A Clean Water Solution: The Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard


 Cover of the new Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS)

The new Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS) guide will help cities upgrade their water infrastructure and reduce polluted stormwater runoff

Who would have thought that our water pollution problems could be solved by the 1%? Well, not the 1% of the well off, but by 1% increments. That is the concept behind the new Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard guide we are releasing today.

Polluted stormwater is one of the greatest challenges we have to clean water in the Unites States. Rainfall carries vast amounts of pollutants off our streets and roofs and into our rivers every year. In addition, the hard surfaces we have created in our cities, like roads and buildings, collect vast amounts of rainwater that cause local flooding and destroy countless small streams.

My colleague Katherine Baer talks extensively about managing water in urban areas, and we have gone into great detail over the years about using Green Infrastructure, like green roofs and rain gardens, as a cost effective solution to these problems. While green infrastructure is clearly a solution, the problem is figuring out how to build it in urban areas in a way that is predictable and cost effective. Like any type of infrastructure, when you are building or replacing it in the built environment, there can be many headaches. So how do we minimize these obstacles?

The answer is through something called the Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS). The GIPS concept is a collaborative project of American Rivers, The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, with a grant from EPA region 5. It is based on the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard concept, where energy utilities gradually increase the use of renewable energy in their portfolio of energy sources. In the case of a GIPS, cities set a series of small annual goals of green infrastructure use for stormwater management, say 1% a year, which will, over time, compound into a large amount of green infrastructure, and a corresponding decrease in polluted stormwater runoff.

The value of this system is that it creates an incremental and predictable set of goals to reach, to allow for a gradual change in the management of stormwater. Additionally, the collaborative approach advocated for in our publication, decreases costs and increases efficiencies by combining green infrastructure projects with other capital building projects.

So, essentially, but following following the 1%…annual green infrastructure goal, we can significantly cut our water pollution. And that’s something 100% of us can be happy about.