Preserving Green Spaces and Waterways in Atlanta

Paving paradise to put up parking lots, roads and houses to keep up with the growing population in metro Atlanta (now over five million) has compromised the city’s green spaces and waterways over the past several decades. Urban development’s impact on water quality has led to massive investments in stormwater management infrastructure leaving the city’s residents with some of the highest rates for municipal water and sewer in the nation.

Fortunately a new effort is underway to help preserve some of Atlanta’s lush tree canopy and green spaces while solving water quality issues.  The DEVELOP  team at the University of Georgia partnered with The Nature Conservancy to reduce stormwater runoff and identify areas for conservation and reforestation expansion in Atlanta’s metro area.

Maintaining and expanding forested urban areas are important for slowing runoff during storms, filtering rainfall, and enabling soils to absorb pollutants before entering the waterways. Developing a healthy green infrastructure (green spaces) is a cost effective alternative for cities to solve water quality issues. Rather than building more water treatment plants, green infrastructure mimics the natural water cycle by planting trees and restoring wetlands.

Using NASA’s satellite images the team of researchers conducted a watershed assessment of Atlanta’s metro area using a GIS model known as the Land-Use Conflict Identification Strategy (LUCIS) and a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT).green spaces

These assessments enabled the team to focus on critical conservation areas of Atlanta’s huge metropolitan area by creating a prioritization map. A story in NASA’s Earth Observatory shows the map and describes how the process identifies hot spots – areas in close proximity to waterways and existing green spaces – with the most potential for conservation and ability to improve local water quality.

Using this integrated model of water resources issues and land use scenarios will enable The Nature Conservancy to do more of what it does best –  preserve more trees, land, and improve water quality. More trees and green spaces in Atlanta will help to soak up and filter untreated stormwater flowing over all of those paved roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.

This article adapted and summarized from NASA’s Earth Observatory and DEVELOP, a program at University of Georgia. If you have examples or experiences of similar efforts in U.S. cities or around the world, please share with others in the comments. We’d love to know about it!


Author: Kathryn Thomsen

Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.

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