Survey Supports Smart Stormwater Rules

green infrastructure

Green infrastructure | Credit Sean Foltz

Some cities have gone full force in trying to plant more trees, provide incentives for green roofs and use other techniques like rain gardens that cost-effectively reduce polluted stormwater runoff, flooding and sewer overflows.

Places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Toledo are all investing in these techniques. As more funding is directed to innovative approaches and regulatory agencies recognize and provide “credit” for using these practices, collectively referred to as “green infrastructure,” to protect and restore local waters we’ll see even more communities benefiting from them.

In the meantime, there are still barriers to fuller adoption of green infrastructure – for example, local codes and ordinances that may unintentionally prohibit their use. As part of our work in the Great Lakes we work with communities to address just that issue.

In a report just released by the Clean Water America Alliance, Barriers and Gateways to Green Infrastructure, some of these barriers are described, and recommendations made for how to move forward. As a note of full disclosure, I serve on the Board of Alliance and was involved with the report. The report has some important findings and recommendations, and we learned some lessons about green infrastructure that deserve to be stressed. A few notes:

  • The survey was voluntary – the voluntary survey results that informed the report were from a variety of respondents across the country (over 200), but we did not attempt to validate the responses or statistically analyze them. Thus some responses may appear to have more weight than they really do.
  • Green Infrastructure is already effective for achieving cleaner water – and many other community benefits. New York City for example is investing $1.5 billion in green infrastructure as part of their plan to reduce sewer overflows. While there is not long-term, comprehensive performance data for every part of the country, individual projects, models and research show that these practices work. Continued monitoring and adaptive management is key to learning more about these systems, but meanwhile there is an abundance of performance data proving that green infrastructure works.
  • Support for “regulations featuring the use of green infrastructure” – One important barrier identified in the report was the lack of consistent minimum, objective federal performance standards for how we manage polluted stormwater runoff. As a result, the report recommends that EPA should adopt clear regulations that drive the use of green infrastructure. EPA is looking to set performance standards that then allow individuals to choose how to meet them – green infrastructure will not be required although it may well be the cost-effective choice for clean water and public health.

Let us know – what are the most important steps to advance green infrastructure (or put another way, to make cities feel more like forests)?