As cities rush to solve major problems with water infrastructure, newer technologies are being touted by city agencies as cheaper, cleaner solutions. In two different local projects, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) and a City Council task force are looking into green ways to solve the city’s water needs.
On Wednesday, CityBeat covered some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure. According to the report reviewed Wednesday, green water infrastructure is cheaper and does create a boon of jobs, but it faces some funding and education problems. However, it was unclear how the green ideas would translate into Cincinnati.
Tony Parrott, executive director of MSD, says despite the challenges, green infrastructure is clearly the cheaper option. The organization is partnering with local organizations to adopt a series of new projects — among them, green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands — to meet a new federal mandate that requires MSD to reduce the amount of sewer overflow that makes it into local rivers and streams.
“That is a very costly mandate,” he says. “Our belief is that green infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure will allow us to achieve a lot of those objectives a lot cheaper than your conventional deep tunnel systems or other gray type of infrastructure.”
Of course, conventional — or “gray” — infrastructure still
has its place, but adopting a hybrid of green and gray infrastructure
or just green infrastructure in some areas was found to be cheaper in
MSD analyses, according to Parrott.
Plans are already being executed. On top of the smaller projects that slow the flow of storm water into sewer systems, MSD is also taking what Parrott calls a “large-scale approach to resurrect or daylight former streams and creeks that were buried over 150 years ago.” This approach will rely on the new waterways to redirect storm water so it doesn’t threaten to flood sewers and cause sewer overflow, Parrott says.
The programs are being approached in a “holistic way,” according to Parrott. MSD intends to refine and reiterate on what works as the programs develop. However, that comes with challenges when setting goals and asking for funding.
“We think that if you’re going to use a more integrated approach, it may require us to ask for more time to get some of these projects done and in the ground and then see how effective they are,” Parrott says.
If it all plays out, the ongoing maintenance required by the green approach could be good for the local economy, according to Parrott: “With the green and sustainable infrastructure, you’re creating a new class of what we call green jobs for maintenance. The majority of those jobs are something local folks can do as opposed to the conventional process.” Additionally, the green jobs also tend to benefit “disadvantaged communities” more than conventional jobs, according to Parrott.
The argument is essentially what Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, told CityBeat on Wednesday. Since the green jobs require less education and training, they’re more accessible to “disadvantaged workers,” according to Hays: “They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
While MSD fully encourages the use of rain barrels, recycling will not be a top priority for MSD’s programs. Instead, that priority goes to the Rainwater Harvesting Task Force, a City Council task force intended to find ways to reform the city’s plumbing code to make harvesting and recycling rainwater a possibility.
Bob Knight, a member of the task force, says there is already a model in place the city can use. The task force is looking into adopting the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) in Cincinnati. The code will “prescriptively tell” architects and engineers how to design a rainwater harvesting system. In other words, IGCC would set a standard for the city.
Deciding on this code was not without challenges. At first, the task force wasn’t even sure if it could dictate how rainwater is harvested and recycled. The first question Knight had to ask was, “Who has that authority?” What it found is a mix of local agencies — Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MSD and Cincinnati Department of Planning — will all have to work together to implement the city’s new code.
The task force hopes to give its findings to Quality of Life Committee, which is led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, by the end of November.
Ohioans might not give it much thought outside of paying the water bill, but better water infrastructure can make cities more efficient, healthier and cleaner. That’s why Green For All, a group that promotes clean energy initiatives, is now focusing on cleaner, greener water infrastructure.
A little-known green conference took place in Cincinnati Oct. 15-17. The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference was in town on those three days, and it brought together leaders from around the U.S. to discuss sustainable water programs for cities. The conference mostly focused on policy ideas, success stories and challenges faced by modern water infrastructure.
For Green For All, attending the conference was about establishing one key element that isn’t often associated with water and sewer systems: jobs. Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, says this was the focus for his organization.
Hays says it’s important for groups promoting better water infrastructure to include the jobs aspect of the equation. To Hays, while it’s certainly important for cities to establish cleaner and more efficient initiatives, it’s also important to get people back to work. He worries this side of water infrastructure policies are “often left out.”
He points to a report released by Green For All during last year’s conference. The report looked at how investing the $188.4 billion suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage rainwater and preserve water quality in the U.S. would translate into economic development and jobs: “We find that an investment of $188.4 billion spread equally over the next five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.”
