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Protecting Steep Slopes Is Vital

Nov 09, 2018

by Sandy Kurtz | Chattanooga Pulse

How to manage stormwater runoff in a responsible way

Did you know THAT Water flows downhill? Did you know when you shake up a jar of muddy water and let it sit still, eventually the mud sinks to the bottom? Did you ever pour water on a pile of dirt to create little ditches that the water runs down? Did you know the higher the angle of that dirt pile, the faster the water runs down to the ground carrying mud with it?

Of course you know. These first elementary science lessons can be applied on a large scale when talking about stormwater runoff.

It’s a problem locally when land is disturbed without doing something to control the erosion from torrential rainstorms especially on deforested steep slopes or paved areas. Such storm waters likely carry pollutants and sediment eventually degrading our streams and may flow into the downhill neighbor’s home.

We need strong stormwater regulations to assure our waters stay clean as vacant land for building becomes less available. Excessive water is to be caught on the property on which it falls.

Chattanooga City Council recently held a public hearing seeking input to determine what development could or should take place on our steep slopes. Other cities have such regulations.

For example, regulations in Gatlinburg, a Tennessee city with many steep slopes, state, “the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) shall also include a description of measures that will be installed to dissipate the volume and energy of the stormwater runoff to pre-development levels.”

Click Here for Online Tennessee Stormwater Training!

All SWPPP plans must be approved before any permit to build is issued. Chattanooga Water Quality Department has similar goals in their guidelines and regulations, but details as to how to make sure a developed piece of land holds its stormwater as it did before the construction is more difficult to achieve on steep slopes. Each city and county creates its own requirements stronger or weaker based on state guidance.

Before there were greenways in Chattanooga, I was appointed by Mayor Gene Roberts to a Greenways Committee. We worked with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance to figure out where and how to put greenways. The first question was “What Makes Chattanooga Chattanooga?”

What makes the City the way it is? After discussion and citizen input, it was determined that what makes Chattanooga Chattanooga are steep slopes and stream corridors. Further, every time we ask people what’s important to Chattanooga they say scenic beauty—think those steep forested slopes and streams.

A little while after we had envisioned a greenway system with the Tennessee River as the spine, the President’s Council for Sustainable Development chose Chattanooga as one of the cities to propose sustainable development solutions. Several task forces were formed and I participated in the one for land use.

We created a matrix for development that identified lands as buildable, sensitive, or off-limits for development. One could build on sensitive lands, but there were extra requirements that assured the sustainability of each piece of land.

Those had to do with requiring a higher percentage of open land on a parcel meaning more pervious surface for water to infiltrate, little or no timber cutting, and prevention of stormwater runoff and erosion. That plan is on a shelf somewhere. Perhaps it’s time for an update.

Click Here for Online Tennessee Stormwater Training!

I fear we are slowly eating away at the health of stream corridors due to filling of flood plains and wetlands resulting in erosion from development and flooding. And we have done a very poor job of protecting our steep slopes partly due to builder pressure to develop lands harder to build on, namely steep slopes. Water quality and steep slopes are connected.

In order to keep Chattanooga looking like Chattanooga, steep slopes, in the sensitive category, should have especially strong regulations based on what is healthy for our natural resources now and in the future. Violations fines should be high enough so developers don’t figure in fines as the cost of doing business.

Yes, land for building is becoming scarcer, but that is no excuse to destroy the very essence of what makes Chattanooga Chattanooga and further damage an already threatened ecosystem. As the Standing Rock Sioux have reminded us ‘Water is Life’.

Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist, chair of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance, and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at

© 2014 The Pulse and Brewer Media.

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