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Growth Solutions for watershed conservation

The Cahaba River Society champions practical planning, design, and construction management solutions to raise standards for development and restore the river while our communities grow. We can have both clean water and a healthy economy. For instance, north Georgia and Atlanta area cities have adopted watershed protection standards for new development that have been compatible with growth.

CRS is reaching out to collaborate with city/county officials and those in the private sector who build our new communities – developers, contractors, engineers, architects, landscape architects and land planners. We are working with those who are willing to increase their expertise in low impact development and “bluer” green building, to make Cahaba conservation work and meet the economic goals for their property, business, and community.


Bluer green building = innovative best practices for land use planning, site and building design, and construction management to conserve watersheds, water quality and water supply as our communities grow.

“Green” building is a confirmed trend for the nation, and more recently for the Birmingham region. The term “green building” often focuses on greater energy efficiency, with most effort given to the design and internal systems of the buildings.

CRS is working to encourage “bluer” green building that also delivers better water resource conservation. We promote new development and redevelopment that successfully uses innovative best practices for site design and storm water management to restore and conserve water supply and water quality. These best practices, such as Low Impact Development (LID) and green infrastructure, reduce storm water pollution and restore and conserve water supply in our rivers and lakes for drinking water, wildlife, and recreation.


One of the Cahaba River Society’s most important programs is to build collaborative relationships with development professionals, local government officials, and business interests. We aim to increase knowledge in our region about innovative best practices for watershed protective site design and storm water management, such as Low Impact Development (LID) and green infrastructure.

Through demonstration development projects that CRS advises and promotes, such as the Bass Pro development in Leeds and the new Hewitt-Trussville High School, we learn together with the developer and design/construction firms which LID practices work best for the land type, climate, and markets of our watershed and communities. If there are still any doubts that instituting watershed protective design will impede growth, these demonstration projects are proving the feasibility, practicality, and marketability of LID approaches for our area.

As the economic and environmental benefits of these LID approaches become clear, more design and construction firms, developers and businesses in our region are using them. To successfully conserve the water resources in our region it is essential to greatly increase the number of firms that offer expertise in these best practices as well as the developers and businesses that invest in them. To encourage this, annually CRS gives awards to and promotes development projects that successfully conserve water resources (read more).

Developers may expect that bluer green building practices will cost more. If true, this would be a disincentive, but it is not the case. Developers expect this because some energy-conservation systems used within buildings may cost more up front, while providing long-term savings.

The record is different for bluer green building. In fact, studies across the U.S. are showing that the short-term construction costs for the LID storm water best practices that CRS recommends are actually less than for conventional storm water design. (See case studies.) As more engineers, architects, landscape architects and contractors in our region learn how to design and deliver LID storm water management for water resource protection, the cost will continue to drop. These firms are also capitalizing on growing demand for bluer green building as an area of growth for their businesses.


Well-designed development plays an essential role in helping to conserve our scarce water resources. For the past two years the Cahaba River Society (CRS) has recognized businesses that are leaders in Low-Impact Development (LID), which is a set of site design and building strategies that conserve drinking water resources, harvest and reuse storm water, and protect water quality. CRS intends for these awards to promote LID by thanking businesses and developers who are taking positive leadership and by increasing the recognition of those engineers, architects, landscape architects and contractors who can deliver a quality ‘Low Impact Development’ project.

The awards given at the Cahaba River Society’s 20th Anniversary Annual meeting on January 24, 2008 applauded innovative development that protects both the Cahaba watershed (“blue”) and the region’s environment (“green”). Recognized this year with Blue-Green Design Innovation Awards were: McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company, for its storm water and industrial process water reuse system; Opus South Corporation, for the Social Security Administration building green roof and storm water collection system; and the Trussville City Schools, for the new Hewitt-Trussville’s High School straddling the banks of the river. CRS also gave a Classic Blue-Green Development Award to the Protective Life office complex, to showcase Birmingham’s heritage of good design that conserves water resources and saves money over time. At their 2007 Annual Meeting, the Cahaba River Society awarded St. Vincent’s One Nineteen Health and Wellness and Shoppes at River Run for their LID design.

CRS works to secure positive press for the projects. Our award-winning projects have been profiled in the Money section of The Birmingham News. The 2008 projects were featured in a green building show that aired on Alabama Public Television in May 2008.

To nominate a project for an award, contact CRS Executive Director Beth Stewart,, 205-322-5326 ext 411, by November 1, 2009. Typically only those projects that are completed or nearing completion are eligible.



Bioswales at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen Health and Wellness
St. Vincent’s Hospital System, Curtis James, CEO
St. Vincent’s One Nineteen Health and Wellness, Jeri Evans, Executive Director
Brasfield & Gorrie, Alan Anthony and Mike Dunn, General Contractors
Ross Land Design, Jane Reed Ross, Landscape architect,

St. Vincent’s reduced the storm water pollution and flooding effects of the parking lots at their new facility with an innovative technique called “bioswales” or “rain gardens.” The bioswales use landscaped islands in the parking lot to allow runoff to seep into the ground, filtering pollutants. Since the Wellness facility is close to Lake Purdy, St. Vincent’s took special care to protect our drinking water in that area

Baysaver and bioswales at Shoppes at River Run
Moss Properties, Jay Moss, Owner,
Stewart Perry Company Inc., Merrill Stewart, President and Clinton Smith, VP and COO
Ross Land Design, Jane Reed Ross, Landscape Architect

Located near the banks of the Cahaba River in Mountain Brook, The Shoppes at River Run installed a BaySaver, a trademarked water filtration system, in the parking lot to catch and filter runoff, cleaning parking lot water of toxins such as gas, grease and antifreeze. Bioswales further filter the roof and parking lot runoff before it reaches the river.


CRS’s speakers tour offers a special presentation to professionals involved in development. For example, this presentation is effective for engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, land planning, real estate, development, and building contracting firms as well as for local government staff and officials involved in the review and approval of development projects

Using local case studies and photos of our water resources, this powerpoint presentation covers the Cahaba River’s values at risk, the ways that conventional development design and storm water design are unnecessarily impacting water quality and reducing water supply, and the innovative planning and design solutions that can make a difference. The focus looks beyond sediment and erosion control during construction, and covers green infrastructure and low impact development site design.

CRS can bring this presentation directly to your firm or government office, such as a ‘lunch and learn” presentation, for audiences of any size. We hope not only to bring information, but also to learn more ourselves, from your experiences, about the challenges, barriers, and incentives that impact putting these techniques into practice here.

CRS also offers the presentation to trade and civic organizations and as a part of green building conferences.

Our aim is to work collaboratively with firms and local governments that are interested in these innovative approaches, both because of their corporate values and because this is a promising area of business growth. If low impact development becomes more of a standard practice, we can work together to conserve the Cahaba as the communities along it grow.

Please contact CRS Executive Director Beth Stewart,, 205-322-5326 ext. 411, to schedule a presentation.


“Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices,” U.S. EPA, December 2007

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a new report which contains 17 case studies from across North America that show the economic viability of LID practices. Using these practices in construction projects can lower costs while improving environmental results.

LID practices are innovative stormwater management practices to manage urban stormwater runoff at its source. The goal is to mimic the way water moved through an area before it was developed by using design techniques that infiltrate, evapotranspirate, and reuse runoff close to
its source. Some common LID practices include rain gardens, grassed swales, cisterns, rain barrels, permeable pavements and green roofs. LID practices increasingly are used by communities across the country to help protect and restore water quality.

The report highlights examples that, in most cases, reduce project costs while improving environmental performance. Total capital savings ranged from 15 to 80 percent, with a few exceptions in which LID project costs were higher than conventional stormwater management costs. As LID practices become more common, it is likely that they will become cheaper to use.

For a copy of the report:

“The Economics of Low Impact Development: A literature Review, “ECONorthwest, November 2007

Summarizes findings of studies and finds that LID can offer cost savings when compared to conventional storm water controls and provides valuable ecosystem services, such as water filtration and purification, that conventional controls do not. LID can cost less to install, offer more benefits, and provide more cost-effective storm water management.

Read an abstract of the study, or find the study at


Center for Watershed Protection – Pioneering nonprofit firm that studies, promotes, and educates re watershed-protective site design. 22 Principles of Site Design, info concerning design of LID and post-development controls – and

Conservation Design Forum, Inc. – private multidisciplinary firm specializing in innovative storm water control – – especially Blackberry Creek study

Building Outside the Box program of Cumberland River Compact – low impact development demonstration projects for watershed protection, at varying urban, suburban, rural scales – see


CRS recommends a different approach to regulating floodplain development, based on recommendations of the American Society of Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) – – rather than the standard ordinances now on the books in most communities, which are based on failed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies. See ‘What Causes Flooding‘, CRS’s summary of ASFPM’s critique of conventional floodplain management policies and the basis for our recommendations.

CRS recommends that individual development projects should only be allowed to place fill in the 100 year floodplain if the overall flood storage volume of the property will not be reduced. This could be accomplished, for instance, by increasing the flood storage volume in one area of the site by an equivalent amount as was lost due to fill in another part of the site. Also, cities should not allow subdivision of new lots in the floodplain that would create a necessity to fill the floodplain in order to use the lot.

CRS recommends applying this policy with flexibility to respect property rights. For instance, we recommend the use of clustering to allow the square footage or dwelling units that zoning would have permitted within a floodplain area to be transferred to other parts of the site using a density bonus there, if the floodplain area is then permanently protected as open space. We support the use of variances to allow fill in the floodplain in those rare situations in which so much of a pre-existing property is in the floodplain that there is not a reasonable remaining use of the property outside of the floodplain.

This is significantly different from the floodplain use policies of most cities in our region. However, the policies our cities are following now, as outlined in the summary “What Causes Flooding,” are leading to increasing flooding problems that endanger and unfairly burden existing residents and harm their property values.

It is also important to consider that the floodplain maps of many communities are outdated and do not represent the current flood levels. For instance, the estimated 100 year flood levels for the upper Cahaba watershed are based on land uses and modeling from many years ago. Map updates since that time used more accurate topography, but may not have taken into account all the added development and storm water runoff since then, which has greatly increased the amount of water the river carries in a flood. If developers build in the floodplain at an elevation that outdated FEMA maps show as being above the 100 year floodplain, and actual flood levels are significantly higher, those new properties are at greater risk than anticipated.

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