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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012 9 years ago

A Hipster's Guide to Urban Watersheds

by: Lisa Nisenson

This post is dedicated to readers who didn’t pay attention in biology class except for the parts on human reproduction and tropical parasites. Actually, this post got started with all the beach closings we had this year. You know the drill: You go to the beach only to find a sign that says "No Swimming" because of something in Latin this or that. As it turns out, the “this or that” is bacteria found in feces, and the Health Department frowns upon people swimming in their own filth.


But it’s not like everyone’s going to the beach and squatting in the tidal pools. It’s from storm water. So here at SRiQ decided to look into this storm water thing. We know hipsters aren’t all that interested in being interested, especially when it comes to storm water. But we also know hipsters don’t like taking off their TOMS and wading in shit, uh, enterococci either.

So we looked around to see how to best explain stormwater and found out the best place to start is Nancy’s BBQ. So after a beer, we headed out the front door onto Ringling Boulevard where the best and worst storm water stories are all in one place. The bad storm water story is that when we pave over land, rain doesn’t soak in the ground---but has to go somewhere. So we build lots of gutters and drains and pipes and use gravity to send it to the lowest spot, which is usually water of some sort. Along the way, that water washes away any bird poop, alley slop (you know what I’m talking about), gum wrappers, fertilizer, vomit and other general nastiness with the flow.

But here is where the good part comes. The roundabouts aren’t the only new feature on Ringling; the landscaping is brand new as well. At first the design might look at little weird---lots of rocks and plants that aren’t palm trees. Here’s why the landscaping looks like it does:

Why the rocks? – The rocks help slow down the flow of water. Fast-flowing water has a way of eroding stream banks and beaches. Rocks and gravel are also pervious, so the rain soaks down into the soil fast. That’s why gravel and paver driveways are all the rage.

Why the weird plants? – Here in Sarasota, we have the summer rainy season and a long dry winter. The trick is to pick plants that stand both without any human having to do anything --- namely watering. But the plants also work their magic by naturally filtering out gunk before it hits the Bay.

Why the ditches? Don’t drunks fall in ditches? Well, yes. But, the ditches pool the water and naturally soak it in the way the land did before the ‘dozers came. Rather than have straight curbs, they are curved to send water (at least some of it) into the ditches. The plant roots then work on breaking down the nasty stuff. Finally, the water has a chance to cool off when it runs into these ditches. Super-heated city stormwater is not good for anything except for, of course, bacteria.

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