Friday, August 10, 2012

Water and Greensburg, KS

At 9:45 P.M. on May 4, 2007 Greensburg Kansas was close to obliterated by an EF5 tornado reported to be 1.7 miles wide.  Depending on the report, 90% to 95% of the entire town of 1,600 people was literally swept away.  Eleven people perished in the storm, which is a remarkably low number considering the near-total devastation.  

Greensburg, KS following 2007 Tornado
The town has been rebuilding, and true to their name, they are rebuilding "green" - environmentally green, that is.  Water and energy efficiency are hallmarks in most of the towns replacement buildings.  The school - a consolidated school of grades pre-K through 12 - has been awarded a LEED Platinum rating and sports waterless urinals, a whole roof rainwater collection system, native landscaping, closed-loop groundwater heating and cooling systems, many reclaimed building materials, recycled plastic seating and storage sectionals, and so much more it makes your head spin. 

I particularly like the school's very open and visible rainfall collection system.  It is built so that the rainwater coming off the roof can be seen by the students entering the transfer troughs and being moved by gravity to the above-ground water collection tanks.  Its 21,000 gallon collection and transfer capacity is used as a teaching element and can handle up to an inch of rainfall.  The water collected is used mainly for outside irrigation of the very native landscape plants.  

We next toured the hospital, which was also LEED certified and had a remarkably small water and energy use footprint.  Their wind generator was very visible just out the back door and was one of three individual generators lined up along the highway from West to East - very hard to miss as you approach the town.  

Many other facilities are LEED certified as well, including some private businesses like the John Deere Dealership.  The John Deere owners didn't have to build to this standard, but they embraced the vision of the community and did.  My hat is off to them.

Today the town's population is about 800, and there are plenty of vacant lots in town.  The mayor and everyone we talked to fully understand that while the progress made has been remarkable, and very well designed, there is still a long way to go in enticing former homeowners and businesses and/or new folks to return or make the move.  That's a shame because their vision is a good one.

Oh, I almost forgot - Greensburg is also home to the world's largest hand dug well (a short, but very cool link to the well's history).  Having been dug in 1887 and 1888, it survived the tornado - all 32' of it's diameter and 109' of its depth. While not used today for a public water supply well, it had been used as such up to 1932.  It's now a museum and a pretty cool place to peer down into. Yes, there is still water in the bottom of the well, and with all the water use efficiency being implemented in town, there should be water available for many years to come.

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