Paying for stormwater management: a case for innovation

This blog post was written jointly between Liz G. Deardorff and American Rivers’ conservation intern Molly Armus

Ohiopyle, PA Adopt a Bioswale project | © Liz G. DeardorffPublic-private partnerships have proven to be great ways to implement innovative green infrastructure techniques, such as “Adapt-a-Bioswale” in Ohiopyle, PA | © Liz G. Deardorff

Paying for stormwater management can be challenging, especially for small urban municipalities that often have limited financial resources and local expertise. American Rivers has reported on the benefits and value of managing stormwater cost-effectively with green infrastructure.

We’ve championed smart use of federal infrastructure funds, directing federal appropriations administered by states—the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF)—to adopt ‘green first’ strategies in addition to ‘fix it first’ strategies so that the limited federal funds go to essential maintenance and improvement of existing water infrastructure, and green infrastructure projects and water efficiency practices. The first significant commitment to these smart investments occurred through a 20% set-aside of state SRF appropriations under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

States across the country have made ‘bright green’ investments with green infrastructure solutions to water management needs that have resulted in multiple benefits but American Rivers found the need for funding green infrastructure and water efficiency projects was far greater than the $1.2 billion ARRA set aside. Not only must funds be wisely spent, but diverse sources of funds are necessary and communities need an overall strategy for financing sustainable water management.

Of the ‘lessons learned’ American Rivers has shared from experts and utilities around the country on strategies to fund and finance water management, 1) developing private-public partnerships is a complex but highly effective solution and 2) instituting fees equitably based on impervious cover as a measure of stormwater contribution to support management costs borne by water utilities is one of the simplest although politically challenging.

Instituting stormwater fees structures is now required to help ensure clean water in some Maryland communities and is easier in Pennsylvania since legislation passed to provide municipalities the flexibility to form stormwater authorities.

Public-private partnerships are also beginning to fund green infrastructure solutions to stormwater management in Pennsylvania; mostly in large cities such as Philadelphia but also by small municipalities. It doesn’t get a lot smaller than Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania (population 59, 2010 U.S. Census) and it doesn’t get much more innovative than this municipality’s new program to “Adopt-a-Bioswale!”

To stop polluted overflows into the popular tourist destination, the Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle jumped into green infrastructure in a bold way with ARRA funds, awarded by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST) that administers Pennsylvania’s SRF appropriations. PennVEST continues to use SRF Green Project reserve set-aside funds to help municipalities invest in sustainable green infrastructure. With municipalities working to control urban runoff, PennVEST can expect more ‘green first’ project applications.

A recently funded “green first” project is the TreeVitalize Project in Millvale, Pennsylvania. Located just outside of Pittsburgh, the borough of Millvale is a small town besieged by flooding as well as polluted runoff into the nearby Girtys Run Watershed. To deal with their stormwater issues, Millvale is being “treevitalized”. This summer the project is wrapping up its almost-year long task of planting 850 trees throughout Millvale and installing at least two bioswales. This green infrastructure goal was achieved through the help of PennVEST, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and many other partners. The Millvale Borough project is part of a larger goal to plant around 20,000 trees in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Allegheny County to help manage stormwater and generally improve the post-industrial environment (they’re at 19,225 trees to date!). The green infrastructure will help Millvale sustainably manage stormwater, and they are proudly touting their “green” status!

Hopefully this positive attitude towards green infrastructure will continue to spread throughout Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States.

2 Responses to “Paying for stormwater management: a case for innovation”

Troy Anderson

Unless I missed it, I did not see any of the Private part of PPP mentioned. Unless the non profits are considered a private partner in the PPP.

Good read! I do think the PPP can be used to promote alternative stormwater management projects / green infrastructure. But it will face challenges.

    Liz Deardorff

    You’re right that the examples used non-profits—very much private but not the ‘end all’ of public-private partnerships that should/could capitalize on private business interests. The Ohiopyle example does establish a frame for public-private partnerships—while their green infrastructure has largely been implemented with public dollars and public-non-profit effort, the [very cool] Adopt-a-Bio-swale concept is intended to draw a variety of private interests, from individuals to businesses etc, to the operation and maintenance (and perhaps, future implementation) of green infrastructure in the community. I view it as a side-kick to the SAGE concept , tho’ I don’t know if the Ohiopyle project’s administrators are familiar w/SAGE.