The National Register of Big Trees Is Here!

by American Forests

By Katrina Marland & Michelle Werts

Hawaii's champion palm coconut

Hawaii’s champion palm coconut. Credit: Hawaii’s Big Tree Program

We’ve been teasing you with tidbits from it for weeks, but today, the teasing is done: The full 2012 National Register of Big Trees is now available over in the Big Tree section.

Now, for those of you that are newbies to Loose Leaf or to the National Register, since 1940, American Forests has been working to locate, appreciate and protect the biggest trees in the country through our National Big Tree Program. From towering giants to wizened favorites to tiny titans, the register recognizes the biggest trees from hundreds and hundreds of species.

So, what are some of the highlights of the new 2012 register? Oh, so many:

  • 761 champion trees
  • 16 native Hawaiian species now on eligible species list
  • 90-plus new champions
  • 70-ish dethroned champions
  • 220 species without champions
  • 111 champions in Florida, the state with the most champion trees
  • 5 states with no champions: Delaware, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wyoming

Also, for the first time this year, American Forests will update the register not once, but twice! This fall, we’ll be updating the register again to reflect any changes to the champion trees. So get out there and find some big trees — especially one of those eligible species with no champs, as you’ll become an instant celebrity (in the big-tree world) with a national champion tree to your name.

Father of Landscape Architecture and Urban Parks

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

A portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

A portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

Last week, we celebrated the birthday of the “Father of National Parks.” Today, we’re recognizing another famous father.

Frederick Law Olmsted, aka “Father of Landscape Architecture” and creator of many of America’s famous urban parks, was born on this date in 1822. During a century in which America was rapidly expanding and becoming more urban, Olmsted recognized the importance of green spaces for not only their beauty, but also for how they could help reduce stress and allow people a quiet escape from the demands of a busy world.

As a result, some of today’s largest cities have magnificent parks either directly because of Olmsted or indirectly due to his influence. Here are a few of his lasting legacies.

New York City’s Central Park
After a national landscape design contest in 1857 — the first of its kind in the country — Olmsted and his associate Calvert Vaux’s Greensward Plan was selected as the guiding principle behind the park’s design. Under this plan, the park was transformed into a rolling pastoral landscape. To create this effect, the designers actually lowered four of the roads that cut through the park below the surface to create an uninterrupted oasis, which the 843-acre park remains to this day. And, Central Park isn’t Olmsted’s only contribution to NYC’s cityscape — Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was also his handy work.

The U.S. Capitol
No, Olmsted didn’t design the iconic dome, but he did sculpt the green space surrounding it. His plan was to create a symmetrical flow around the building that would highlight it in its best light. By using carefully placed low walls, trees, shrubs and curved walkways, Olmsted made sure that the Capitol could be ogled from any number of vantage points. And, that marble terrace that goes all the way around the Capitol … that was all him, too.

Stanford University

Stanford University. Credit: Conny Liegl (MoonSoleil)/Flickr

Stanford University
Olmsted didn’t just leave his mark on the East Coast. When the Stanford family decided to establish a university in California, they turned to Olmsted to design the campus. According to Stanford’s website, the design process was often “contentious, but finally resulted in an organization of quadrangles on an east-west axis.” While the idea of quadrangles might be English in concept, as executed on Stanford’s campus, it’s all about creating green vistas and open spaces while keeping the buildings centralized.

These three sites only scratch the surface of Olmsted’s legacy, as he had a hand in dozens of urban parks, urban parkways, residential communities, college campuses and housing estates across the country. And that doesn’t even count his personal legacies: his son and stepson, who continued in his footsteps, created landscape architectural impacts of their own.

Olmsted and his family were pioneers with their emphasis of incorporating green spaces into cities and urban areas around the country, paving the way for those that came next. Many of our urban parks and trees owe a big influence to the work of Olmsted and his fellow landscape designing compatriots. So, today, in celebration of Olmsted and the urban green spaces he inspired, go pay your respects to him by visiting a local park and basking in the joy the trip brings.

