Sometimes the solution to a complicated problem arrives in a simple form, and that’s the case with Hydro International’s Hydro Stormbloc system. The Stormbloc modules look like nothing more than oversized milk crates but they could help some communities finally resolve chronic stormwater flooding problems that have bedeviled them for years, and harvest rainwater for recycling, to boot.
Managing Urban Stormwater
Hydro International is among a number of companies that have developed modular underground stormwater management systems to reduce local flooding, and to harvest rainwater. They’re ideal for urban areas, where large unpaved surfaces for natural stormwater drainage are in short supply. The underground chambers are positioned to capture excess rainwater or snow melt, from parking lots for example. Once the storm subsides, the excess flow can drain from the chamber into the soil. It can also be piped elsewhere for use in buildings or outdoor areas. Modular design makes these systems relatively easy and inexpensive to install, and it also lends them to scalability and customization. Even better, a pre-treatment module can be included, to prevent pollutants in the runoff from making their way into the soil.
Hydro Stormbloc Comes to Town
On May 27, Hydro International announced that the Stormbloc system would be available in the U.S. – finally. The Stormbloc system has been in use in the U.K. and worldwide for about ten years. Schools, housing developments, and park-and-ride lots are some recent examples of Stormbloc installations in England. Stormbloc modules are essentially lightweight (maximum 40.5 pounds) polypropylene boxes with a skeletal structure similar to that of milk crates. Piping and other accessories are modular as well, enabling a high degree of site-specific customization to for stormwater management and rainwater harvesting. The system also includes modular inspection tunnels and a patented modular access station, which helps to ease the logistics of system maintenance and extend the useful life of the installation – something to consider when installing the system in environmentally sensitive areas.
Beyond Hydro Stormbloc
As a means of recharging depleted aquifers, stablizing water tables, alleviating local flooding, and collecting more rainwater for human use, systems like Stormbloc hold great promise. They can be installed in companion with new construction or as a retrofit to existing buildings, parking lots, and other paved structures. They can also be used to enhance another important runoff management strategy, the use of permeable pavement, which is rapidly becoming a green building industry standard. If space is tight, the Stormbloc system is strong enough to be sited underneath parking lots or other open-space facilities like artificially turfed athletic fields. With their ease of installation, they can be an economical alternative to replacing conventional pavement with permeable surfaces, too. However, if sustainable water use is the overall goal, underground stormwater management/rainwater harvesting systems can’t get the job done on their own. Without a comprehensive approach, increased rainwater harvesting can easily lead to increased water use, as demonstrated by our experience in building reservoirs to resolve water supply issues.
Stormbloc as Part of a Comprehensive Approach to Stormwater Management
Dr. Marin Spongberg, a senior engineer with AMEC Geomatrix, recently reported on a genuinely sustainable approach to stormwater management and rainwater harvesting at waterworld.com. In describing how flooding issues were resolved in a small California community, Songberg hits the main elements of a successful long term solution. The project included infrastructure improvements, but it didn’t stop there. A working relationship with community members was vital, aided by support from corporate and non-profit partners including the Watershed Council, TreePeople, Urban Semillas, AMEC, Dudek, and WelDesign. Residents of the 24-home community overwhelmingly supported the project, actively participated in planning, and helped to develop a plan that enlisted their properties as part and parcel of the solution. They installed rain barrels to harvest rainwater from rooftop runoff, but most importantly they replaced lawns with native and drought-tolerant plants, and installed rain gardens. Both of these actions help to relieve local flooding, while also cutting down on water use.
Image: Julianne.hide on flickr.com.