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Water Blues, Green Solutions

Director Frank Christopher and Jon Cradit rest after climbing down into a cave inside the Edwards Aquifer in San Marcos, Texas.
Director Frank Christopher and Jon Cradit rest after climbing down into a cave inside the Edwards Aquifer in San Marcos, Texas.

The Sustainability Institute is collaborating with Penn State Public Media on their upcoming production of a national documentary. Water Blues, Green Solutions shows how cities from Philadelphia to San Antonio to the Bronx are using natural systems to clean, absorb and help manage water.

“The key concept driving this project is the value of ecosystem services.”

“The key concept driving this project is the value of ecosystem services,” says Tom Keiter, executive producer of the documentary. “In a place like New York, it can be more cost-effective for a construction project to use natural system designs for water management.”

This project demonstrates one of the unique aspects of having a University hold the license for a public broadcasting station. The station is able to gather very high quality assets and funding and bring them into the University community. Penn State is a leader in producing national public media and outreach programs that tie directly back to the University. It is directly related to the current work that Architecture and Civil Engineering faculty are doing.

Water Blues, Green Solutions is a 60-minute documentary that originated from a simultaneous understanding of what was going on with the Landscape Architecture and Design professions and the changing regulations for storm water management. This paralleled a significant program in the Penn State College of Arts & Architecture. Faculty members Stuart Echols and Eliza Pennypacker were awarded an EPA grant to look at the public perception and acceptance of “green” infrastructure. After talking with landscape architecture and civil engineering faculty, and meeting with The American Society of Landscape Architects, and the U.S. Green Building Council, Penn State Public Media took on the project.

During early stages of the project, the producers borrowed an idea from architecture and held a design meeting in Washington, D.C., to plan the documentary and establish the key messages. The American Society of Landscape Architecture, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Gardens were all involved. Production work has already been completed in Texas, Philadelphia, the Bronx and Oregon. The project features perspectives from scientists and municipal experts.

There has been much interest in training landscapers and civil engineers, to better use natural systems, and a new “sustainable sites” concept will be folded into the certification process for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Actual sites will now be rated and will range from individual buildings to neighborhood developments to cities. New York and Philadelphia are increasingly managing more water because of increasing storm intensity. The new ratings will cover everything from rainwater capture to rain gardens, to bio-swales and permeable pavement.

Water Blues is going to help create awareness that we as human beings actually have the ability to contribute to the health of a place,” says Keiter. “San Antonio’s drought problem is a good example of how the specter of climate change is going to affect all natural water systems, and green infrastructure is about understanding how man-made systems interact with the natural systems.

Lindsay Faussette, Manager of Project Implementation, partners with the documentary video making team. Her team focuses on the marketing and distribution as well as the tools for outreach and engagement with the local communities. They are concerned with how it is broadcast and where does it go online. They establish the tools that are given to viewers, plan discussion guides and online multi-media tools.

Narrating the documentary will be urban revitalization strategist and MacAthur “Genius” Award winner Majora Carter. Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx and her consulting company, the Majora Carter Group, has been exporting climate adaptation, urban micro-agribusiness and leadership development strategies for businesses, state and local governments, federal agencies, foundations, universities and economically underperforming communities. She is the producer and host of the Peabody Award winning series, “The Promised Land.” To read more about Majora Carter’s lecture at the 2013 Colloquium on the Environment on April 22 at University Park, and for an audio link, click here.

Water Blues, Green Solutions is actually a sequel to the successful documentary Liquid Assets. In addition to solid prime-time airings, more than 20,000 DVDs were distributed with copies going to every member of Congress and President Obama’s transition team. Penn State Television still sells copies to this day.

Water Blues, Green Solutions will be released in late 2013. 

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