Fish and Wildlife: Beyond the Five-Year Plan

by Amanda Tai

American Widgeon. Credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski/Flickr

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe testified before a Senate Environment and Public Works panel yesterday, urging lawmakers to renew the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The bill was enacted in 1989 to provide administrative support for a wetlands conservation and habitat restoration grant program, but that funding is scheduled to run out at the end of October. Passing the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2012 would ensure funding for wetland conservation and restoration projects for the next five years. Wetland protection is important for all the benefits those ecosystems provide, such as wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, carbon sequestration, flood control and water purification. Several migratory bird species like the Reed Warbler and American Widgeon rely on these wetlands for food and shelter during their seasonal flights.

Some examples of wildlife habitat protection work that rely on NAWCA funding include the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Reed Warbler. Credit: coniferconifer/Flickr

NAWMP started in 1986 after waterfowl populations saw record lows and wetland acres continued todecrease. An international plan committee — including Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — oversees the program and helps figure out long-term strategies to protect migratory birds and waterfowl habitats. To date, the pla. n has helped protect 15.7 million acres of waterfowl habitat and has invested $4.5 billion in wetland restoration. As Ashe pointed out in his testimony this week, this is not only good for birds, but all other species that live in wetland habitats.

Ashe also advocated for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act of 2011. Established by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation distributes public grants with private matching donations for conservation projects. Since its start, the foundation has been able to literally triple every federal dollar for conservation and restoration projects. Since federal agencies are experiencing funding cuts across the board, it’s encouraging to see that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been successful in the past, leveraging federal funding to do conservation work.

Extending NAWCA may only guarantee funding for these programs and their work through 2017, but it signifies a growing commitment from Congress to invest in wetland restoration, now and in the future. Investing in the health of wetland habitats will benefit generations to come and give future restoration projects a foot (or wing) in the door.

Legal Environmentalism

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP

Today, Loose Leaf welcomes its third regular guest blogger, Alison Share, who will be joining us on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Unlike the rest of current blogging team, Alison comes from outside the nonprofit world: She’s a law associate who works in torts and public policy, which often overlaps into the environmental world, so we’re excited by the new perspective she’ll be bringing to the blog each month. So without further ado, take it away Alison.~K&M

I always find introductions to be a little bit tricky. How to be memorable without being obnoxious; how to amuse your listener without being boorish? I’m not sure that I know how to balance that line. Inevitably, I find myself either cowering in the corner afraid to go near it or running headlong over it like a schoolchild hurling themselves at the arms of the opposing team in a rousing game of Red Rover.

Regardless, here I am. The newest member of the Loose Leaf team, and it’s an honor to be here. Unlike the rest of your faithful bloggers, I’m a bit of an interloper — I don’t work for American Forests. Instead, I am drawn to American Forests purely by love. In 2001, I spent five glorious months working on organic farms in New Zealand. I worked on the land of a registered arborist and on the land of a biologist looking to restore native trees to the land. I once helped plant 1,000 feijoa trees over a single weekend. Another time, I spent two full days in a box canyon planting kauri trees and ended up with blisters, along with feelings of “weary to the bone in a good way,” galore.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Steven Chase/USFWS

In 2004, I took a trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) through Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Northern Alaska. There, I saw decades-old trees that were only one or two feet high. In the far north, where there is only sunlight for a few months of the year, the lush growth that we enjoy here on East Coast is unimaginable. That trip to ANWR changed my life. I left my job as a college lacrosse coach and launched myself headlong into the unknown world of law. After I graduated from Vermont Law School, I took another NOLS trip — this time with crampons and an ice ax up to the summit of Mt. Baker in the North Cascade Mountains.

So where does this leave me? Honestly? Someplace fairly unexpected. I am currently an associate at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Crowell & Moring. I practice in the torts group, as well as in the public policy group. My policy work focuses mostly on the remediation of sites that are contaminated. Most of this proceeds under either the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or the unwieldy-named Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). RCRA controls, from “cradle to grave,” the handling and disposal of both hazardous and non-hazardous materials, while CERCLA provides the statutory framework to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous materials. My work also includes supporting companies with new technologies, either for remediation or for alternative sources of energy.

