Biomimicry in Stormwater Management

Sometimes rethinking stormwater management requires a little bit of creative imagination. While “green” solutions are de jour with more traditionally implemented practices such as bioretention cells, permeable pavement, and riparian buffers, researchers, planners, and engineers around the world are constantly brainstorming new ideas to solve the age old problem of development’s effect on stormwater.

Just this past month, the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) met to discuss the need for alternative stormwater solutions. Comprised of five representatives from each of the CEC’s member countries (Canada, Mexico, USA), the committee discussed incentives programs, green space, and basins, among other solutions, for both rural and urban areas. Concluding that there is a certain need for green solutions to stormwater runoff, it’s just one more sign that stormwater management internationally is moving in a sustainable, long-term impact direction.

One project in the Seattle, Washington, area is taking natural stormwater solutions one step further. Urban Greenprint aims to apply biomimicry–that is, the “approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies”–at an large, urban scale. Focusing on Seattle, the project is analyzing the role forests play in regulating water flow (when it rains, “50% of…rainfall is “evapotranspirated” – used by the plants and then returned to the atmosphere”) and looking to find solutions that translate the forests to the concrete ecosystem of the city. By using building techniques and city planning, Urban Greenprint hopes to find a solution to urban stormwater runoff by utilizing the blueprints nature has already laid out. Can curbs mimic mushrooms to store water, can building surfaces act like moss to allow for increased evaporation?

While biomimicry for stormwater management is not a new principal, this is one of the first instances of an organization rolling out a study in a city as large as Seattle.  A previous effort was implemented in Nederland, Colorado, for the Nederland Pedestrian Enhancement Design to much success. To learn more about the Urban Greenprint project and to get involved with its efforts, visit the Biomimicry Institute.