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Stormwater Best-Management Practices

Stormwater Bioretention Rain Garden

Because of the aggressive development and extensive mining activities in parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the cities within the Wyoming Valley are experiencing a number of environmentally-related redevelopment and economic issues. The area has a significant amount of land that is currently undergoing mineland reclamation and conversion to industrial parks, commercial development, residential housing, recreational areas, and some "green areas.” Much of the "reclamation" results in a regrading of the area, but only a limited amount of land has been converted to stable "green areas.” I must say congratulations to the Earth Conservancy for their efforts - Great JOB!

In addition to these issues, there are a number of major issues related to the use of combined sewer outfalls (i.e., combined sewer lines and stormwater management systems), lack of adequate stormwater management, acid mine drainage, uncontrolled urban runoff, heat island effects because of all the pavement, and mine drainage from culm (coal waste) piles and abandoned mine workings.

A possible alternative strategy to the Redevelopment of Wilkes-Barre and other Urban Areas:

Main Goal - Return Wilkes-Barre and the other Urban Areas to places where people can live - not just going out to lunch during work hours, but getting citizens to live in the urban centers.

1. Urban Redevelopment - This effort should not only include the rebuilding or updating of the downtown, maintaining and improving historic structures and features, and building new residential or commercial ventures, but integrating new approaches to stormwater management and landscape ecology. Besides converting the downtown into a "safe-accessible-functioning community,” the downtown must be converted into a "Village" that supports multiple commercial, community, and recreational opportunities. This approach would require the integration and development of additional "green areas,” "gardens,” and alternative landscape features that are not present in the existing downtown community and living areas - An urban destination!

2. Urban Woodlands and Green Areas - The redevelopment efforts should include transforming reclaimed mined land, abandoned lots and buildings, "brownfields,” and other urban areas to more native vegetation, interconnected greenways, and curbside bioretention systems that could incorporate stormwater BMPs (Best Management Practices). This would help to change the feel of the downtown and aid in controlling and treating stormwater. The end result would be a more cost-effective way of reducing adverse impacts associated with CSOs (combined sewer overflows), stormwater management, and creating an inviting living and working environment. If possible, some of the areas could be used as demonstration sites for innovative stormwater management systems in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This would not only bring more local attention, but could bring more national attention to the Wyoming Valley and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

3. Exurban Areas - In areas outside the city, it may be possible to use stormwater bioretention systems as a means of treating and buffering mine drainage and providing treatment for urban stormwater runoff control from residential lots and low-density housing developments. Currently, stormwater recharge facilities are not permitted on areas identified as culm or mine drainage areas, but it may be advisable to use this method to introduce alkalinity to the system through the use of a bioretention/infiltration system.

In most cases, the streams leaving sites developed in culm areas, are losing-streams that will ultimately recharge the groundwater system. Therefore, the combination of bioretention/recharge systems that would introduce additional buffering capacity could result in an overall decrease in the amount of acid mine drainage. This application would probably work best on sites where the overburden is primarily composed of culm.

4. Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSO) -  It may be advisable to consider the installation of groundwater recharge trenches or shallow wells to attempt to directly recharge groundwater aquifers with stormwater before it enters the sewer system.

Currently, the groundwater aquifers are not used as public water supplies or industrial water sources. The discharges from the groundwater aquifers do aid in sustaining the flows for a number of watersheds, but these flows are associated with mine drainage. Under the current practice, the CSO overflow discharges directly to the surface water system and efforts to treat mine drainage are typically associated with the point of discharge. A potential alternative would be to consider the installation of injection wells or trenches to attempt to artificially recharge aquifers by directing the stormwater or partially-treated CSO discharges into the bedrock aquifer. Upon recharge, the water would travel through the groundwater aquifer and then discharge to the Susquehanna River.

It is likely that the current point and nonpoint discharges from the groundwater aquifers would be the points where the stormwater would exit the groundwater system. At these areas, real-time water-quality monitoring devices could be deployed to monitor general water quality and facilitate the treatment of the "mine or acid-mine discharges.” Using this approach, a series of either chemical feed pumps or treated wastewater with solar-powered aeration systems could be added to increase the alkalinity, pH, and oxygen level of the water.

5. Bioretention Areas and Stormwater Management - For some of the commercial, residential, and urban areas, it may be advisable to integrate bioretention areas and stormwater management systems into a part of the landscape features. For these areas, it may be advisable to consider the use of "amended soil" or "manufactured soils" to improve soil quality.

6. Green Building Design - This would be done by the use of more energy-efficient lighting, recyclable building materials, alternative heating and cooling systems (geothermal), water reuse, and building-material selection.

7. Green Roofs - It may be advisable to consider the development and use of green roofing systems for apartment buildings, apartments, offices, etc. These systems will not only improve energy efficiency decrease peak stormwater flows and runoff volumes, but also create unique landscape settings for the urban areas in the city.

8. Enhanced Infiltration - The introduction of Porous Concrete and the Use of a Modified Porous Pavement System and subsurface infiltration systems could increase rainfall infiltration into the ground while decreasing surface runoff and the load on the storm sewer system.

9. Bioretention Islands - Creating bioretention islands within parking lots to decrease the heat island effects and create landscape features, but also to manage stormwater runoff.

10. Landscape Irrigation Systems and Possible Reuse Systems - stormwater could be used for landscape irrigation, flushing toilets, and other non-drinking-water reuse.

11. Problem Definition - It is important to realize that the problem is not climate change, but the sum of all the poor decisions we have made in our attempt to control the water cycle. Past efforts have not worked and it is time to start attempting to live with the natural system and not fight against it. This may mean that some areas need to be abandoned and not rebuilt or redeveloped.

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