Green Infrastructure Can Save Local Governments Money

Today’s post is by Brian Wegener of the Tualatin Riverkeepers, a nonprofit organization working to protect and restore Oregon’s Tualatin River System.

Tualatin Riverkeepers' protect the Tualatin River in Oregon with green infrastructureWith increasing urbanization comes an increasing area of rooftops, parking lots, and highways – hard surfaces that are impermeable to water. Rain that once soaked into fields and forests, now runs off these hardened surfaces in excessive amounts.

This runoff flows untreated into storm drains and local waterways, carrying a variety of pollutants that foul our waters and cause health risks. The volume of runoff can be so high that it erodes stream banks and causes localized flooding.

A new joint report released by American Rivers, the Water Environment Federation, the American Society of Landscape Architects and ECONorthwest looks at how municipalities can save money by using “green infrastructure” for stormwater management.

Banking on Green” focuses on the economic impacts caused by polluted urban runoff, one form of stormwater, and the only significantly growing source of water pollution in the United States. The costs created by stormwater, and the need to manage it, can often be offset or reduced by making different choices about how we build infrastructure.

By choosing to include green infrastructure in efforts to prevent or control stormwater, communities and developers can reduce energy costs, diminish the impacts of flooding, improve public health, and reduce overall costs. Shifting to this new paradigm also creates more sustainable communities that are better able to meet future environmental challenges.

Green infrastructure approaches to clean water management include using rooftop vegetation to control stormwater and reduce energy use, restoring wetlands to retain floodwater, and installing permeable pavement to mimic natural hydrology. 

These approaches prevent stormwater from flowing into surface waters or overburdened sewer systems.  They can be a cost-effective way of replacing or supplementing traditional stormwater management practices, often referred to as “grey infrastructure” because they rely heavily on concrete curbs, pipes and tunnels. 

Green infrastructure approaches improve air quality, increase habitat and green space, enhance human health, and reduce flooding. Communities that utilize green infrastructure have often found that the enhanced aesthetic experience of local residents has improved quality of life as well as property values. Local waters often provide healthier aquatic habitats and water supplies, resources that provide environmental and public health benefits to all residents.

Given the cost-effectiveness of green approaches across a variety of categories, green infrastructure should be an integral part of stormwater management strategies. 

National policies that favor or stimulate the wider adoption of green infrastructure strategies may go a long way toward reducing both the infrastructure funding needs facing the nation, and the gap between these needs and available financial resources.