Green Infrastructure Moves forward in Congress

Recent and devastating flooding the along the Mississippi has emphasized the need to strengthen our natural defenses.  While the floods we’ve just seen result from many causes, including the destruction of small streams and wetlands upstream, overdevelopment of our cities is another cause. 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 about one quarter 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 and green roofs can help mitigate localized flooding by capturing and infiltrating rainwater where it falls and keeping it from causing local flooding, which contribute to bigger floods.

The good news is that Congress is working to advance these smart green infrastructure approaches, from permeable pavement to rain gardens  that work with the natural landscape to capture and treat rainwater where it falls to provide cleaner water, while also reducing localized flooding. Representatives  Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO) introduced  the  ‘Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011’ in the House and Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the bill to the Senate.  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, saving energy and reducing air pollution.

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. 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. Toledo, Milwaukee, and others as well – and this new legislation will make it all the more possible.

The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011 will assist communities in implementing 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 the Environmental Protection Agency. 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.