A cost-effective and resilient way to manage weather impact, green infrastructure provides many environmental, social, and economic benefits. Green infrastructure can be as complicated as a large city park, or as simple as trees planted along a sidewalk. While infrastructure includes roads, bridges, buildings, and lights, green infrastructure is built to incorporate nature.
Southern Utah University (SUU) is utilizing green infrastructure as a resource for the Cedar City community and a place for SUU students to conduct research. Found on the roof of the L.S. & Aline W. Skaggs Center for Health & Molecular Sciences on SUU’s upper campus, the green roof is covered with plants and a thin layer of material in which the plants grow. This green roof helps to insulate the building from the extreme cold and hot temperatures of Cedar City, as well as soaking up rain to prevent flooding.
Dr. Jacqualine Grant is an associate professor of biology at SUU and the director of the Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History. As a conservation biologist, her work focuses on green infrastructure and organismal biology related to insects, mammals, and amphibians.
“A green roof is covered with plants and a special soil-like matrix in which tough plants can grow,” said Dr. Grant. “The green roof at SUU was created in 2010 as part of the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process that gives us national recognition for sustainability on campus. The green roof helps to insulate our building and protect it from the damaging rays of the sun. Other benefits include the ability of green roofs to soak up stormwater runoff that might lead to flooding, and to provide habitat for urban pollinators.”
The first years of SUU’s research, supported by the National Science Foundation, showed that very few pollinators were attracted to the non-native plants on the roof, so in 2016 native plants were added.
“In urban areas, green roofs can be important for connecting wild habitats to each other and for providing urban habitat,” said Dr. Grant. “The most studied green roof inhabitants are insects, but birds, lizards, and even bats have been known to use green roofs if they are furnished with shelter and the right plants.”
SUU students gain research experience by studying the green roof and have built a special piece of equipment called a lysimeter, used to measure how much water is used on the green roof. Their research will help determine if, in addition to insulating the building, green roofs can also be used to grow food.
Providing urban biodiversity, reducing noise and air pollution, and increasing the lifetime of the roof, a green roof offers countless environmental benefits and are very cost-effective in dense areas where stormwater management costs are high and energy conservation is a priority. Green infrastructure may seem to have an urban focus and feel out of reach to the average homeowner, but by repurposing the flow of stormwater, homeowners can help reduce the flow of water into storm drains and save on water bills too.
Dr. Grant has three simple suggestions to create green infrastructure and water conservation improvements around your home:
1. Build a green roof on a dog house or backyard shade shelter. Remember that green roofs are heavy so your construction needs extra support to hold the weight of plants, matrix, and water. Need instructions? Check out Pet Project's DIY Green Roof Dog House.
2. Map where the water flows in your yard after a rainstorm. Is the water flowing away from yard and down the street? You might consider a landscape design that encompasses rainwater harvesting to nourish your plants. Check your local regulations and read Brad Lancaster's great book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond.
3. Ask your local extension agent to measure how effective your irrigation system is. They can help you determine how much to water and possibly recommend some low-water native grasses for the lawn.
Learn more about green infrastructure at epa.gov/green-infrastructure.