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Currie Barracks Goes Green

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Currie Barracks Goes Green


BY TRENT EDWARDS, CALGARY HERALD SEPTEMBER 10, 2010 12:07 PM

Kerri Robinson, a water resources engineer for AMEC Earth & Environmental, sits by a rain garden she helped design for the new Currie Barracks residential development. Photograph by: Gavin Young, Calgary Herald

Currie Barracks. The name conjures images of asphalt parade squares and utilitarian buildings -- not rain gardens and recreation fields engineered to retain stormwater. But developers of a residential neighbourhood in southwest Calgary have turned part of the former military base into a model of eco-friendly innovation: the 81-hectare future neighbourhood includes an award-winning urban stormwater management system created by AMEC Earth & Environmental for the site's developer, Canada Lands Company Ltd. The engineering firm's Currie Barracks Brownfi eld Project is the latest of a dozen AMEC initiatives across North America that use urban stormwater run-off to create greenscape in urban settings. The company has replaced the former base's brownfi elds -- mostly abandoned fields -- with rain gardens, vegetated swales and gravel infiltration trenches. Engineers refer to such Earthfriendly design techniques as low-impact development (LID).

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10/09/2010

Currie Barracks Goes Green

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"Using LID creates urban green space, birds and amphibians are more likely to be attracted to the area and it allows more usable space for recreation," says Kerri Robinson, a water resources project engineer for AMEC who worked on the Currie Barracks project. The Currie Barracks development now has infiltrated trenches (which allow rainwater to permeate the soil) and rain gardens (a lower area on the site where rainwater pools). The rain gardens have compost-rich topsoil that is two to three times deeper than the soil left on a conventional development. Used in combination with vegetated swales, this allows the area to store rainwater long enough for it to evaporate and replenish the groundwater. A conventional development is filled with impermeable surfaces that don't allow the rain to soak through, such as concrete or asphalt. "A typical development is 30 to 60 per cent impervious to rainwater. But our system lets the water go through," Robinson explains. Low-impact development uses the land as a sponge: soils filter and biodegrade pollutants, while vegetation soaks up rainwater. "The result is a much cleaner run-off from the site," Robinson says. "It distributes stormwater throughout the site so it doesn't tax the city's stormwater treatment capacity." Conventional residential stormwater systems create erosion by adding sudden surges in stormwater and deposit sediments downstream that degrade a river's fish habitat and water quality. "Low impact in this case means the ultimate benefactor of the stormwater retention is the Bow River," says Gordon McIvor, a spokesperson for Canada Lands Company. "The impact of the stormwater, both in the quality and the quantity that will reach the river, is almost no different than what there would have been if there was no development on the site." Conventional stormwater designs would have overtaxed the existing stormwater treatment capacity in southwest Calgary, Robinson says. But the New Urban Waterway design AMEC has trademarked turns the nuisance of stormwater disposal into a resource that will literally make Currie Barracks greener. It took AMEC four years to conduct feasibility studies, create drainage design models and build the first phase of the site's stormwater retention system. But the result is well worth the eff ort, according to Canada Lands, a Crown corporation. "We try and design stormwater retention facilities or ponds, as esthetically as possible. They can actually be very beautiful," McIvor says. "In Edmonton, the highest-valued houses in Griesbach (another former military base owned by Canada Lands) are the ones around stormwaterretention ponds."

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Currie Barracks Goes Green

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The project has won AMEC three Consulting Engineers of Alberta awards in the past two years, including an Award of Merit -- Sustainable Design, an Award of Merit -- Community Development and an Award of Excellence -- Environmental. The project has also helped Currie Barracks become the first Canadian community -- and the largest to date worldwide -- to receive gold certification LEED-ND (Leadership in Environmental and Engineering Design for Neighbourhood Development) Stage 2 for its City of Calgary-approved plan, which is the first of its kind in Canada for a major residential development. Lots in a third of Phase 1 of the new community went on sale in February, and most have been sold. Phase 1, which accounts for 16 per cent of the Currie Barracks community, will include about 250 homes ranging in price from about $650,000 to $2 million. These homes will be built over the next two years. But this will be just a small part of Currie Barracks. Canada Lands plans to put up 3,000 homes in the community. Robinson is optimistic low-impact development techniques will become more and more popular in the next few decades. "The conventional system is causing problems, and the stormwater facilities are occupying valuable land," she says. "In the U.S., our stormwater engineers have been doing it for a couple of decades." tedwards@theherald.canwest.com
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10/09/2010