Green vs. Gray:
What is the best path to sustainable stormwater management in Washtenaw County?
Residents demand that the county address flooding from stormwater, but responding to development and a climate change means balancing “gray” and “green” techniques.
Ben Stacey and Calli VanderWilde
As climate change, population growth, and urban sprawl exacerbate runoff problems, cities are forced to provide the capacity to handle increasing volumes of stormwater. Traditionally, stormwater has been displaced through engineered, “gray” infrastructure systems capable of rapidly relocating massive volumes of water from areas at risk. Historically, however, this has led to a variety of problems, including water quality and quantity, polluting rivers and streams, overwhelming natural drainage systems, and depleting aquifers. Green infrastructure has been lauded as the solution, but the approach faces a variety of barriers to widespread adoption. Michigan’s Washtenaw County faces its own mounting stormwater management problems and Harry Sheehan, Chief Deputy Water Resources Commissioner for Washtenaw County, has been charged crafting a response. To succeed, he will have to find the right balance green and gray approaches.