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A tale of two rain gardens: Barriers and bridges to adaptive management of urban stormwater in Cleveland, Ohio
Chaffin, B., W. Shuster, A. Garmestani, B. Furio, S. Albro, M. Gardiner, M. Spring, AND O. Odom Green. A tale of two rain gardens: Barriers and bridges to adaptive management of urban stormwater in Cleveland, Ohio. JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT. Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY, 183(Part 2):431-441, (2016).
Green infrastructure (GI) installations such as rain gardens, green roofs, and bioswales are increasingly regarded as viable tools to mitigate stormwater runoff. Initial assessments demonstrate the potential for GI to improve detention capacity in typically impervious urban areas, but field data to quantify the effectiveness of GI in abating stormwater volumes—potentially decreasing the frequency and volume of combined sewer overflow events—is lacking. The use of experimentation and monitoring data feedbacks has not been adequately explored as a way to implement GI and optimize its acceptance and effectiveness. Thus, considerable uncertainty obscures the assessment of GI as an effective stormwater management tool. Uncertainty not only related to the performance of specific GI installations, but also related to integration with current, often highly-degraded gray infrastructure (e.g., sewer pipes, outfalls, and wastewater treatment plants) and potential barriers such as cost and feasibility of necessary coordination between various jurisdictions and stakeholders. In addition, efforts to improve stormwater management through green infrastructure suffer from the general complexity of urban spaces—a myriad of overlapping jurisdictional boundaries, as well as complex, interacting social and political forces that dictate the flow, consumption, conservation, waste, and disposal of resources including urban wastewater flows. Within this urban milieu, adaptive management—rigorous experimentation applied as policy—is an appropriate approach for managing systems of considerable complexity and uncertainty.
Green infrastructure installations such as rain gardens and bioswales are increasingly regarded as viable tools to mitigate stormwater runoff at the parcel level. The use of adaptive management to implement and monitor green infrastructure projects as experimental attempts to manage stormwater has not been adequately explored as a way to optimize green infrastructure performance or increase social and political acceptance. Efforts to improve stormwater management through green infrastructure suffer from the complexity of overlapping jurisdictional boundaries, as well as interacting social and political forces that dictate the flow, consumption, conservation and disposal of urban wastewater flows. Within this urban milieu, adaptive management—rigorous experimentation applied as policy—can inform new wastewater management techniques such as the implementation of green infrastructure projects. In this article, we present a narrative of scientists and practitioners working together to apply an adaptive management approach to green infrastructure implementation for stormwater management in Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland, contextual legal requirements and environmental factors created an opportunity for government researchers, stormwater managers and community organizers to engage in the development of two distinct sets of rain gardens, each borne of unique social, economic and environmental processes. In this article we analyze social and political barriers to applying adaptive management as a framework for implementing green infrastructure experiments as policy. We conclude with a series of lessons learned and a reflection on the prospects for adaptive management to facilitate green infrastructure implementation for improved stormwater management.
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