Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011

portland downspout gree infrastructureToday, Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced the ‘Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011’ to the House.  This bill will help communities manage polluted runoff using smarter stormwater management strategies that protect clean water, save money, and improve livability, while also helping to reduce localized flooding.

Green infrastructure approaches, from permeable pavement to rain gardens, work with the natural landscape to capture and treat rainwater where it falls. By filtering out contaminants and keeping stormwater out of the system, these practices can reduce pollution in our rivers and streams and relieve the burden on existing water infrastructure. While a pipe may always look and act like a pipe, green infrastructure practices can offer greater flexibility and a wider range of benefits to communities from saving energy to reducing air pollution to increasing property values.

One particularly relevant benefit of green infrastructure in light of the recent floods along the Mississippi is its role in reducing localized flooding. In urbanized areas with hard surfaces like roads and parking lots, rainwater has nowhere to go. It can’t soak naturally into the soil, so instead it washes into storm drains and overwhelms the system – increasing and magnifying floods. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) reports that 20-25% of economic losses caused by flooding don’t actually happen in the “floodplain,” but instead occur as a consequence of urban drainage. Green infrastructure practices like restored wetlands can help mitigate localized flooding by capturing and infiltrating rainwater where it falls and keeping it from overwhelming the system.

Communities across the country are already finding green infrastructure approaches to be cost-effective solutions to managing runoff and keeping their water clean. The city of Portland, Oregon spent $8 million to subsidize downspout disconnections for homeowners, saving the city $250 million in hard infrastructure fixes and keeping one billion gallons of stormwater out of the City’s combined sewer system every year. In Representative Edwards’ own district, the town of Edmonston, MD built a ‘green street’ using rain gardens and permeable pavement that will capture the first 1.33 inches of rainfall – helping to  reduce local flooding and keep polluted stormwater runoff out of the water system and ultimately out of the Chesapeake Bay.

Representative Edwards’ bill will assist communities in implementing green infrastructure projects by providing increased research and development about these technologies, making funding incentives available for green infrastructure projects, and promoting the consistent use of green infrastructure within EPA. Building upon EPA’s commitment to improving livability and sustainability for communities through green infrastructure, this bill will help provide the information and resources to make green infrastructure approaches the norm rather than the exception.