It is from a standpoint of legal environmentalism that I hope to offer you a different perspective every fourth Tuesday of the month. I will be highlighting a news article, a court decision or a legal topic that is worth exploring a little more in-depth. As a lawyer, I can offer a legal perspective on issues. But as a lawyer who loves the environment, I hope to provide you that perspective with an environmentally conscious twist. I aim to educate and entertain while limiting the bad puns (but no guarantees).

Thank you very much for taking part of your day to read this post. Please leave any questions or comments below, and I will do my best to answer them all. Until my return next month, a few words to ponder:

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”
–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fun in the Forest

by American Forests

By Katrina Marland

So far this Earth Month, we’ve been looking at a lot of the great benefits that forests provide, from mitigating climate change to providing homes for wildlife and managing water flow in our cities. But today, let’s look at a completely different thing that forests provide for us: Fun!

hiking through the forest

Photo credit: Miguel Vieira

Forests are like amusement parks, only with more variety. When it comes to recreation, there’s very little that the forests around the U.S. don’t offer. You can hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, swim, kayak, raft, canoe, climb, camp, photograph, explore and learn. And that’s just the beginning. You can see giant trees, bizarre plants, unusual animals, glaciers, geysers and more. You can use forests to relax and de-stress or to work out, amp up and get your blood pumping. All you have to do to take advantage of this is find the park or forest nearest you. Here are just a few of the great examples of how you can get out there and have some fun.

Take a Hike!
Just about every park or forest can offer you some great hiking, but the arguable king of trails in the U.S. is the Appalachian Trail. This 2,181-mile trail stretches from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. It passes through 14 states, including miles of wilderness, forests and national parks. You can pick it up at any point along its route and hike sections as long or short as you like — either way, you’re guaranteed a great view. Or, if you’re really intense, you can try the whole thing.

Not located out east? That’s ok, check out the Pacific Crest Trail (2,663 miles) if you’re out west or the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles) if you’re in the Rockies. There’s something for everyone, as you can see from our list of the best hiking trails in the U.S.

Rafting the lower rogue river

Photo credit: USDA Forest Service

Rolling on the River
If moving along on the water is more your style, there are always a lot of options, from rivers to lakes. One of the most famous in the U.S., of course, is the Colorado River. Stretching from the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico, the river offers 1,450 miles of adventure for rafters, kayakers, canoeists and other paddlers, whether beginners or experienced adrenaline junkies. It passes through no fewer than 11 national parks, as well as number of national forests and state parks.

Camp Out
Sometimes a day trip just isn’t enough — you want to stay out in nature day and night. This means it’s time to break out the tents because you’re going camping! Whether it’s in your back yard or out in the wilderness, camping can be a fantastic getaway.


Photo credit: Miguel Vieira

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular sites for camping in the U.S., but you can have fun with camping just about anywhere. Check out this list of top camping sites in national parks or head on over to the USDA Forest Service to find a national forest near you.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for a feature article on camping across the U.S., coming in the summer issue of American Forests magazine.

Can’t get away from the city? Enjoy the trees in your city park, whether it’s on the scale of the 843-acre Central Park in New York City, or the cozier green space in your neighborhood.

While we’re talking about fun outdoors, this week is National Park Week. From April 21 to April 29, all national parks are admission-free, so don’t forget to take advantage!


Happy Earth Day!

by American Forests

By Katrina Marland & Michelle Werts

Hiking in Redwood Regional Park

Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

What does Earth Day mean to you? Maybe it offers an opportunity to volunteer in your community, cleaning a local park or sprucing up the landscaping outside of a school or office building. Or maybe Earth Day is another day to get outside and enjoy our beautiful planet on a long hike or bike ride. Whatever you decide to do, we’d love to hear about it. Join the conversation below or on Facebook and Twitter, and let us know what you did to celebrate this Earth Day.

