Unprecedented Sustainability
Unprecedented Sustainability
Unprecedented Sustainability
3 minute read

The City of Kansas City, Missouri, controls one of the largest installations of green infrastructure for sewer overflow. This area is becoming a model in stormwater management for other communities across the country.

As the largest installation of green infrastructure for combined sewer overflow control in the U.S., the city of Kansas City, Mo.’s Middle Blue River Basin Green Solutions Project — a 744-acre portion of the city’s Overflow Control Program that starts with a 100-acre pilot already in progress — is becoming a model in stormwater management for its green infrastructure that addresses 3.5 million gallons in anticipated overflows and its community benefits.

National Attention

With the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman Jim Oberstar of the 8th District of Minnesota, and the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of the 30th District of Texas, visiting KansasCity to learn more about its Overflow Control Program, “there’s definitely eyes on us in Washington,” says Councilwoman Jan Marcason of Kansas City’s 4th District, who oversaw development of the program.

An adaptive management philosophy over an extended timeline allows the city to monitor the effectiveness of the first phases of the program,  so later phases can be adapted for optimal performance. Burns & McDonnell developed this $2.5 billion Overflow Control Program to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulatory requirements related to an average annual overflow volume of 6.4 billion gallons from Kansas City’s combined sewer system and additional overflows from its separate sanitary sewer system. As the largest capital project in Kansas City’s history, this program will capture 88 percent of the wet weather flow in the city’s combined sewers for treatment. As currently proposed, the plan includes $68 million toward green infrastructure projects, $5 million toward green-collar jobs and workforce development, and $5 million for rain gardens and downspout disconnection incentives for homeowners and businesses to manage stormwater on their properties.

Innovative Plan

“As the wastewater industry evolves, we’re looking for opportunities to rethink water treatment processes,” says Ron Coker, associate vice president in the Infrastructure Group at Burns & McDonnell. “Instead of evaluating water, wastewater and stormwater separately, we’re evaluating the whole cycle and how municipalities can best take advantage of our most precious resource.”

As an alternative to traditional combined sewer overflow controls, green infrastructure — more than 300 catch basin retrofits and approximately 25 acres of rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavement and vegetated roofs — will capture and slow the movement of water within storm drainage areas.

Green infrastructure is effective in removing 30 percent to 90 percent of nutrients and up to 80 percent of sediments. Vegetation is typically native, hardy varieties with extremely deep root systems that serve as uptakes for the harmful heavy metals and hydrocarbon pollutants carried by rainwater.

The approximate amount of rainfall diverted by the Middle Blue River Basin Green Solutions Project would eliminate the need to construct two large downstream storage facilities along with sewer lines and pump stations. The green alternatives implemented in this project offer potential for green-collar jobs and benefit property value, neighborhood quality and the environment.

“We think the Overflow Control Program will have more than one positive payoff,” Marcason says. “We hope that in the Middle Blue River Basin area that the Overflow Control Program will not only capture the stormwater, but it will also revitalize distressed neighborhoods in the city. We hope this program will provide a big economic boost to the residents and attract some businesses to that area. It’s one of the places where we really need some economic development.”

Sustainable Future

“Currently planned at 25 years, the Overflow Control Program is a good mix of tried-and-true technology formulated as an adaptable plan, so we could use green solutions and other technologies that may come along in the next two decades,” says Terry Leeds, PE, manager of the Overflow Control Program in the city of Kansas City’s Water Services Department. “Burns & McDonnell has been a great partner for us in developing the plan. The team Burns & McDonnell organized did a good job working together, gathering community support and involvement, and providing good technical solutions for us.”

In addition to green infrastructure, Burns & McDonnell designed the program to address excess flows through maximizing existing system capacity, analyzing results of source volume reductions and pilot projects, and improving wastewater treatment plants. The Overflow Control Program will relieve Kansas City’s 318-square-mile sewer system of aging combined and separate sewers that serve more than 652,000 people in 27 communities.

For more information, contact Ron Coker, 816-822-3082.

Learn Green. Live Green.

Burns & McDonnell and the Center School District of Kansas City, Mo. — located within the Middle Blue River Basin Green Solutions Project — created a hands-on environmental learning experience, Learn Green. Live Green., that debuted in fall 2009. Its environmental education features include:

  • A rain garden classroom and additional rain gardens on the Center Elementary School campus will capture and treat stormwater on 4 acres of land. 
  • A 5,000-square-foot, 10-plot community garden at Center Elementary School will provide fruits and vegetables for school and/or community use.
  • An 18-foot by 24-foot greenhouse near the Center Alternative School will cultivate garden seedlings and native plants for distribution within the community.
  • The greenhouse science center will provide an opportunity for a green-collar job internship program for the district’s high school students.
  • A pervious pavement demonstration area helps students understand how impervious surfaces affect rainwater, snow and ice absorption.
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