Green infrastructure plans aids city vision of sustainability

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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Although the Berkeley City Council only recently approved its green infrastructure plan Sept. 10, independent construction on the western side of San Pablo Avenue has been underway since Sept. 16 to detoxify water that flows into Codornices Creek, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

According to a city council report, “green infrastructure” refers to a sustainable system with low-impact development practices that slows runoff by dispersing it to vegetated areas — promoting infiltration and evapotranspiration — and uses bioretention to improve the water quality of stormwater runoff.

Daniel Akagi, associate civil engineer with the city’s Department of Public Works, said implementation of the city’s green infrastructure plan will occur over the next 10-30 years.

The plan identifies Southside Berkeley’s Piedmont Avenue as a potential site for joint green infrastructure. According to Akagi, meetings for collaboration between the Department of Public Works and UC Berkeley are still underway and no project agreements have been solidified.

Josh Bradt, project manager at the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and liaison for the San Pablo Avenue “green stormwater spine” project, said he wasn’t aware of the city’s plan — and that current construction on San Pablo is separate from Berkeley’s city plan. Bradt said he has been working “behind the scenes” to develop public outreach and environmental compliance for the area.

“Around the bay, our watersheds are highly urbanized and developed — and that has caused a lot of water pollution and a volume of water running off,” Bradt said.

According to Sasha Harris-Lovett, a postdoctoral researcher with the campus Berkeley Water Center, stormwater runoff in highly urbanized areas like Berkeley can retain toxic chemicals and harmful substances such as PCBs, car pollutants, nutrients and oils. Bradt said green infrastructure “retrofitting” uses plant root systems and microbiology to break down small pollutants before they exit pipes and reach creeks or the bay.

Bradt’s project received funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, or MTC, among other agencies, according to Berkeleyside. Bradt stressed that MTC is the “nexus between water pollution and the built-environment” because streets and sidewalks take up about 20 percent of land area within city limits.

Bradt recommends that future green infrastructure plans are tacked onto larger construction projects, although this might challenge the methods of “traditional, conventional city design.”

“Transportation money is highly prized and road construction is costly. There’s a resistance to adding green infrastructure elements because they increase project costs,” Bradt said.

Dan Kammen, chair of UC Berkeley Energy & Resources Group, said the campus is also involved in producing its own green infrastructure on campus and is an example of a “living laboratory” for green projects.

“The new wave of low-carbon, ecologically friendly buildings can go a long way to reducing our carbon footprint,” Kammen said. “Building with green roofs, ideally integrating in hydroponics to grow food at the source of demand, and wastewater purification and recycling systems, are all huge steps forward that UC Berkeley can pioneer — and demonstrate how green design is both better for the human and natural environment.”

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.