Greenprint: Lessons from the Storm

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One year ago this month, the metro Detroit area went through some of the worst flooding in recent history when a sudden storm dumped more than 4.5 inches of rain on the region, overwhelming sewer systems and causing an estimated $1.1 billion worth of damage.

Heavy rains like this record-breaking event can have serious impacts on infrastructure – sewer overflows, pollution runoff and flooding. The Detroit Zoo experienced major flood damage during this storm, which forced us to close for a day as we evaluated systems and began cleanup efforts and repairs. It became apparent that we needed to find a better way to manage large rain events, so we started to incorporate a form of green infrastructure, called porous pavement, into major projects.

Pervious paving

Porous pavement is a material that encourages water to percolate through the surface into the ground for natural absorption. By incorporating this surface throughout the Zoo, we’re encouraging more natural absorption of water into the environment, which lessens our need for irrigation. It also prevents excess water from entering the Detroit sewer system. In addition, we have chosen a permeable surface that is light in color to reduce our urban heat island effect – a phenomenon whereby a warmer envelope of air exists over urbanized areas due to human activity – which will decrease ambient temperature to improve air quality and the health of nearby plants.Pervious pavement

Porous pavement can be in the form of brick pavers, gravel, porous concrete or even recycled rubber or glass. When you visit the new Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, notice the colorful pathways of porous pavement. In addition, once the Polk Penguin Conservation Center opens in early 2016, the nearby parking lot will be made with porous material.

Join us on this green journey – next time you consider resurfacing your driveway or pathways, consider this application to help lessen your impact on the environment.

– Beth Wallace

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