Parking lot is a start on stormwater progress

A permeable parking pad is shown at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids city leaders cut plenty of ceremonial ribbons to open new businesses and christen big projects. But on Thursday morning, they wielded shiny scissors to dedicate a parking lot.

“It’s much more than a parking lot,” insisted City Manager Jeff Pomeranz. He dubbed the patch of pavement a symbol of collaboration and public-private partnerships.

The lot, at the corner of First Avenue NE and Sixth Street downtown and owned by Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust, looks pretty standard until you look more closely. At the downhill end, closest to First Avenue, the lot is covered with a mosaic of permeable paver bricks. They’re designed to soak up every drop of stormwater that falls on or flows into the property, resulting in zero runoff.

Last year, when the City Council approved a new stormwater fee structure for non-residential properties — including higher charges based on the square footage of impermeable surfaces — a portion of those fees was set aside to provide matching dollars for runoff reduction projects. In this case, the bank and the city split the $76,000 cost.

It’s one of five non-residential runoff reduction projects to receive city assistance this year, according to Public Works Director Jen Winter. Those projects, the city estimates, will soak up more than 200,000 gallons of stormwater from a 1.25-inch rain event. A drop in the bucket, perhaps, considering the deluge that rushes with every rainstorm from a city covered in pavement and buildings. But it’s a start.

Businesses that reduce runoff pay lower stormwater fees. But the public benefits of these kind of projects are a bigger payoff. Less runoff means less stress on a stormwater handling system already in need of tens of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades. Less runoff also can reduce the severity of flash flooding, which has caused severe damage in the city in recent years.

Controlling runoff making its way into rivers and streams helps the cause of improving water quality. The Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust parking lot is six blocks uphill from the Cedar River.

“We hope others will follow their lead,” Pomeranz said, noting that the city is incorporating runoff control into its own projects.

We share the city manager’s hope. More investments are needed, along with more property owners willing to do the right thing.

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