To accomplish that robust growth and job development, the report claims infrastructure would have to mimic “natural solutions.” It would focus on green roofs, which are rooftop areas with planted vegetation; urban tree planting; rain gardens, which are areas that use vegetation to reduce storm water runoff; bioswales, which are shallow, vegetated depressions that catch rainwater and redirect it; constructed wetlands; permeable pavements, which are special pavements that allow water to pass through more easily; rainwater harvesting, which uses rain barrels and other storage devices to collect and recycle rainwater; and green alleys, which reduce paved or impervious surfaces with vegetation that reduces storm water runoff.
The report says constructing and maintaining these sorts of programs would produce massive growth, especially in comparison to other programs already supported by presidential candidates and the federal government: “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”
Hays says the jobs created also don’t have barriers that keep them inaccessible to what he calls “disadvantaged workers”: “A lot of these jobs that we’re focused on in infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, are much more accessible. They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
Beyond jobs, Green For All supports greener infrastructure due to its health benefits. Hays cited heat waves as one example. He says the extra plants and vegetation planted to support green infrastructure can help absorb heat that’s typically contained by cities.
Hays’ example has a lot of science to stand on. The extra heating effect in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, is caused because cities have more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. The EPA promotes green roofs in order to help combat the urban heat island effect.
Hays says green infrastructure also creates cleaner air because trees capture carbon dioxide and break it down to oxygen. The work of the extra trees can also help reduce global warming, although Hays cautions that the ultimate effect is probably “relatively small.”
But those are only some of the advantages Hays sees in green infrastructure. He says green infrastructure is more resilient against volatile weather events caused by global warming. With green infrastructure, storm water can be managed by systems that collect and actually utilize rainwater to harvest clean water. Even in a world without climate change, that storm water management also reduces water contamination by reducing sewer overflow caused by storm water floods, according to Hays.
However, green infrastructure is not without its problems. Hays acknowledges there are some problems with infrastructure systems that require more year-over-year maintenance: “The green and conventional approach is more cost effective over time, but the way you have to spend money is different. So we need to look at the way we finance infrastructure, and make sure we keep up with innovative technologies.”
Specifically, green infrastructure relies less on big capital investments and more on ongoing maintenance costs. Hays insists the green infrastructure saves money in the long term with efficiency and by making more use out of natural resources, and the Green For All report supports his claim. But it is more difficult to get a city or state legislator to support long-term funding than it is to get them to support big capital expenditures, Hays says.
Education is also a problem. To a lot of people, the green infrastructure on rooftops and other city areas might seem like “pocket parks,” says Hays. But these areas are nothing like parks; they are meant to absorb and collect rainwater. If the public isn’t educated properly, there could be some confusion as to why the supposed “pocket parks” are flooded so often. Providing that education is going to be another big challenge for public officials adopting green infrastructure, according to Hays.
So what, if anything, is Cincinnati doing to adopt these
technologies? In the past, city legislators have looked into rainwater
harvesting systems, but not much information is out there. On Thursday, CityBeat will talk to city officials to see how Cincinnati is moving forward.
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
The first of three debates for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat is
today. Incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh
Mandel will meet for the first time to prove who has the better vision
for the state. Democrats have repeatedly criticized Mandel for
dishonesty and dodging questions. Republicans have criticized Brown for
supporting President Barack Obama’s policies, including the auto bailout
and Obamacare. A more substantive analysis of the candidates’
differences can be found here. In aggregate polling, Brown currently
leads by five points. The debate will be at 12:30 p.m. on C-SPAN.
Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate for vice president, will be in Cincinnati today. Ryan’s event will take place at Lunken Airport at noon. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, was in Lebanon Saturday. With the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Romney tomorrow, both campaigns are turning up the events in Ohio, a state that is widely considered a must-win for both candidates. According to aggregate polling, Obama still holds Ohio by 2.2 points despite a nationwide post-debate bounce in the polls for Romney.
Bicyclists rejoiced Saturday as McMillan Street was converted back into a two-way street. William Howard Taft Road will undergo a similar transition Oct. 20. The conversion of both roads came thanks to the approval of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who pushed the motion in order to revitalize the business sector in the neighborhood.
The rest of Ohio’s school report card data will be released Wednesday. The report card data grades schools to see how school districts are doing in a variety of categories. The release for the data was initially delayed due to an ongoing investigation by the state auditor that’s looking into accusations of attendance reporting fraud at some school districts. Previously, the state auditor released preliminary findings criticizing some school districts and the Ohio Department of Education for some findings regarding attendance fraud.
A new report found Cincinnati still has a lot of work to do. The city ranked No. 10 out of 12 similar cities. Cincinnati excelled in job creation and housing opportunities, but it did poorly in categories regarding migration and age.
