Monday, August 30, 2021

EPA Recognizes Austin Water for Efforts to Restore Ecosystems

Bioswales used to manage stormwater runoff and create beneficial green infrastructure

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized Austin Water in this year's Outstanding Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development Competition. Austin Water's Wildlands Conservation Division received First Place in the People's Choice Category for a project that manages stormwater runoff in sensitive habitat areas in its Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. This work connects forest fragments, restores diverse native flora and fauna, and recharges karst features on critical conservation lands.

"We are deeply honored to be recognized for our work to preserve and protect Austin's natural resources," said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros. "Austin Water's commitment to sustainability and resilience is embedded in our core values. We are proud to provide an array of environmental services, including this project, that will enhance habitat for species such as the Black-capped Vireo.

The closed-canopy woodlands of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve provide endangered species habitat in our rapidly developing region by permanently protecting forests and caves in Travis County. Austin Water's Wildlands Conservation Division designed a series of shallow troughs and hillside terraces, known as bioswales, to collect and control rainwater high in the landscape, while providing important rehydration benefits for lands downhill. Wildlands staff and community volunteers installed these bioswales with the help of a contractor and added compost for planting native seeds, seedlings, and saplings. Now complete, the bioswales increase rainwater infiltration and improve soil biology, reduce potential flooding, and slow runoff and erosion. In addition, the trees and shrubs planted in these areas provide enhanced carbon sequestration to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

"This pilot project has been a huge success, and we are currently installing a similar project on another site with a history of land clearing and erosion," said Jim O'Donnell, a biologist with Austin Water's Wildlands Conservation Division. "We are also partnering with organizations at the federal, state, and local level to share what we've learned and how they might leverage our experience on their own green infrastructure projects."

The EPA defines green infrastructure as a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts while providing community benefits. Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other elements to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier environments.

For more information about Austin Water's commitment to the environment and our community through this green infrastructure project, see this video about the creation of the bioswales:

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