Infiltrate the [Water] System

Throughout time, St. Louis' water system changed from a natural spring system to a combined sewer system. Although the combined system was seen as a technological advancement when designed in the 1860s, it has caused flooding, sewage overflow and numerous public safety hazards. Recently, the Missouri Sewer Department (MSD) has been sued in violation of the Clean Water Act. The MSD developed a 20-year plan to split the sewer system and build larger underground storage tanks to prevent overflow. This plan also provides up to $100 million dollars to increase green infrastructure.

Our proposal uses these funds to develop the Pruitt-Igoe site—an ideal location with 33 acres of underutilized land in the heart of St. Louis—as a pilot for introducing a new type of “stream” to the St. Louis landscape. This stream, instead of channeling water, becomes a permeable skin covering the entire site. This skin will increase water quality and reduce the amount of water running into the sewer system. If successful, this system could be implemented across many acres of underutilized land throughout St. Louis.

One of the challenges is that the Pruitt-Igoe site is a brownfield. Healthy soil and water retention are re- lated and dependent on each other. To remediate the site, we will use plants specifically targeted to clean toxins on the footprints of former junkyards, factories, and other pollutants. These “cleaning gardens” will be connected to each other and the outside community by a permeable pathway. Rubble and trash will be consolidated onto one capped soil region, the site of former chemical and die casting companies, which is too toxic to be remediated by plantings.

These interventions will highlight the history of the site, clean the soil, and increase water retention on the landscape, while creating a major new public landscape for citizens.

Cari Alcombright and Anna Yoder are students in the class of 2013 in the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.