Whether the result of man-made climate change or something else as yet unexplained, most people agree that extreme weather is becoming all too common. When it’s colder in May than in February, or when the season’s biggest snowstorm comes in October, you know something unusual is upon us.
One of the most potentially damaging aspects of extreme weather is radical swings in precipitation. Regions throughout the world find themselves experiencing prolonged drought, then are suddenly hit with torrential storms. When this happens, rainwater quickly turns into runoff, especially in cities, where hard surfaces—like roofs, sidewalks, and parking lots—prevent rain from soaking into the ground and leads to damaging and sometimes catastrophic flooding.
Until now, the most common response has been to channel water away from urban areas. But, as it moves, runoff carries pollutants into storm drains which empty directly into the waterways used for recreation, fishing and drinking water. Now engineers are rethinking this approach. They are beginning to imagine and design new and creative ways to manage stormwater that make city landscapes act more like natural landscapes. These innovations help reduce runoff, increase the amount of water that soaks into the ground and improve water quality.
With this critical issue topping the news all across the country, National Engineers Week Foundation’s annual Future City® Competition announces the essay theme for its 2012-13 challenge: Rethink Runoff: Design Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution.