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Triple Bottom Line Approach to Sustainable Remediation, Case Study: Wichita, Kansas

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As a result of economic pressures, diminishing resources, rising concerns over energy efficiency and environmental protection, and the promulgation of executive orders, cities and towns along with federal and private entities are incorporating sustainable practices into their environmental remediation efforts. Sustainable approaches to environmental contamination include permanent solutions that go beyond compliance to simultaneously achieve excellence in environmental stewardship, economic growth, and social responsibility (the triple bottom line) for the remediation process, as well as the project as a whole during its lifetime. This paper details the sustainability benefits of a recently constructed treatment system for contaminated groundwater that includes an environmental education center.

The Site

The city of Wichita, Kansas, faced a significant environmental challenge when chlorinated solvents were found in a large volume of groundwater extending from the downtown area south to the Arkansas River. The Gilbert & Mosley Site contains approximately 3,850 acres and 8,000 different parcels of residential, commercial, and industrial property. Contaminated groundwater posed a significant risk to human health and the environment and the city faced possible federal intervention under the Superfund program. The presence of contamination and potential liability stifled real estate development in many areas. The values of thousands of properties were in jeopardy and were projected to decrease 40 percent if the site became designated as a Superfund site, thereby eroding the city's tax base. To address this issue, the city implemented a series of innovative solutions, including a program of liability releases. The beneficial outcomes of these approaches include construction of a groundwater treatment system which incorporates the Wichita Area Treatment, Education, and Remediation (WATER) Center; restoration of property values; redevelopment of portions of the site; restoration of groundwater quality; and protection of human health and the environment.

Benefits – Environmental Stewardship

The treatment system constructed as part of the WATER Center is designed to treat a maximum of 1.8 million gallons of groundwater per day. Since December 2002, more than 2.9 billion gallons of groundwater have been treated and more than 821kilograms (kg) of chlorinated solvents have been removed from the groundwater. The area of contaminated groundwater above cleanup levels [alternate cleanup levels (ACLs)] has been reduced by 58 percent.

Benefits – Social Responsibility

Located in a public park adjacent to the Arkansas River, the WATER Center includes the groundwater treatment building; environmental education building; a plaza with fountains, landscaping, architectural features, and interpretive signage; and various site improvements, such as a fish observatory, meandering creek, educational signs, and sidewalks. The WATER Center's educational resources (e.g., classroom and exhibit area) are used to teach site visitors about various environmental stewardship themes, and tours of the groundwater treatment building are provided to offer a “real-world” opportunity to see pollution remediation in action. From October 2003 through the end of 2009, the city has presented more than 1,600 onsite programs and tours to more than 33,000 individuals and had an additional 7,500 walk-in visitors. Additionally, the city has presented more than 370 off-site programs to more than 9,800 individuals.

Benefits – Economic Growth

The city's innovative approaches, such as the tax increment financing, established a model for addressing contamination and providing liability relief at sites nationwide. In addition to restoring property values and stabilizing the city's tax base, Wichita has succeeded in encouraging commercial development. In the Old Town area and warehouse district—the site area with the greatest contamination—more than 500 million of commercial development has occurred since the program started in 1991, including the opening of a new 15,000 seat capacity arena.
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Keywords: Sustainability; brownfields; chlorinated solvents; economic growth; environmental stewardship; public education; remediation; social responsibility

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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