Bob Taft, former Republican governor of Ohio, is going green. The Ohio Environmental Council is rewarding Taft for standing up for the environment during his gubernatorial term.
Ohio’s stricter laws for exotic animals convinced one pet owner to move her two tigers to Indiana.
Some guy broke the sound barrier with his body yesterday.
Next month, the state’s most important environmental/conservation organization plans to give Taft its award for lifetime achievement as a consistent backer of policies and programs for clean air and water. So the governor who skipped his green fees is being recognized as Mr. Green. The Ohio Environmental Council says it will bestow the honor Nov. 10 at its annual “Green Gala” in Columbus.
Taft is being seen in hindsight as the kind of R who wasn’t afraid of standing up for the environment. That is a rarity in today’s GOP, where Rush Limbaugh routinely denounces tree-huggers as enviro-fascists, and the EPA is widely portrayed as a jobs-killing hydra. Of course, few remember that Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA. Nor do they seem to recollect that Teddy Roosevelt — when he wasn’t hunting elephants or elk — is the patriarch of the national park system.
Taft gets credit for taking on his own party, which recently considered tapping water from the Great Lakes. He had supported strict limits on withdrawing water from Great Lakes feeder streams for industrial and mining purposes — those streams replenished Lake Erie. Taft believed the Great Lakes were resources that needed more protection from special interests; they did not need more abuse and exploitation.
Taft also favored reauthorization of the federal Clean Water Act, and he wanted Superfund legislation fixed to add so-called “brown fields,” which were old industrial sites that could be cleaned and put back into use as commercial real estate. He supported an energy policy that would have 25 percent of all U.S. energy coming from renewable sources by 2025. He pushed natural gas companies to set aside funds to help low income families pay their heating bills.
As far back as 2003, Taft was urging governors and Congress to take drastic action to stop the spread of the Asian carp, the giant jumping fish that now are in the Ohio River near Cincinnati. He called such invasive species “perhaps the most serious and potentially destructive threat” to Ohio’s natural ecosystem. His warning about all the invaders came too true. Since then, Emerald Ash Borers have appeared and destroyed too much of Ohio’s forestland. And Asian longhorn beetles are on the march in Clermont County, where the Department of Natural Resources and Forest Service have drawn battle lines against the pest. Taft worried about water pollution, too. He said too many beaches were closed from bacteria and sewage, and he saw the solution as “not better information about when to close the beach, it’s not having to close the beach in the first place.”
So Taft is getting a thoughtful reappraisal. He may have been comfortable at play on the country clubs. But his reputation is coming back from low ebb.
According to emails and phone calls received by WWVA-AM West
Virginia talk show host David Blomquist, miners said they were told that
attendance at the Romney event would be mandatory and unpaid.
As first reported by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland on Tuesday, mine owner Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” He said that people who did now show up to the event, which organizers say drew 1,500 miners and family members, were not penalized for their absence.
Blomquist said during the radio show that current and former
employees had called and emailed him saying they feel they were forced to go,
had to take off a day without pay and a roll call was taken, which caused some
employees to believe they would lose their jobs if they didn’t show up.
“Just for the record, if we did not go, we knew what would happen,” Blomquist read from an email he had received. “It is wrong what we were made to do because of the outcome if we don’t.”
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Murray Energy Corp.
founder Robert Murray attended the Tuesday breakfast hosted by the Ohio delegation to the Republican National Convention. Murray told the newspaper that the decision to
close the mine was made at the request of the Secret Service.
Murray disputed the report that miners weren’t paid for the day, saying they were compensated for the hours they spend underground, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. The mine was re-opened for a second shift at 4 p.m.
“They were all there voluntarily,” Murray said of the miners
who attended the Romney event, which was also attended by Republican U.S.
Senator Rob Portman and Ohio Treasurer and Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
“You don’t pay people to go voluntarily to a political event. If I would’ve paid them you would be saying you want it the other way. This is all a bunch of nonsense,” Murray told The Dispatch. Federal law prohibits the paying of private employees to attend a political event.
Murray blames layoffs at some of his mines on Obama’s
policies. His companies have had a history of environmental and safety violations,
and its Political Action Committee has held fundraisers for and donated to
Romney’s Ohio campaign spokesman disputed that the Secret Service had the mine shut down, telling The Dispatch in an email that “It was Murray Energy’s decision to close the Century Mine, not the campaign’s or the Secret Services.” His comment echoes what Murray CFO Moore said on the radio show, that management wanted to attend the event and they couldn’t have miners underground without management present.