Earth Day also offers an excellent opportunity for all of us to think about how what we do every day affects our environment and how we can cut back on our energy use to reduce our carbon footprint. Worried about yours? You can calculate it by using our Carbon Calculator! Perhaps make a pledge to take a bus or train to work a few days a week, leaving the car in the garage. Or, instead of buying that pallet of bottled water, invest in a filter for your faucet or a filtering pitcher for your fridge — and shut the faucet off while brushing your teeth to save gallons of water per year. And make sure you flip the light switch when you leave a room and turn down the thermostat when you leave the house — it’s a drain on our precious resources to illuminate, cool or heat an empty room.

The best part is, all of these Earth-saving strategies can also end up saving you money. Saving green by going green? That’s a concept we can all get behind.

As you know, our forests and trees are excellent conservationists. Trees absorb rainfall and act as natural water purifiers, ensuring a clean and plentiful water supply. A tree close to your property can provide shade for an outdoor air-conditioning unit and your house itself, cutting down on the amount of energy you need to use to cool your home. And, perhaps most importantly, trees and forests play a critical role in removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, which helps slow the rate at which our planet heats and may help solve what is quickly becoming a global climate-change crisis.

So, in addition to forgoing those plastic bottles, what else can you do this Earth Day to help our forests improve our planet? You can get out there and plant a tree or two with a local tree-planting group. If you don’t have one in your community, you can support our tree-planting efforts in every state in the U.S. by making a donation to American Forests. Take the opportunity today to go visit a local park or forest and admire the peace a tree canopy can provide. We promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Earth Day 2012 from your friends at American Forests!

Mount Diablo Regional Trail in California

View from Briones to Mount Diablo Regional Trail in California. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Small But Mighty

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

When I first heard of American Forests’ National Big Tree Program, I instantly envisioned towering, giant trees — the kind that hurt your neck when you try to take in all their grandeur. But, my awe of those redwoods and sequoias was soon replaced by a love for the “tiny titans.”

Reverchon hawthorn

Texas' Reverchon hawthorn, the smallest tree on the 2012 National Register of Big Trees. Credit: American Forests

As their name implies, the tiny titans are small in comparison to some of their big-tree brethren, but they are still the biggest of their species because not all trees are destined to become 200-plus feet tall. Some are mighty at less than 20 feet tall. So, the week before we unveil the complete list of 760-plus champion trees, I wanted to pay tribute to the smallest big trees on the list.

    • Smallest Big Tree: Texas’ Reverchon hawthorn
      This champion tree repeats its reign as the smallest champion on the National Register of Big Trees, which it first joined last year. It has a mere 21 points to its name at 9 feet tall, 11 inches around and an average crown of 5.5 feet. Now, for those big-tree followers out there, the inclusion of this tree on the list at all might seem a little suspect. Is it too small to be a big tree?

      The USDA Forest Service defines a tree as being 13 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 9 and a half inches at 4 and half feet above the ground, and this is the measurement that American Forests uses to define a tree. So, how did the Reverchon hawthorn make the list without being 13 feet tall? Well, Reverchon hawthorns are trees, but they don’t get much taller than this champion — hence, it being the champion — so on the list it goes via a special exemption.

Texas redbud

National champion Texas redbud in Connecticut. Credit: American Forests

  • Newest Smallest Champs: Missouri’s common prickly-ash and Connecticut’s Texas redbud
    Both of these champions will be crowned next Friday with the release of the 2012 register. The common prickly-ash is actually the second-smallest tree on the list with only 22 points, whereas the Texas redbud champion, which is located far from Texas, is just a hair larger at 28 points.
  • Tallest of the Smallest: Texas’ huajillo
    This tree is tied for eighth smallest tree on the register at 32 points, but of the top 10 smallest trees, it claims honors for being the tallest at 21 feet. What a showoff.

Beyond their size, the other thing I love about these small trees is how they are often found not far away in some forest, but right in our backyards. For instance, the Reverchon hawthorn is in Dallas and the Texas redbud is in Hartford. These small trees remind us that big trees are anywhere and everywhere. You never know: You could be driving or walking by a champion tree every day. So start looking around to see if you can find a big tree in your neighborhood — the pickings are prime, as we have more than 200 species still seeking their champions.

