A Natural Fit - World Water Day, Jacobs’ Green Solutions
Every year on March 22, the United Nations recognizes World Water Day, an international observance and opportunity to learn more about water-related issues and to inspire action to improve our water future. This year’s theme, “Nature for water,” explores how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century.
Globally, 1.8 billion people lack access to clean and safe water, and even developed countries struggle with balancing water availability and managing environmental hazards. While investing in resilient infrastructure and systems is important to combatting these challenges, traditional infrastructure alone cannot achieve water sustainability. That’s where green and natural solutions come in.
Natural and green solutions offer a suite of services to people that can complement, or in some cases replace conventional infrastructure. For example, healthy oyster and coral reefs can help protect coastlines from wave damage and erosion; wetlands help process pollutants and protect against flooding; and urban trees and green spaces can filter storm water, reduce flooding and improve air quality.
At Jacobs, we plan, design and construct integrated and transformative green infrastructure solutions to protect our shores and communities, restore water quality and support beneficial uses that improve local economies. We take projects from planning through implementation and therefore know components necessary to support green infrastructure implementations so our clients can plan and budget accordingly.
Coastal green and natural infrastructure, including the creation or enhancement of beaches, dunes, saltmarshes, mangroves, sea grasses and oyster reefs, provide wave energy dissipation and natural barriers to protect the coast from erosion and habitat destruction caused by sea level rise and heavy storms. Along inland waterways we identify floodplain enhancements, biotechnical bank protection (“bioengineering”), wildlife habitat corridors, water quality treatment wetlands and flood retention opportunities to meet the challenges of flood risk from more frequent and severe storms and to improve water quality in urban environments.
Nature-based solutions need to consider a range of biological, chemical and physical parameters to ensure successful establishment of natural habitats. We work closely with clients and stakeholders, such as operations teams, site managers and conservation organizations, and partner on projects that consider potential future climate change and habitat implications to deliver sustainable solutions. For example, Jacobs has a 5-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to build natural defenses such as living shorelines for coastal resilience.
In Arlington Cove on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Jacobs and TNC staff developed oyster reefs to protect 1.5-miles of coastline and aquatic habitat. We studied site conditions, including wind, waves and geomorphology to design stable and constructible reef units. We are partnering on similar projects in the Gulf and along the eastern United States coast, such as a 6.5-mile restoration project to help restore a healthy, functioning oyster habitat in East Bay near Pensacola, Florida.
As one of the most significant on the Gulf Coast and the largest Jacobs has designed, the East Bay Pensacola Oyster Restoration Project aims to restore oyster reefs while also providing shoreline protection, nursery and a foraging habitat for other aquatic life. Oysters act as vacuum cleaners, cycling and filtering particles from water that improves its overall quality. Reef restoration is also expected to complement the commercial oyster reefs and industry that have been hit hard over the years. The first phase in a multi-year effort, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, provided three years of pre-restoration monitoring, project design and permitting to develop the most effective and efficient blueprint. The reef construction, now happening as part of later phases, is serving as a model for other large-scale habitat restorations.
Managing water quality impacts from stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) is a key concern in urban areas. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, total reported water infrastructure needs include more than $63.6 billion for combined sewer overflow and over $42.3 billion for stormwater management.
More cities are turning to green infrastructure to address their needs, and Jacobs is helping many cities transition to an appropriate balance between green and grey infrastructure (storage, conveyance and treatment) in their wet weather programs, including in Syracuse, New York and Philadelphia.
Jacobs is the program manager on Onondaga County’s 9-year Green Infrastructure Capital Improvement Program, estimated to reduce 250 million gallons of CSO annually by the end of this year. To date, we’ve planned, led or supported procurement and construction of more than 200 green infrastructure projects on the program, the first-of-its-kind in the nation and winner of the coveted U.S. Water Prize in 2013 from the U.S. Water Alliance. In Philadelphia, we’re assisting Philadelphia Water with implementing its Green City, Clean Waters Program. Our project designs include green streets, green schools and parks that reduce CSOs and flooding, while providing more tree canopy, native vegetation and public amenities. We identified more than 600 acres in viable projects and more than 50 locations for green streets.
Internationally our Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Waters Program for the island nation of Singapore has transformed that country’s urban waterways by re-visioning its system of stormwater channels. We replaced concrete drains with resilient, accessible, natural channels that enhance habitats and create opportunities for public interaction with waterways, while increasing flood protection and improving water quality.
Our Water Future
Although less talked about than traditional grey infrastructure systems, natural and green infrastructure offers many environmental, economic and social benefits to cities such as:
- Reduced flooding events and better resilience to intense storms.
- Improved aquatic ecosystem health and improved wildlife habitat.
- Reduced infrastructure and treatment costs, and overall energy usage.
- Retention and attraction of residents and businesses, and increased property values.
- Enhanced community aesthetics and recreational opportunities.
- Reduced traffic and safer intersections for pedestrians and bicycles.
EPA studies have shown that combining green infrastructure with gray infrastructure is a more economical approach to wet-weather control and flood risk management than gray infrastructure alone. But the benefits go way beyond economics – green and natural infrastructure transforms communities, enhances our everyday quality of life and is critical to securing our water future.
While we’ve been focused on finding innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing water challenges for more than 70 years, we also know that the success of our water future depends on the next generation of innovators to deliver the promise of more.
In Philadelphia, we formed an innovative partnership with TNC to develop a STEM education pilot project at W.B. Saul High School's campus that earned the US2020 STEM Mentoring Award for Excellence in Public-Private Partnerships. The goal of the partnership is twofold: to increase student interest in green STEM careers through access to mentors and project-based learning in the fields of science and engineering, and to engage the school community around the value of green infrastructure solutions that create healthier urban environments such as a rain garden that students, teachers and volunteers installed last summer.
On World Water Day and every day, Jacobs is proud to inspire and engage cities around the world to design and maintain functional ecosystems that make our continued well-being possible.
Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters' program for the island nation of Singapore has transformed its urban waterways by re-visioning its system of stormwater channels.