Fire stations going green with stimulus funding

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Correction appended: The article below gave the bid date estimate for the cisterns at 2 weeks and for the rain gardens at a month. Bids will be placed on the gardens next week and on the cisterns in a month.

The city of Raleigh recently received federal stimulus funding to install rainwater harvesting systems at nine fire stations in Raleigh, and two other locations in the county.

The project involves installing a system of cisterns to retain rainwater at all twelve sites, as well as five bio-retention areas, commonly known as rain gardens. Funding for the $574,000 project will be covered in part by a $465,000 loan, half to be forgiven and the rest at a 0-percent interest rate, while the city will pay the $109,000 difference. The grant is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise know as the stimulus program.

Sites with rain gardens and cisterns:

  • Station 6, 2601 Fairview Road, Raleigh
  • Station 22, 9350 Durant Road, Raleigh
  • Station 27, 5916 Buffaloe Road, Raleigh
  • Station 28, 3500 Forestville Road, Raleigh
  • EMS Station 8

Sites with only cisterns:

  • Station 8, 5001 Western Boulevard, Raleigh
  • Station 23, 8312 Pinecrest Road, Raleigh
  • Station 24, 10440 Fossil Creek Court, Raleigh
  • Station 25, 2740 Wakefield Crossing, Raleigh
  • Station 26, 329 Barwell Road, Raleigh
  • Willow Springs Fire Station

Initially the project was to include a cistern at the Wake County Animal Shelter, but was later cut due to budget shortfalls. The project, including the shelter, was originally to be funded by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, but tight state budgeting caused the city to look to stimulus funding for support.

Each site will be equipped with a network of cisterns to collect rainwater channeled from the roof and other non-permeable surfaces. The program is intended to reduce usage of potable water by using the runoff for “washing fire trucks and other equipment, and in some cases watering gardens and landscaping,” according to the city.

Mitch Woodward, a North Carolina Cooperative extension area agent for environmental education, describes a rain garden as “simply a sponge that you create in your landscape” to keep water from channeling into storm drains and into creeks. This slow process of infiltration causes pollutants to be removed from the soil, Woodward said, which would have otherwise ended up hurting local habitats and our water supplies.

The garden would consist of local flora capable of withstanding the more demanding environment. Woodward said the roots of these plants would use the nitrogen and phosphorus, a problem in the Neuse River basin and found in runoff,  preventing the overproduction of algae. An overabundance of algae can deplete the oxygen levels in lakes and streams, inhibiting wildlife development. Water moving through the soil would also trap sediment before it reaches a body of water, and in NC, sediment is the number one fresh water pollutant.

Woodward said the purpose of the project at the fire stations is to “show the community what can be done” with water that would otherwise run into the stormwater system. “It is part of (Firefighting and EMS) culture to keep their trucks and ambulances clean, and this shows the community how they can do it” responsibly, Woodward said.

Bids for the rain garden installation will begin in about a week, and on the cisterns in about a month, according to Amy Hathaway, a water quality engineer with the city. The designs for the sites are being completed by NC State University, which will also monitor the water quality after the completion of the project. Work is expected to begin on the sites in about three months.

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