevaluate."
WORKING WITH NATURE
The basin is the culmination of a two-year effort to map and model Plattsburgh's stormwater infrastructure.
In the past, stormwater runoff had been overwhelming, and, in response, the city sought to study its systems to better prepare for the future.
Armstrong emphasized that the city examined this issue from a climate-change standpoint, as well, looking at its effects on the stormwater infrastructure here.
"As responsible citizens, it is incumbent upon us to figure out ways to react appropriately and implement projects and policies that will help mitigate the effects of climate change and to develop programs such as this one that recognize the way that we have to work with nature," she said.
Adorned with rocks and plants, the basin can hold 30,000 gallons of water. Normally, any rainwater running from the road or parking lot at the U.S. Oval flows directly into the lake.
Now, the stormwater system "captures a large portion of that and diverts it into this bioretention pond," City Engineer Kevin Farrington said.
The water is purified through natural biodegradation and with the help of some of the plants in the basin that are drought-resistant and submersible for stretches of time.
Oils, greases and other pollutants are removed, the engineer said, and the cleansed water is absorbed by the earth.
Over the past two years, the city pieced together stormwater maps, many of which were either hidden or old, Farrington said.
"It was a bit like a scavenger hunt," he said.
The maps were then digitized, and teams took to the field to verify their locations.
Besting their original goals, officials mapped every pipe in the city. A computer model was created from the data, which allowed planners to evaluate the stormwater system and identify places in need of attention.
One of those locations was U.S Oval.
Construction of the basin, which sits next to the City Gym, took 30 days. As part of the two-year project, it was funded mostly by the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
Of the basin's success so far, Farrington said, "we definitely had a positive impact on the flooding."
He also noted that "the mapping that we've done and the modeling will serve us for years to come," likening the efforts to a searchable database that can be used to check and verify the quality of systems.
Farrington pointed out that the stormwater project is as much about taking an innovative approach as it is helping the environment.
"Too long, we've been trying to hide our stormwater retention," he said.
But designers and engineers shouldn't treat such efforts as ugly requisites to larger plans, he continued — they should embrace them.
This project did that, he said, and sought to not only improve water quality and remove pollution but also to create and beautify a space for the public.
He hopes that other cities take notice of the efforts and say: "'Look what Plattsburgh did. Maybe we could do that, too.'"
'IN THIS TOGETHER'
On a smaller scale, Farrington spoke about the importance of individuals.
He highlighted steps homeowners can take to combat stormwater runoff and pollution, naming rain barrels and green gardens as examples.
"It's all about keeping the lake clean," he said. "We're all in this together."