WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) - Rainwater heading down a suburban street into a storm drain and to the nearest stream or river would seem harmless enough.
Environmental officials say it is anything but.
The runoff carries garden fertilizers, pet wastes and gasoline and oil from cars, frustrating environmental officials who claim more success stemming pollution from wastewater plants discharging into rivers. Urban sprawl has given the problem particular urgency.
But one suburban neighborhood may have a solution. On Thursday, state and federal environmental officials celebrated the completion of the neighborhood, designed to trap and reuse rainwater before it collects pollutants.
The community, the only one of its kind in New England and one of 23 in the United States, also will provide data to University of Connecticut agricultural researchers who will analyze differences between 12 homes in the green neighborhood and 18 houses in a conventional adjacent suburban street.
”While we’ve done a great job cleaning up our waterways, we still have many challenges with residential, commercial and industrial developments and contaminated runoff from everyday activities,’ said Robert W. Varney,
New England regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Once a chicken farm, the 18-acre Glen Brook Green subdivision took five years to build.
The neighborhood features contoured gardens with gutters leading into the ground, spaces between pieces of road pavement to absorb water, sloping ditches between roads and properties to collect rainwater, and narrower roads and broader grassy areas.
Runoff water from the conventional neighborhood is eventually dumped into Long Island Sound.
UConn graduate student Jennifer Gilbert said she is writing a thesis comparing the amount of copper from pipes, lead from gasoline and zinc in the green neighborhood’s runoff water with the amount of those materials found in runoff rainwater from the conventional neighborhood.
”It’s fabulous,’ said Gilbert, who is studying to be a hydrologist. ”It’s very exciting.’
The implementation and monitoring of the pollution-reducing designs in the Waterford neighborhood has cost $680,000 so far. Monitoring costs during the next three years will total $100,000 a year.
Federal environmental officials have spent $1 billion since 1990 to establish national monitoring programs and the effectiveness of pollution-reducing methods, Varney said.
Environmental officials claim financial benefits in addition to cleaner water. A stormwater management system with less pavement, grass-lined ditches and construction of systems that absorb water is less expensive than traditional wide roads, curbs and storm drains in subdivisions, federal officials say.
Typical ”curb and gutter’ drainage systems cost between $45 and $50 a linear foot to install, while grass-lined ditches cost $10 to $15, according to the EPA.
Varney said the successful project will not likely result in requirements that builders adopt the environmentally-friendly designs.
”I’d expect it would be an option,’ he said.