October 03, 2017

Doing the Environment in My Retirement

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Ben Fisherow

It’s been sixteen months since retirement … or have I just been on a sabbatical?  The days have been full enough and way too stress-free seriously to consider going back.  So, it now seems it will be retirement for sure, and not return, but the urge persists to be RESPONSIBLE and to feel at least some pressure to perform.  How to achieve the latter without reverting to the former?

I have volunteered to teach environmental enforcement to old fogies (like me) at one of our nearby adult education outlets – the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  Rather than go all-in to this teaching gig, I will try myself out during OLLI’s 3-day “February Shorts” that run between the normal lengthy Fall and Spring sessions.  Compressing thirty years of experience enforcing the nation’s major environmental statutes into three 90 minute lectures will be interesting.  What’s more, the talks need to be entertaining, which means a Power Point with visuals and music (Remember Randy Newman’s “Cuyahoga River?”).  Thank God for the help of my daughter-in-law.

I am also applying to the District of Columbia’s Master Gardener program.  This promises to be quite cool because after 8 weeks of classroom instruction, one needs to volunteer 50 hours of community service to obtain the Master’s certificate.  Since my tech-savvy daughter-in-law is the principal of an elementary school, and they need some help around the grounds, I’ll have the chance to really accomplish some things. 

Moreover, DC like many other cities has been grappling with the problems posed by the runoff of stormwater into its sewer system where it combines with normal flows of industrial and residential waste.  The increased volume of this combined sewage during wet weather, which often exceeds the capacity of the District’s system to treat, must be discharged from several outfalls, untreated, directly into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.  The threats to the public and aquatic life are obvious.  “Green infrastructure” projects are an innovative approach to intercepting excess wet weather flows before they reach stormwater drains.  They could present a feasible alternative to building new, massive, underground tunnels to store combined sewage until it can be properly treated and safely discharged from the District’s single large sewage treatment plant at Blue Plains. 

The District is working with EPA to substitute green for gray infrastructure as one way to achieve the sewage discharge reductions the Clean Water act requires.  And, so far, it appears EPA has been willing to accommodate increased neighborhood green spaces, roof gardens, permeable pavement and the like as potential alternatives to the disruption that construction of deep tunnels could cause.  With my Master’s certificate in hand, I hope to present myself to the District as a worker to help them Implement some of their green infrastructure initiatives.

Pretty good ideas, I think.  Whether I succeed with any of them remains to be seen.

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