For his part, radio host Blomquist took issue with the fact that
the miners lost out on a full eight hours of pay because of a political event.
“My whole point is that nobody should be pressured into attending anyone’s political event,” he told The Plain Dealer. “If they shut the mine down, why should they lose a day’s pay? There are some guys that just want to go to work, feed their family and go home.”
In-person early voting in Hamilton County has a minimum cost estimate: $18,676. The number represents about 0.009 percent of the county’s 2012 budget. Unfortunately, The Cincinnati Enquirer never bothered putting the number in any context, so its story read like the $18,676, or $406 an hour, will be a big expense for Hamilton County.Ohio is a “middle-of-the-road” state when it comes to early voting. Several states — including New York, a fairly liberal state — have more restrictive voting rules.
Money Magazine named West Chester, a Greater Cincinnati suburb, in its top 100 list for best small cities to live in the United States. West Chester was No. 97 on the list.The Washington Post has a good analysis on why natural gas produced from fracking could help combat global warming. The big concern for environmentalists is methane leaks during the fracking process. If methane leaks are too high and can’t be contained, natural gas could be worse for the environment than coal, at least in the short term. The analysis concludes that natural gas could be positive by itself in fighting climate change, but a much broader plan that includes more than natural gas will be necessary to reach scientifically suggested goals. It also points out there’s a lot of uncertainty behind natural gas and fracking, echoing CityBeat’s recent in-depth look at the issue.
The Ohio Board of Education made two big decisions at its meeting yesterday. First, it will delay the 2011-2012 report card, which grades different schools and school districts, until the state auditor finishes an investigation looking into school attendance reports. The attendance report scandal, which involves schools doctoring attendance reports to earn better grades, began at Lockland schools in Hamilton County. Second, the Board has officially launched its national search for a new superintendent of public instruction. The previous superintendent — Stan Heffner — resigned after a state auditor report found he was misusing state resources and advocating for legislation that benefited his other employer.
An auto manufacturer is laying off 173 workers in Blanchester, Ohio.But Kings Island is looking to hire more than 500 workers for its Halloween season.
President Barack Obama has cleared some Ohio counties for federal disaster funding. Ohio lawmakers had previously asked for federal support after a wave of severe storms hit the state earlier in the summer. The storms were estimated to be the worst in Ohio since 2008, when the remnants of Hurricane Ike caused more than $1 billion in damage.
Miami University has been ranked a top 10 party school.
Newsweek is getting a ton of criticism for running a cover story this week filled with factual inaccuracies. Among many claims, the story makes the false implication that the Affordable Care Act increases the federal budget deficit. The story was written by Niall Ferguson, a conservative Harvard professor known for being consistently wrong.
NASA has already planned its next interplanetary mission: a robot drill for Mars.
Carbon dioxide emissions fell to a 20-year low this year, largely thanks to natural gas that was made cheaper and more plentiful due to the fracking boom in Ohio and other states. The news is a surprising turnaround for climate change activists, but critics worry that methane — a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — emitted from natural gas operations could still pose a significant climate threat. Environmental groups are generally opposed to fracking, but supporters, like Gov. John Kasich, insist it can be made safe with enough regulations. CityBeat previously covered the concerns and questions behind fracking here.
The Ohio Department of Education has had a rough year, and in a few ways, it’s back to square one. On top of the search for a new superintendent of public instruction, the Department of Education has had to deal with budget cuts and layoffs, a new Board of Education member with no college degree or known resume, and the department is now being investigated by the state auditor.The White House has announced a $30 million manufacturing hub for Ohio that will act as a model for the rest of the United States. The hub will bring together universities and businesses in order to increase growth and collaboration and decrease risk.
Ohio has seen an uptick of businesses requesting to work in the state, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Estimates show 6,137 new entities applied to work in the state during July, up from 5,472 during July 2011. The state has also seen 52,728 new business requests so far in 2012, up from 49,460 during the same January-to-July period in 2011. The news shows some signs of strengthening economic growth in Ohio.But Ohio’s unemployment rate barely moved in July. The unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent, the same as June’s unemployment rate, even though 2,000 jobs were added.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. EPA, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and energy companies met yesterday to work out how Ohio will enforce new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The new standards will greatly reduce toxic pollutants given off by power plants, according to the National Resources Defense Council.Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor claims there’s a funding shortage for courts. The shortage could make it difficult for some cases and people to see their day in the courtroom.
