New stormwater management techniques raise questions for watershed

sbarr@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2014 

A group of concerned Wake County residents has asked county officials to look into low-impact development for future projects that could impact Falls Lake (above), the primary source of Raleigh’s drinking water.

NEWS & OBSERVER FILE ART

— It was standing room only in a side room of the Village Grill off Falls of Neuse Road last week as the ACC tournament rolled and the happy hour crowd buzzed in the background.

But the more than 50 Wake County residents crammed around tables and into corners there hadn’t come for the basketball or the beer.

Instead, they were there for a discussion about the latest in stormwater management techniques.

While it sounds esoteric, stormwater management interests more people than just planners at City Hall. Some residents also want to know more, especially those who keep a close eye on conditions in Falls Lake, the city’s primary source of drinking water.

WakeUP Wake County, a nonpartisan citizens group interested in how best to manage growth and create sustainable communities in the region, hosted last week’s meeting.

The meeting was a chance for the audience to understand stormwater management techniques that allow for development that is gentler on the environment than traditional methods.

But they were also there to start a conversation about whether the new techniques should allow more intense development in sensitive areas, including in the Falls Lake watershed.

Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP, said that as the city continues to grow, those questions are important to grapple with.

“There will be development, so what does it look like, where does it happen?” she said.

Low Impact Development

The meeting’s discussion centered around a group of stormwater management techniques known collectively as “low impact development.”

The techniques are designed to work with nature to help manage stormwater as close to its source as possible, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. They can include bioretention facilities, rain gardens, permeable pavements – examples that all keep more water on site.

The basic goal is to minimize the stormwater rushing off impervious surfaces like roofs or parking lots and into waterways where it can diminish water quality and and cause erosion. The stormwater that rolls off the impervious surfaces travels fast and it brings with it any pollution it picks up on the way.

The city doesn’t have an ordinance regarding the new techniques, but officials are paying close attention to them, said City Councilman Russ Stephenson at the meeting.

The city expects a report in about six months that explains how they could make further use of the techniques throughout Raleigh and could guide future rules.

“I think there’s a strong interest in moving forward, but we’ll have to wait and see what kind of recommendations are made,” he said.

Stephenson has concerns though about how far into the Falls Lake watershed more development could take place. While the new techniques might work on the fringe, that doesn’t mean development should automatically creep closer to the lake.

“Further out could be a real problem,” he said.

One of the projects in the watershed that has helped spark the interest in new stormwater management techniques is the redevelopment of the Falls Golf Complex into a Life Time Fitness health club on Falls of Neuse Road just south of Interstate 540.

The city council approved the project last spring after the company offered two stormwater management plans: one that would pump stormwater away from the site and another that would use an an irrigation system to filter it on the property, with the latter refered to as the low impact development option.

Officials opted for the pump system because they had lingering concerns about the effectiveness of the irrigation method, but they included a provision that allows them to change their minds in the future and convert to it.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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