Alberici Enterprises' headquarters near St. Louis produces no runoff, thanks to its artificial wetlands.
THINK THE SIERRA CLUB is opposed to all development? Think again. As part of its Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign, the Club is championing green-building projects that address the country's largest sources of water pollution: sewage and stormwater runoff. In U.S. urban areas, about 28 billion gallons of runoff flow from pavement into storm drains and waterways daily. This runoff contains pesticides, motor oil, and other contaminants and can overwhelm sewer systems during downpours, threatening fish and people. In its new report, "Building Better II" (a follow-up to last year's guide to mixed-use developments), the Club highlights ten projects that tackle this problem.
Near St. Louis, Alberici Enterprises built a new headquarters that treats stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product. One of only nine new-construction projects worldwide to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating, the office complex produces no runoff. Innovative features include a 38,000-gallon underground cistern that captures rain for the building's toilets and six acres of native-plant landscaping and manmade wetlands that soak up excess water and filter pollutants.
During rainstorms in Philadelphia, untreated sewage regularly overflows into the Schuylkill River, which supplies drinking water to more than 1.5 million people. To reduce such runoff, a local program has transformed five vacant lots into parks that act as natural sponges. Philadelphia Green planted vegetation, dug shallow trenches, and formed berms that allow rainfall to seep slowly into the ground, decreasing the volume of water that enters sewers and reducing flooding.
At the Heinz 57 Center in Pittsburgh, a five-inch-thick "green" vegetated roof retains rainfall, provides energy-saving insulation, and will last twice as long as a traditional roof. Other projects include terraced stormwater parks and porous-surface parking lots. If adopted widely, these measures could not only improve our drinking-water quality but also make our rivers, lakes, and beaches safe for wildlife and recreation.
A lifelong advocate of the prairies and wildlife he loved, Larry Mehlhaff, the Sierra Club's former deputy field director, died on June 21 of brain cancer. A week before Mehlhaff's death, Executive Director Carl Pope presented him the John Muir Award, the Club's highest honor, at his Salt Lake City home. "There are rivers and lands that are protected for generations to come because Larry was there for them," said Pope, who announced the creation of a new Sierra Club award for staff excellence in Mehlhaff's name.
The Club's 2006 awards, most of which were presented on September 16 at its annual banquet in San Francisco, also recognized green photographers, journalists, and politicians. Gary Braasch of Oregon won the Ansel Adams Award for his online photography project, World View of Global Warming, which catalogs shrinking glaciers and other signs of an overheating planet. Native Kentuckian Erik Reece received the David R. Brower Award for his book Lost Mountain, an account of coal mining's devastation in Appalachia. And the Distinguished Achievement Award went to Texas state senator Eliot Shapleigh (D) for challenging copper giant Asarco's dirty smelter in El Paso.
The other recipients were Juliana Williams (Joseph Barbosa Earth Fund Award for under-30 Club members); Peter Kaplan (Madelyn Pyeatt Award for working with youth); Ullas Karanth (Earthcare Award for international work); Richard Cellarius (Raymond J. Sherwin Award for international volunteerism); Betsy Bennett, Roberta Brashear, and Dexter Perkins (Special Achievement Awards); Ralph R. White (Distinguished Service Award for longtime commitment to conservation); David Cooper, Mark Bagley, and Barbara Coman (Special Service Awards); Bonnie Tillery and Aaron Viles (Environmental Alliance Award); J. Owen Maloy (Susan E. Miller Award for contribution to Club chapters); Laurens Silver (William O. Douglas Award for environmental law); John Corcoran (Oliver Kehrlein Award for service to Sierra Club Outings); Fred Dong (One Club Award for combining conservation and outings); Dan Sullivan (William E. Colby Award for administration); the Angeles Chapter (Denny and Ida Wilcher Award for fundraising and membership development); the Sierra Student Coalition for its Web site, ssc.org (Electronic Communication Award); and the Pennsylvania Chapter's Sylvanian (Newsletter Award).
Described by People magazine as "a cross between Sir Edmund Hillary and Ansel Adams," photographer Galen Rowell captured the lofty places of the world--from the Sierra Nevada to the Himalayas--until his 2002 death in a small-plane crash. A new release from Sierra Club Books, Galen Rowell: A Retrospective ($50), pairs almost 200 of his stunning images with essays by his many friends and colleagues. To order a copy, call (415) 977-5600 or visit sierraclub.org/books.
Aloma Dew and her husband, Lee, visit a mountain of manure.
Kentucky: Making a Stink
Nothing detracts from good neighborly relations like a 60-foot-high pile of chicken manure on the property line. Just ask Aloma Dew of the Sierra Club's Building Environmental Community Campaign, who's working with western Kentucky residents to oppose concentrated animal feeding operations.
The influx of CAFOs into low-income agrarian areas over the past decade has polluted air, soil, and water with fecal byproducts. To expose these appalling conditions, Dew guides tourists and journalists on a "Tour de Stench," giving a firsthand look at, and whiff of, the effects of industrial farming. "The smell is indescribable," she says. "It's not only harmful to the health of these communities, but it has a psychological effect as well."
While a 2003 Club lawsuit against Tyson Foods required the company to comply with federal law and report its factory-farm ammonia emissions (which can cause respiratory problems), Dew continues to help activists challenge other CAFOs. For more information, visit sierraclub.org/community/owensboro. --Lucas Pollock
Texas: Houston, We Have a Solution
A cleanup crew is coming to a Houston Superfund site, and the Sierra Club is teaming up with area residents to help shape the property's future. Thanks to an unusual EPA deal in June, a private developer has bought the 36-acre lead-tainted site in the Fifth Ward (see "Sierra Club Bulletin," July/August) and will pay more than $6 million to decontaminate it.
The Club's Building Environmental Community Campaign, which surveyed locals on how they would like the land to be used, has proposed a mix of green space, affordable housing, shops, and a neighborhood center. Says Reginald Adams, a BEC organizer, "We cannot afford to redevelop these communities in ways that are unsustainable for future generations." --Kendra Hartmann
California: A Gulp of Fresh Activism
How can communities plagued by pollution fight back? In July, youth activists got the chance to find out by meeting the Latino families who are challenging industrial air pollution near the Port of Los Angeles (see sierraclub.org/tv/ episode-la.asp).
The visit was part of the Sierra Student Coalition's first environmental-justice training, which was sponsored by the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors. The weeklong event in Los Angeles united 21 diverse youth passionate about creating safe, healthy neighborhoods. "It always made me angry that I have to drive 15 miles so my little brother can have a safe place to play outside," says Marco Cano, 20, of L.A. "This program made me see that we can push for more green space nearby." --Orli Cotel
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send e-mails and faxes to your elected officials.
For the latest on Club campaigns and how you can help, go to sierraclub.org/email, where you can sign up for our biweekly e-newsletter, the Sierra Club Insider, as well as other Club e-mail communications.
photos, from top: Debbie Franke, Tom Valtin
illustration by Debbie Drechsler