Economic #Ecology for #floodplain #restoration

The theme of my website is Natural + Built Environment 2.0: People, Planet, Profit, and Purpose. It’s a working phrase put forth with the intention of creating a dialog around concepts that should be important to green collar professionals living in the information age. We are informed about the latest technologies being used in the natural and built environment industries, and at the same time we also understand that the current resource-use trajectory imposed by humans on the earth is not sustainable. A triple bottom line mentality has been introduced into many building standards and other certification schemes to not only target profit, but also weigh the wellbeing of people and the planet. We have all the right tools to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and it’s as important as ever that we uncover and celebrate victories great and small that are covered here such as advancements in stormwater management, public gardens as learning centers, digital tools for historic preservation, documenting invasive species, highlighting virtual reality for placemaking, and so on.

Up until now, this blog has been heavily focused on people and their relationship to and purpose on this planet. The “profit” has been mentioned only a handful of times, so i’m using this introduction to share a concept that i recently learned which truly demonstrates our ability as humans to engage in the ideas above to problem solve sustainability at any scale or discipline. In this case my inspiration came from landscape architects giving  a healthy watersheds tour in Lancaster County, PA, which i attended last week. The event was hosted by LandStudies, a local firm which has been implementing floodplain restoration strategies on the regional scale for the past few decades.

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Through solid research and professional practice, they have made a convincing case for returning an entire system, both stream and floodplain, as closely as possible to its historical more stable configuration. This holistic approach takes the regional watershed into account stream by stream, which addresses the root causes of stream system problems versus focusing on the symptoms. The act of returning a stream to their original condition is much less invasive, more cost effective, and requires little maintenance compared to many conventional techniques rooted in concrete and heavy engineering.

And this is where the economics comes in. The approach by Landstudies, they say, optimizes both the environmental and economic benefits of ecological repair and restoration on a regional scale, and they refer to this concept as Economic Ecology. In their publication Economic Economy: Floodplain Restoration, which I largely referred to in explaining this concept [and even borrowed a few catch phrases], they profile several case studies contained within the same watershed to demonstrate the positive outcomes and returns being witnessed over the past decade through doing a full floodplain restoration.

A few examples from their economic summary include:

  • A full restoration reduces the risk of flooding and pollution, improving the appearance of the riparian zone which leads to increased property values and improved recreation and open space downstream.
  • Floodplains often have numerous regulatory requirements, and this regional approach allows private landowners, developers, municipalities, and state governments to collaborate and pool resources.
  • Floodplain restoration for stormwater management allows allows property owners to free up more land for development potential.
  • Floodplain restoration creates a largely naturalized area which is marked by reduced maintenance and little future financial commitments.
  • The corporate campus Rock Lititz, for example, used this strategy to create 9 more acres of developable land, create a 182% return on investment, and see a $3.1 M of added value in the form of recaptured land.

Economic Ecology: [In environmental science] a particular approach that optimizes both the environmental and economic benefits of ecological repair and restoration on a regional scale

So essentially the work from Landstudies showcases a successful way of practicing environmental stewardship while also achieving many other goals and objectives in cost effectiveness, collaboration and social integration, as well as the firm’s ability to create a strong sense of identity and purpose. I highly recommend the tours, as well as downloading the publications on the firm’s site to read in depth. The case studies are all very unique and present their own challenges that could easily relate to many scenarios across the country. Its stories like this that reminds us of how even economics can be beautiful for the green professional.


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