The Future of Water in Greener World

Each year, the North Carolina Green Industry Council organizes a symposium on water. This year’s theme was green infrastructure, and the keynote address featured one of our favorite professors, Dr. Charlie Hall of Texas A&M University. He talked about the vital role green infrastructure will play in economic development. People are beginning to recognize and understand the importance of nature in the health and well-being of us all. People feel better and perform better in the presence of nature.

He emphasized that our industry must do a better job of helping the public see the value of what we do. Although we create and maintain green spaces that contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment, many of the products and services the green industry offers are reduced or eliminated when economic times are bad. Only 42% of American adults have purchased a plant in their lifetime. While that can be a dismaying statistic, Hall sees it as a great opportunity.

Charlie Hall emphasized the importance of promoting the value of nature and green spaces.
Charlie Hall emphasized the importance of promoting the value of nature and green spaces. The NCGIC commissioned Mike Schlegel to do visual summaries of the day’s events, which was a wonderful way to recap. Dr. Hall discussed the concept of biophilia—the connection humans have with other living systems—and its importance to future economic development.

Hunter Freeman of WithersRavenel talked about green infrastructure projects in Chatham Park, a large, new community being constructed in central North Carolina. With a 30-year development plan, they’re aiming for sustainable, ecologically sound practices. He noted that as a civil engineer, he’s building what he calls “stormwater architecture.” He seeks to design stormwater controls that add value to surrounding land without anyone knowing it’s a BMP. They’re putting in green streets and other features that add beauty, functionality, and community amenities. This is decided shift in how they think about and design stormwater features.

Civil Engineer Hunter Freeman from WithersRavenel noted that the way he designs stormwater controls has changed. Whereas in the past, designers and researchers focused on what was happening below ground--where and how the water is moving--they need to understand how what is above ground is adding to the community. These projects can add value beyond their ability to treat and manage stormwater.
Civil Engineer Hunter Freeman from WithersRavenel noted that the way he designs stormwater controls has changed. Whereas in the past, designers and researchers focused on what was happening below ground—where and how the water is moving—they need to understand how what is above ground is adding to the community. These projects can add value beyond their ability to treat and manage stormwater.

David Tuchs from Equinox Environmental Design in Asheville, North Carolina noted that green infrastructure is the best way to increase resiliency in the face of extreme weather events such as increased flooding and heat waves. His firm practices integrated stormwater management. They use natural system that are more flexible than traditional systems in the face of changing conditions. He talked about several projects that place a premium on sustainability, resiliency, and providing additional ecosystem services.

His firm worked on the New Belgium Brewing Company’s East Coast Brewery. It’s located in Asheville on a brownfield site along the French Broad River. New Belgium wanted to use innovative design and sustainable solutions to site problems. They installed permeable pavement, bioswales, and other green infrastructure features, turning them into opportunities for recreation and education.

The visual summary of David Tuchs presentation shows the interconnectedness of the natural systems that build resiliency. With more extreme weather events predicted, our communities will need solutions that provide a great range of services. Green infrastructure is a way to make that happen.
The visual summary of David Tuchs presentation shows the interconnectedness of the natural systems that build resiliency. With more extreme weather events predicted, our communities will need solutions that provide a great range of services. Green infrastructure is a way to make that happen.

Hoffman Nursery helped sponsor the event because we’re convinced green infrastructure offers our industry a wealth of opportunities. We brought eleven team members to hear the talks and about learn more about what’s happening in the industry. We also had a display table, which gave us the chance to talk to even more people about what we’re doing and growing for these projects.

Summer intern Zack Spence really enjoyed the day, as did Hoffman Nursery's Robert Elder, Emily Neas, and Ben Jones.
Summer intern Zack Spence (L) really enjoyed the day, as did Hoffman Nursery’s Robert Elder, Emily Neas, and Ben Jones.
Jill and John Hoffman talked with attendees about the plants we're growing for green infrastructure. One of the most popular plants at the table was Star Sedge (Rhynchospora colorate), which was in full bloom.
Jill and John Hoffman talked with attendees about the plants we’re growing for green infrastructure. Star Sedge (Rhynchospora colorata), which was in full bloom, attracted the most attention and the most questions. It works well in bioretention and bioswales. The other plants on the table, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ and Juncus effusus are also wonderful for these and other green infrastructure features.

Bill Hunt of North Carolina State’s stormwater engineering group gave the final presentation of the symposium. His message was loud and clear: the future of stormwater management lies in green infrastructure and providing more ecosystem services. He said engineers and planners are beginning to adjust the way the choose and design for stormwater control. They’re considering other benefits that these projects can provide, including

  • Carbon sequestration
  • Improved air quality
  • Heat island mitigation
  • Space for growing food
  • Aesthetics
  • Education
  • Recreation

He acknowledged that with limited resources, we must ask more of projects than to simply control and manage stormwater. It was exciting to hear him talk about all the benefits we can derive from green infrastructure. It also suggests a shift that will affect the green industry. As more planners, engineers, and landscape architects think about plants and specify them, we can be there to provide the plants and the expertise. And they’ll be asking for plants that provide multiple functions in the landscape and use fewer resources to maintain.

The visual summary of Bill Hunt's presentation illustrates how we can get more out of stormwater controls. Sure, we can reduce flooding and improve water quality, but there's more. Cleaner air, wildlife habitat, improved human health, and carbon sequestration can all happen there.
The visual summary of Bill Hunt’s presentation illustrates how we can get more out of stormwater controls. Sure, we can reduce flooding and improve water quality, but there’s more. Cleaner air, wildlife habitat, improved human health, and more can all happen there.

The event was exciting for our team for another reason, too. The NCGIC named Hoffman Nursery the Blue-Green Innovator of the Year. This award recognizes outstanding leadership and innovation in environmental stewardship in regard to water conservation, water use efficiency, and the development and implementation of green infrastructure (GI) by an individual, organization, or government entity. We’re honored and thrilled to receive this recognition, and we’ll continue to work toward a green future.

Visit the symposium website to see speaker presentations and photos from the event.

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