Can one green roof save the bay?

Huge green roof in Fukuoka City in Japan

Water pollution from runoff is a major contributor to the unhealthy state of the Chesapeake Bay. Tackling this problem  seems a very daunting task when considering all the sources of pollution in the watershed area, but a solution is possible if the problem is approached from the scale of the individual.

We decided to hone in on runoff from rooves; one small area that has potential to make a big difference. Installation of green rooves in residential areas, or even a small, simple landscaped water filtration system, could significantly reduce the chemicals from rooves, lawns, and streets that make their way to the bay if these systems became prevalent.

Residents building a new home or installing/repairing their roof could be encouraged to go green by offering subsidies or tax breaks if they installed some sort of green element on their roof. As the diagram shows below, green rooves do not need to be incredibly complex, but rather simple layered filtration systems modeled after nature.

Nature got it right the first time, after all. People seem to have realized that as far back as the Vikings, who used sod rooves on their homes in Newfoundland for various reasons (they also serve as insulation).

Although present-day green roof systems may seem complex, the same filtration can be achieved with layers of grass, soil, and rocks, whether it be on a roof, the ground, or in a barrel, through which water filters.

Communities could form partnerships and collaborations- like many do now with clean energy, purchasing energy as a group from a renewable source- and form groups concentrated on installation and upkeep of filtration devices. The most runoff comes within the first minutes of rainfall, when precipitation washes accumulated chemicals from roads and homes. Green roofs or filtration devices in residential areas could catch this initial surge of run-off and greatly cut down on pollution over time.  They retain the rainwater and also moderate the temperature of the water acting as natural filter.  The roofs reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and delay the time at which runoff occurs, resulting in decreased stress on sewer systems at peak flow periods.

The chart below shows a notable decrease in run-off thanks to a green roof.

Education and visibility are key in the spread of practices of sustainable living, and green roofs are a very visible option in sustainability. The presence of green roofs in a community would prompt others in that community to ask questions and, if not install their own filtration system, at least take smaller steps toward the revitalization of the bay and living a greener lifestyle.

Feedback in this system would not only be the reduction of runoff to the bay and the subsequent increased health and life in the bay, but also the recruitment of others to the cause.

Efforts at the local scale could lead to adopted laws regarding green roofs at an industrial scale. Regulatory agencies could require businesses with roof area over a certain square footage to devote a portion of that to a green filtration system. Once again, subsidies and tax breaks could be offered to those who do so. One green roof at a residential level could lead to efforts at a national scale and, over time, these efforts would make a big difference in the health of they bay.

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One Response to Can one green roof save the bay?

  1. John Martin says:

    Nice post. We’re trying to Save The Bay in Rhode Island with our green roof. Take a look:
    http://www.savebay.org/Page.aspx?pid=284

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