As part of its “Sustainable Boulevards” program, Milwaukee Forestry Department employees are installing and maintaining automatic irrigation systems at 300 sites throughout the city. Photo: City of Milwaukee
As part of its “Sustainable Boulevards” program, Milwaukee Forestry Department employees are installing and maintaining automatic irrigation systems at 300 sites throughout the city. Photo: City of Milwaukee

Houston initiates online permitting capability

The nation's fourth-largest city is devoting $1.2 million over five years to enable contractors to obtain 250 types of permits over the Internet, an initiative a local television station labeled “an innovative solution to fix one thing that people complain about the most.”

Ultimately, the system will consolidate the permitting activity of nine departments, allowing users to submit and review plans, make payments as projects progress, and schedule inspections and review results in real-time. Last year the city issued more than 435,000 permits totaling $50 million.

The city chose a system from Gov-Partner that Sunnyvale, Calif., has used for almost a decade. A year ago, Salt Lake City began developing a similar one-stop permitting process using a product offered by Accela Inc.

California providers respond to water shortage

Less than a week after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made the first statewide drought declaration in 15 years, water providers began mobilizing to avoid rationing.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), a consortium of 26 cities and water districts serving 18 million customers, urged members to achieve “extraordinary conservation” by adopting and enforcing drought ordinances. For the last two years, the district has drawn down its stored dry-year reserves by nearly half.

As part of the effort, MWD member Western Municipal Water District in Riverside is holding workshops in its 527-square-mile service area to begin developing a master water use efficiency plan. “Involvement from the business community is critical to address this regional effort concerning current water supply shortages and to seek cooperative solutions,” says General Manager John Rossi.

Los Angeles studies congestion pricing

The U.S. DOT has pledged $213 million to help the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority implement a plan to optimize traffic flow within its 1,433-square-mile service area.

The authority awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) a contract to develop a pricing plan that, if approved, would be the first time Los Angeles County charges motorists to access certain routes during rush hour.

Denver completes $25 million flood prevention project

Public Works Director Bill Vidal was one of several officials christening the largest flood control project undertaken by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District for the city and county of Denver.

The 10-year project removed 300 acres of land from the 100-year floodplain by improving 2,000 linear feet of channel, raising flood walls and levees, and relocating a dam 1,000 feet upstream—an undertaking that required building an open channel and 700 lineal feet of a 40-foot-wide by 7-foot-high structure to convey flows to the headgate of a major irrigation-water supplier.

Wisconsin agency beautifies without breaking the bank

Milwaukee's award-winning Forestry Department has begun a three-year landscape overhaul to minimize stormwater runoff and save $140,000 on seasonal labor.

Flowerbeds along 120 miles of boulevards are being replaced with 4,500 trees grown in the city's nursery for half the cost of wholesale trees. To protect against catastrophic loss from pests like the emerald ash borer, a beetle that was discovered in Michigan in 2002, the department is planting a diverse mix of shade and ornamental trees including elm, maple, linden, honey locust, service berry, pear, Japanese tree lilac, and bald cypress.

“Signature” plantings of low-maintenance shrubs and grasses along with limited annual flowers, ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet in size, will be installed in conjunction with a citywide street repaving program.