Thinking About Water: An Update on the LID Workshop

Bridge over Arkansas River. Image from Arkansas Highway Department.

Bridge over Arkansas River. Image from Arkansas Highway Department.

We can’t live without water. We know this, but how often do we consider how our own actions might encourage or discourage healthy waterways for future generations? A few weeks ago the McElroy House Organization worked in connection with the City of Russellville’s Clean and Green Initiative to host a free LID workshop at Russellville City Hall. The workshop, led by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center Director, Jeffrey Huber, focused on a concept called Low Impact Design, a way of developing landscapes that work with the land rather than against it.  This week’s column will touch on just a few things we learned during those discussions and consider ways to move forward.

“Experts roundly believe that water is the next oil,” reads the LID Design Manual published by the U of A Design Center. “Both are naturally occurring resources, and ever-increasing demand is creating economic, social, and environmental conflict in allocating finite supplies.” Just ask anyone in your community who oversees allocation of water to our growing population and you’ll discover we’ll soon have a water crisis on our hands if we don’t learn to fully respect this essential resource. This kind of planning doesn’t have to be reserved solely for city leaders, water board members, or engineers. We can all play a role and chose to be proactive rather than retroactive. Will it fix the overall problem? Of course not. But it’s a start.

When you look past the terminology, LID is strikingly similar to the lifestyles of former rural generations. Here in central Arkansas the underlying ideas would likely be more familiar to our great grandparents than they are to us. LID design uses something called “soft engineering” (as opposed to “hard engineering”), utilizing the natural attributes of plants to soak up rainwater and eliminate pollutants in the soil before they run straight into gutters. Take storm water runoff, for example. This is something we’ve certainly seen in recent weeks. These deep flows of water from flash floods are loaded with residue from our cars, any chemicals we might be putting into the soil, gasoline, and asphalt products from our roofs and roads.  The first hour of storm water runoff, experts claim, has more pollution than raw sewage.

Whereas hard engineering uses pipes to move contaminated water from one place to another, the LID approach aims to first to decrease the amount of pollution —and the extent of flash flooding—on site.  Green spaces, for example, can be placed in areas with large amounts of asphalt, thus acting as sponge (places with high asphalt content are notorious for contributing to flash flooding) and filtering out the contaminants in the water. Rather than planting a lawn, for example, a home owner might decide to grow native grasses which won’t require pesticides to grow, will develop deeper root bases, and soak in water more effectively during major rain spells, all contributing to the overall health of the waterway.

Such an approach is about placing our focus on working with the natural process, educating ourselves about what mother nature grew in these spaces in the first place, and utilizing this knowledge as we build and renovate structures for our human lives. And in a larger sense it’s about history. It’s about knowing our landscape, knowing our land’s history and making decisions that consider our grandchildren’s futures on this same landscape. This isn’t idealism. It’s not about turning everything into a forest, but rather about making smart decisions based on an awareness of the land itself.

We still have FREE manuals thanks to a generous donation. Please contact us if you want one!

We still have FREE manuals thanks to a generous donation. Please contact us if you want one!

We had several LID manuals donated to the McElroy House Organization for the workshop and there are a few left for the public. If you’re interested in obtaining one of the manuals for your organization or personal residence, please let us know! We’ll be happy to pass them on to you free of charge. You can also order them online (for a fee) from the Design Center at The McElroy House will be working with the Community Design Center to explore how to utilize these concepts in our own space. You can keep up to date with our work at

For links to more resources please visit me online at www. And please share your own ideas about this concept called LID design. Chances are you, or your grandparents, probably already do a lot of this stuff in your own homes. We’d love to hear about it and learn from you! Hope everyone had a happy holiday season! Thanks so much for reading!

Related readings/posts:

Community Design Center and McElroy House to Host Free LID Workshop