From the city working to bring its storm and sanitary sewage systems into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act to the Town Branch Commons project, there’s a lot happening these days in the Lexington environment. These projects are bringing big changes to the way the city works, looks and feels. One business owner who keeps a close eye on these developments is Roscoe Klausing, namesake, president and CEO of the Lexington landscape maintenance and construction company Klausing Group. The company focuses on green infrastructure and eco-friendly landscape services.
Click here to hear the audio version of the interview: http://bit.ly/2jFUpyf
Q: What is green infrastructure?
A: It’s this basic idea that nature is also infrastructure; that we can harness nature in such a way that nature can manage stormwater for us, it can improve water quality, it can even reduce energy consumption. Some of the more common examples of green infrastructure would be a green roof or a rain garden. Some lesser-known examples are green walls, permeable paving systems, bioswales and structures like that.
Q: Are you beginning to see those things materialize around Lexington?
A: I am. I’m seeing more and more of them, and some are coming about because of the city’s stormwater incentive grant program.
Q: The city is working under consent decree with the Justice Department and the EPA, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to untangle our storm and sanitary sewers and bring the system into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. How is this process influencing your business?
A: Well, it’s having a pretty significant impact on us. For the longest time, my business and many landscapers like me have evaluated the landscape and its value based simply on whether or not it provides curb appeal, and I see that changing. At Klausing Group, we like to look at landscape and ask what kind of ecosystem services the landscape is providing. So, instead of just looking good, we question: is it providing pollinator habitat? Is it providing wildlife habitat? Is it reducing stormwater runoff? Is it improving stormwater quality?
Q: What’s the relationship between the best management practices that every property owner can implement, and the work that’s being led by Charlie Martin, the city’s water quality director, who is in charge of the repair of the sewage systems?
A: Our staff horticulturist, Dan Stever, has probably come up with the best description in my view of what the city’s role is versus that of a private citizen. Charlie Martin has got the task of addressing the entire watershed of Fayette County. But on an individual property owner’s basis, we can also think of our property as a small watershed and ask ourselves what we’re doing to reduce the impact on the stormwater sewer system and make sure that the water that leaves our site is clean.
Q: You mentioned the stormwater incentive grant. What is that?
A: Most of our readers are probably going to be familiar with the stormwater fees that they’re paying to LexServ. A portion of that money is set aside for this grant program that the city runs, and applicants apply to receive money for many various types of projects, including public education all the way down to the actual construction and implementation of stormwater projects.
Q: Is there anything that we can do as homeowners to reduce the amount of runoff of lawn chemicals?
A: There is, absolutely. Part of it starts with some of the basic elements of green infrastructure, looking to have the right soil composition to actually filter pollutants and also fertilizers out of the soil before it runs straight down your driveway and into the stormwater sewer system. Lawn-care programs are evolving. We have worked very hard to eliminate many of the known carcinogens from our lawn-care program and also, as much as possible, to look towards organic and natural-based fertilizers instead of synthetics.
Q: As you work with landscaping around town, and speaking from an eco-friendly perspective, what sites in your mind are the most outstanding and the most troubling?
A: A few things that are happening have encouraged me. Probably one of the most exciting is that some of these projects are happening in very public spaces. Many folks watched the project over in front of Good Foods Co-op (on Southland Drive) that includes a green roof, permeable paving systems and some rain gardens. I think probably the most troubling thing about green infrastructure as a whole is that as landscape architects and engineers have educated people about this approach to landscaping and communicated lower maintenance and lower maintenance cost, many people heard “no” maintenance and “no” maintenance cost. And of course that’s resulted in several failed projects, and a failed project does nothing to help move this type of work forward.
Q: How about what’s outside your own doorstep? What have you done to create a sustainable environment at your headquarters?
A: We were the fortunate recipients of the one of the first stormwater grants, back in 2010. And we took the approach of replacing our asphalt parking lots with permeable paving systems, we installed a couple of rain gardens, a water-quality unit, and one of the city’s first vegetated roofs. We expanded on the idea of a rain barrel, and instead installed a rainwater-harvesting system.
Q: How does that work?
A: It collects the water runoff of about one-third of our roof. We collect it into two 4,000-gallon tanks and then we pump the water out whenever we need it and we water plants, flowers, whatever is needed.
Q: What kinds of eco-friendly trends are you seeing?
A: Within the city of Lexington, probably the most common thing on the construction side of our business is that we see a lot of rain gardens being installed. There is also an increase in permeable paving systems, permeable concrete and permeable asphalt. On the grounds-management side, it tends to be a restricted use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Tom Martin’s Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader’s Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.