Coming next week: The full 2012 National Register of Big Trees!

Father of National Parks

by American Forests

By Katrina Marland

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite National Park

John Muir (right) with Theodore Roosevelt (left) atop Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Library of Congress)

The conservation movement has been fortunate enough to have a number of truly wonderful figures over the years. Few of these people, however, are as recognizable a name as John Muir. This man was a naturalist, a writer, an adventurer and above all an advocate for wilderness. His work was so influential that many call him the “Father of National Parks.”

This Saturday is John Muir’s birthday — he was born April 21, 1838. So we’re taking a moment today to look just a few of the many places we still enjoy today, thanks to his work.

Yosemite National Park
In many ways, Muir was far ahead of his time in recognizing both cause — his theory of glaciation in the Sierra turned the theories of the day on their ears — and effect in the natural world. He strongly believed that one of the greatest threats to his beloved Yosemite was the continued spread of livestock. Though the area was owned by the state, the public used it as their own without concern for the forests or grasslands; sheep, goats and cows were permitted to graze across the region. Through a series of articles in the magazine Century, Muir advocated strongly that the lands be protected and never turned into grazing pastures. His writings eventually led to the 1890 act of Congress that created Yosemite National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park
At age 50, John Muir’s travels led him to Washington’s Mount Rainier. Along with several companions, Muir climbed the 14,410 feet to the mountain’s peak in what was only the fifth recorded ascent. He wrote about his experience in Ascent of Mount Rainier, which helped to bring the location into the public eye, and he became a strong advocate for the region, wanting to protect the area’s forests, meadows, glaciers and, of course, the mountain itself from development of any kind. On March 2, 1899, Mount Ranier National Park officially became the fifth national park in the U.S.

Sequoia National Park
This park is home to some of the most impressive trees one could ever hope to see, including the long-standing big tree national champion “General Sherman,” a giant sequoia and one of the largest living trees in the world. Muir walked through these groves of giant sequoias and thought them to be among the most fascinating of ecosystems — certainly worth whatever protection humans could afford them. He was a strong voice in preserving the area known today as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

John Muir in the Sierra Nevada

John Muir in the Sierra Nevada mountains

In his decades of working to protect natural places, one of Muir’s greatest and most valuable attributes was his eloquence, which poured through in every book, article, or letter he ever wrote. From his words alone, people could see the beauty of places they had never been and were willing to take up the cause. So it seems only right to leave you with words from Muir himself:

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed — chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides. … It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools — only Uncle Sam can do that.”
~John Muir, “The American Forests,” Our National Parks, 1901


Protecting Forests: On the Ground and in Congress

by Amanda Tai

San Gabriel Mountain Wilderness. Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr

This week, Congress is busy with hearings and debate on a number of land-use bills, quite a few of which impact our forests.

Yesterday, I attended a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing to discuss the Land Acquisition to Cut National Debt Act (or LAND Act). Though cutting the national debt is a topic that concerns us all, this bill actually threatens a wide range of conservation projects, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which creates and protects wildlife refuges, parks and recreational areas. If the bill is passed, it would mean that the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service’s federal land acquisition would be limited: They can acquire more land, but in doing so, they have to give up authority on the same amount of land. So, basically, if any of those agencies wanted to accept proposals for new conservation projects and restoration efforts that would require new federal lands, they could only do so by reducing the support for or eliminating a project already in the works. Some committee members think that limiting these activities would shift the focus more onto improving management on the lands for which these agencies are already responsible. A good idea in theory, but not in practice. Consensus among agency witnesses and even some committee members is that the bill wouldn’t make a dent in the federal deficit, but constant monitoring to stay under the acre limit would actually make land management more time-consuming and costly. Considering that these agencies are responsible for the care of some of the most beautiful, valuable and iconic natural places in the country, this sounds like a bad idea.

Another bill gaining attention this week is the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, introduced by Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL). On the face of it, the bill deals mostly with guidelines for hunters and anglers. Unfortunately, it also contains language that threatens America’s wilderness. The bill includes measures that would allow, for the first time, road construction, motorized vehicle use, logging and development in areas that have been protected as wilderness areas. These new activities could have a wide-ranging impact on wildlife and ecosystems that have already been declared important to preserve. The bill passed last night with a vote of 274 to 146 — a victory that some see as an election-year tactic by House Republicans. Thankfully, the threat to our wildernesses isn’t going unanswered. Representative Raúl Grijalva (ranking member on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands) says that Democrats are working on a quick response. The bill goes on to the Senate next for consideration, so hope is not lost.

If you are concerned about this issue, let your members of Congress know by posting your concerns to their Facebook pages.

Sample text:

Please vote against the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, H.R. 4089. While the bill says it protects hunting and fishing in wilderness, it would actually open up Wilderness Areas to motorized vehicles and other harmful development and hurt hunting and fishing in those places. Please oppose this bill until the anti-wilderness provision is completely removed from the legislation. Thank you.

Keeping Sewage Out of Our Water

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

Sewage in our rivers? Yuck!

Combined sewer overflow on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Rhode Island

Combined sewer overflow on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Rhode Island, and heavy algal bloom. Credit: Christopher Deacutis/Narragansett Bay Estuary Program

I was really disturbed when I learned a few years ago about combined sewer systems — where sewage and rainwater is collected in one pipe system — and just how many cities have these. Although no longer built into new communities, more than 770 older cities still use their combined sewer that was built back in the day, including my own city of Washington, D.C. Combined sewers may have once been thought to be convenient for urban landscapes, as they collect the wastewater from your toilets, the wastewater from industrial sites and the water that drains from rooftops and roads after rainfall (called stormwater) and take all this combined water to a facility for treatment. Everything is treated at once and then is more “safely” disposed of into a nearby stream or river; the fish can continue to swim along safely, and you can continue to wade around without much thought. Makes sense, right?

With a small amount of rain, this system works just fine. Combined sewers are built to handle the average amount of water flows. The catastrophic issue, however, is that during a large rainfall or snowmelt event, the volume of stormwater often exceeds the capacity of the sewer pipe. And, to prevent pipe breakage or sewage backup, as part of the plan, Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) areas are designed to allow a portion of the untreated combined wastewater to overflow into the nearest stream, river or lake.

Combined Sewer System illustration

How a combined sewer system operates. Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Talk about water pollution! These CSOs allow not just human waste (in case that wasn’t gross enough), but all sorts of industrial waste, toxic materials and debris to go directly into our environment. Thus, they are a major source of ecological problems and human-health concerns. In a December 2001 report to Congress, the Center for Marine Conservation states that “[s]ome of the common diseases [found in these areas] include hepatitis, gastric disorders, dysentery and swimmer’s ear. Other forms of bacteria found in untreated waters can cause typhoid, cholera and dysentery.” Eww.

Well, at least some cities are trying to improve this. Last week, it was very exciting to read that the EPA signed off on Philadelphia’s $2.4 billion green plan to stop sewer overflows in what the E&E News calls the “strongest endorsement yet of the green infrastructure technology.” With the extensive use of green infrastructure — grass, trees, porous pavement and retention ponds — this will make Philadelphia’s new initiative the first nearly “all-green” plan for addressing sewer overflows.

So, how exactly do trees help? As we reveal on our Forests & Cities page, rather than rainwater falling directly onto rooftops or pavement and rushing into the sewer, trees intercept this water first, and less water ends up in the pipes. With more trees planted, even less stormwater will enter the pipes, eliminating the need to overflow into the local stream or river!

In the next few weeks, the EPA will unveil a new regulation expected to promote the use of green infrastructure and require new developments to absorb rainfall rather than letting it rush into overburdened sewers. There is hope that the increasing support for green infrastructure will help avoid the water pollution caused by combined sewers. I’m looking forward to the day when I can enjoy a large rainfall and not be concerned about the horrible consequences it may have on the local waterways.