Beyond the Build


Water Preservation 101: Points on Collaboration and Education

Last week, I attended the Cahaba River Society’s (CRS) annual meeting. I’ve been a board member for about a year now. The Society protects our beautiful river and facilitates public conversations about environmental well-being.

While the CRS still focuses much of its energy on the River and its basin, it is also evolving into something much greater and more important from my perspective, and that is the business of “water education.” Without quality water, there’s not much life. The health and abundance of our water supply has immeasurable impact on our environment, both now and for future generations. It seems vital that we teach the public how to protect this resource.

Unfortunately, environmental campaigns are often politically charged and met with equal parts support, resistance and apathy. As the organization grows and matures, I’ve seen the CRS learn better ways of being collaborative in efforts to deal with those who might disagree. They are listening, being transparent and stating operations clearly. I have always found that if two sides are opposed, as long as there is a sliver of agreement, some kind of compromise can be reached. This has rung true for the CRS as they deal with local businesses and the public.

This meeting focused on educating about the environmental impact of storm water. Both as a conscious citizen and as a builder, I found these lessons valuable and thought I’d share takeaways here:

• How we build our communities and deal with storm water today will determine the kind of rivers we have forever.

• If proper designs are not put in place, the increased runoff from development will degrade water quality, increase flooding, collapse riverbanks, impoverish the river’s diverse life, and make our drinking water more expensive and scarce.

• A natural forest absorbs rain like a sponge, replenishing groundwater and keeping our rivers clean and flowing, even in droughts. Maybe we begin to think about fewer hard surfaces and single points of discharge.

• Designers might consider concepts of low impact development and green infrastructure – rain gardens, permeable paving, green roofs, cisterns – practices that use rain as a resource, infiltrating and reusing it.

• Low-impact development tries to keep as much water as possible on site so that it can be infiltrated to replenish groundwater or harvested and reused in a manner that reduces the use of treated municipal water.

• It’s important to get involved with municipalities and storm water partners to nurture a working relationship for a unified voice to the policy changes needed to protect us all. Would you consider using this knowledge to better the environment? More importantly, would you please share what you’ve learned with others? Simplistic as it may sound, together we can make a difference.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.