Ease Drought, Reduce Pollution and Improve Food Security

Curb Cuts

Target: EPA IO Deputy Assistant Administrator Ken Kopocis; EPA IO Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Michael Shapiro

Goal: Reduce municipal stormwater handling costs, relieve drought conditions, create urban food security, and perform bioremediation using one simple green runoff elimination strategy.

In any urban setting, the vast majority of our precious water resource that comes in the form of rain and snowfall is lost as runoff that carries pollutants into the nearest body of water. This is obvious in desert cities like Los Angeles, where there is no precipitation most of the year but, when there is rain, the streets become rivers. Many are aware of the severe drought conditions in California and Arizona, where the water tables are dropping and bodies of water drying up. But now drought is even affecting the verdant northwest states like Oregon and Washington. If Seattle’s water resources are dwindling, and they are, then we’re all in trouble.

In Tucson, AZ, this problem has been remedied by cutting out sections of curb next to preexisting native trees. The ground is excavated to form a basin around the tree, allowing water to flow in and soak into the ground. This water soakage relieves strain on municipal stormwater infrastructure, produces lush vegetation, and recharges the receding subterranean water table. In this way, an incredible amount of contaminated runoff is kept from carrying pollutants into neighboring bodies of water. Studies are finding that these vegetated stormwater-catching basins, which are filled with mulch, are also carrying out a much-needed bioremediation function; not only catching pollutants, but neutralizing them as well. Additionally, in Tucson, the native plants that were chosen for use in these basins are food-bearing plants.  In this way, the city’s reclaimed precipitation has improved the food security of its residents.

The EPA helps fund solutions like this one and promotes education in appropriate land use practices. Bearing the above facts in mind, let us urge the appropriate EPA representatives to implement and fund such initiatives in drought-stricken cities, as one of their “Urban Waters” projects.


Dear Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Shapiro and Deputy Assistant Administrator Kopocis,

As I’m sure you are both aware, stormwater poses numerous problems, especially in urban settings. It is a strain on municipal infrastructure and finances, and it carries pollutants into nearby bodies of water. Meanwhile, even U.S. cities that are renowned for their high annual rainfall are being stricken with drought.

I urge you to consider a simple and effective green method of capturing stormwater runoff by cutting roadside curbs, directing it into vegetated and mulched soakage basins. This strategy was developed by Brad Lancaster and, due to its success, has been widely implemented in the city of Tucson. The observed effects of this strategy include huge decreases in stormwater runoff and subsequent pollution of nearby bodies of water, the recharging of aquifers that are being pumped dry, the bioremediation of pollutants, and improved community food security (species chosen for basins were native food-bearing plants).

In your capacity as overseers of the EPA’s “Urban Waters” project, I urge you to initiate and fund the implementation of this strategy in other drought-stricken urban centers like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, and Seattle.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

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