Environmental groups are asking for more rules for wastewater injection wells, the wells used to dump wastewater produced during fracking. But state regulators aren’t sure more rules are necessary.Fifty-eight state Republican lawmakers have never broken from the very conservative Ohio Chamber of Commerce in a vote.
Sen. Rob Portman will be speaking at the Republican national convention. The convention will make Mitt Romney’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate official. Conventions are also a time for political parties to show off their new party platforms.
President Barack Obama is coming back to Ohio next Tuesday. The president will be staying in Columbus this time around.
Tax Policy Center to conservative critics: No matter what you say, Romney’s tax plan is still mathematically impossible.
Americans love computers, but they hate the oil and gas industry.It’s taking more than three days, but the famous Jesus statue is rising again.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and 10 other individuals and organizations filed a letter today asking the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to strengthen its rules for wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of wastewater produced during fracking.
NRDC says the tougher regulations could prevent more incidents like the earthquakes experienced in Youngstown, Ohio around New Year’s Eve. The earthquakes were linked to wastewater injection wells in the Youngstown area.
Tougher regulations could also prevent water contamination,
according to the letter. Recent investigations have found that
wastewater disposed in injection wells might be seeping through the ground
and leaking into the surface or contaminating nearby water sources. But Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokesperson for ODNR, says regulators have not recorded any groundwater contamination from Class II injection wells in Ohio since ODNR took over the program in 1983.
The structure of injection wells is also a concern. In the letter, the organization calls for tougher injection well standards that ensure the wells can withstand corrosive effects from fluids deposited in injection wells and any hydraulic pressure experienced during the dumping and storing process. With these standards, it would be much more difficult for wastewater to leak through the wells.
The letter includes additional recommendations that ask for clearer minimum standards, more water tests, checkups on wells, more protections for landowners near injection wells, and more. The full recommendations can be read in the letter here.
The call for more regulation is largely in response to new rules that Gov. John
Kasich signed in with an executive order on July 12. Hetzel-Evans defended the current rules by pointing out they are flexible yet often stronger than minimum requirements from the Environmental
Hetzel-Evans has not been able to see the full suggestions in the letter yet, but she says one of the strengths of the current rules is that they don’t burden operators with unnecessary tests. She cited the example of some wells being way too shallow for earthquake activity to be an issue. Seismic testings in those wells would serve no purpose, she says.
Cincinnati City Council recently banned wastewater
injection wells within city limits. But ODNR has received no permit
requests for wastewater injection wells in southwestern Ohio.
Hetzel-Evans says southwestern Ohio’s geology makes any shale drilling
and wastewater injection wells unfeasible.
Blue Ash City Council approved rescinding and redoing its airport deal with the city of Cincinnati in a 6-1 vote last night. The deal will free up $37.5 million for the city of Cincinnati — $11 million of which will go to the streetcar while $26 million will go to municipal projects. After the vote, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) vowed on Twitter to lead a referendum on the deal. But COAST’s opposition is misguided, fueled by their disapproval of all things streetcar.
Three Greater Cincinnati universities were praised for their part-time MBA programs. The programs were in the top 100 of a U.S. News and World Report ranking.
Ohio has the second worst toxic air pollution in the United States, according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council. The report also found that toxic air pollution has dropped by 19 percent nationwide. The report claims this drop is partly attributed to natural gas, which is cleaner than coal and has become cheaper thanks to a fracking boom in Ohio and other states. New pollution controls also played a role, according to the report.
JobsOhio is claiming to have saved 11,238 jobs and created 4,666 new jobs during the second quarter of 2012. All the jobs saved and created are expected to keep $712 million in new payroll, according to state data.
The successor to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner might not be much better. He also has a history of using state resources for personal reasons.
Former Judge William O’Neill, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, has accused two Republican justices of taking campaign contributions from parties they heard cases from. O’Neill says the campaign contributions are a blatant conflict of interest. Mike Skindell, another Democratic candidate, chimed in to say he would recuse or refuse money instead of inviting a potential conflict of interest.
The Ohio EPA announced yesterday a new plan for cutting down on water pollution in Ohio rivers, streams and lakes. The new plan is a joint effort between Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to make it more economically viable through incentives for businesses to cut down on water contamination.
Ohio voters can now change addresses online. The new system will save taxpayer money and combat fraud.
July was the hottest month ever recorded, and 2012 has already had more record temperatures than all of 2011. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s spokesperson promoted climate change denial on behalf of ExxonMobil.
Romney says campaigns should pull ads that are found to be dishonest or misleading by fact checkers. Well, his campaign should get to it.
The U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan for the gold medal yesterday.