Ask the Expert: Steven van Haren, P.Eng., P.E., Manager, Water Resources, National Practice Lead, Associate Partner, MMM Group

Steven currently supervises the efforts of 32 professional Water Resources staff and provides senior direction to his team, oversees various practice areas to ensure exemplary service, and devises solutions for drainage and Stormwater Management challenges that demonstrate MMM's commitment to sustainable approaches. 

Interested in stormwater management? Steven will be teaching the Understanding the Ebbs and Flows of Stormwater Management webinar on June 11. Earn 1.5 GBCI CE hours. Click here for more information or to register now.

1. Tell us about your career and how you came to be involved in the sustainability field.

I have been a Water Resources Engineer for 17 years, with five of those years in the United States. I've always believed that water and the issues surrounding it are central to our collective interest as people. It follows that effective management of our water resources is a field that provides ambitious and knowledgeable professionals with a rewarding career. While my career has spanned numerous areas of focus, I have found the sustainability field to be one of the most rewarding on a professional level. The challenges in this area require an open approach, are almost always multi-disciplinary, and the field has more room for creativity than most.

2. Are there any green projects you've worked on that stand out most in your mind?

One LEED program project in particular stands out: the St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton Design-Build project that aimed for LEED Silver, but actually achieved LEED Gold status due to the synergy of the project team. There were so many talented and experienced professionals on that team that we were able to exceed our client's expectations and deliver a project that really stands out from the crowd, particularly for a large institutional project.

The other project is the Earl Bales Park Stormwater Management and Water Supply system that provides water quality benefits for the Don River in Toronto while creating one of Canada's largest rainwater harvesting systems (for irrigation of the adjacent golf course in the summer and for snowmaking on the nearby ski hill in the winter). This one took an early approach to stakeholder partnering at the concept stage and worked to find end uses for non-potable water before too many commitments were in place. The entire project team, and particularly the City of Toronto staff, had a shared vision for the facility that ensured the project delivered well beyond the original scope.

3. You have a specialization in stormwater management and rainwater harvesting. How do these two areas tie into a green building plan and why are they important?

The way a building project interacts with the environment all around it is directly tied to how it manages its runoff. Stormwater runoff is the vector that takes our dry weather accumulated pollutants (dust, debris, animal droppings, etc.) to the receiving environment. Historically, we have treated runoff similar to a waste product, channeling it with ditches and pipes as far and fast away as possible. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a host of issues in our collective environment such as erosion and fisheries degradation. Luckily, that's starting to change.

A properly configured green building program or project needs to reverse that approach and treat rainfall and its resulting runoff as resources to be valued. Why are we allowing freely delivered water to flow away from our sites and then buying new water from the municipality to flush toilets, mop floors or water plants? These end uses (and others) all benefit from rainwater reuse, reducing costs over the building's lifetime, while taking stewardship of the additional runoff created by our impervious surfaces.

4. Is there anything you've learned working in stormwater management and rainwater harvesting that you think our readers would benefit to know?

The most important idea would be to change our attitude towards runoff. As an urban dwelling species, we prefer to be 'dry' as soon as possible to allow us to go about our daily business, which has resulted in our current way of thinking on drainage of urban areas. To change that, we need to think of rainwater and stormwater as two different things.

Rainwater is delivered more commonly and with lower volume. This amount of rainfall can be collected, absorbed, infiltrated and/or reused in a harvesting system. Stormwater, however, is a result of infrequent, high volume events that drop enough water to overflow our collection systems quickly, requiring urban drainage infrastructure (storm sewers, catchbasins, etc.) to handle it. We have traditionally thought of them as the same thing, resulting in only the urban infrastructure and their subsequent problems.

5. Where do you see the future of green building headed in the near future and/or the more long-term future?

Green buildings are most likely to become more integrated and intelligent over time. I envision that in the near future, buildings will possess an operating system that automates most of its processes and networks with buildings all around them. In terms of rainwater management, this type of system could be developed to allow buildings to 'trade' captured rainwater between them, using the resource more efficiently and bringing it to locations where it does the most good. However, it will take some rethinking on how we view public vs. private property, and require more of a larger partnership approach.