Apr 24, 2023 - News

Atlanta fights flooding with green infrastructure

A person stretches their leg to reach a rock in a rushing creek surrounded by green trees

Heavy storms can flood Lakewood Amphitheater's parking lot and nearby areas. South Bend Park (above) is across the street from the venue. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

When it rains in Atlanta, it pours — and drenches, floods and damages. Innovative yet relatively simple investments called green infrastructure can help remedy the situation.

Why it matters: Storms, particularly summer storms, have grown stronger in recent years because of a warming climate. Green infrastructure uses nature to clean, store, slow down, and manage water.

Driving the news: The city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward with a $15 million plan to alleviate flooding in the sprawling parking lot and lake at Cellairis Amphitheater and the nearby community.

  • The southeast Atlanta project — the corps is kicking in $6 million of the cost — calls for replacing a culvert to help the large lake drain.
  • Though designs have yet to begin, Atlanta Watershed Department commissioner Mikita Browning told Axios it will likely include aesthetically pleasing features like rocks and native plantings that control erosion and enhance the landscape.

State of play: Currently, summer storms flood the lake outside the amphitheater, causing water to back up as far as the venue, overwhelming the existing culvert, and flooding downstream areas, USACE project manager Patrick McHugh told Axios.

Catch up quick: Approved in 2013, a city ordinance requires new developments to control the first inch of rainwater that falls on their property with green infrastructure — think rain gardens, permeable pavers and bioswales or large-scale projects like Historic Fourth Ward Park and Cook Park.

  • The goal of the ordinance, city officials say, is to allow some rain to seep back into the ground and prevent the city pipes that handle ever-increasing volumes of stormwater from overflowing.

By the numbers: The city permitted more than 4,800 construction projects with green infrastructure in the six years following the ordinance's passage, according to the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

  • Those projects reduced the volume of polluted runoff entering the city’s stormwater and sewer systems by 950 million gallons each year, the nonprofit said.

What's next: The project now begins the design process. It is scheduled to start in 2025.

Thomas' thought bubble: The Atlanta of my dreams has free-flowing, clean creeks and streams. Green infrastructure helps us get there.


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