Green Infrastructure . . . Evolving from an Innovative to Mainstream Stormwater Management Practice


Though the use of pipes, tanks, and treatment plants will always play a critical role in protecting the health of our nation’s cities and waters, there is a growing recognition that innovative stormwater management techniques, also known as green infrastructure, can help combat the country’s wet weather challenges in a more cost-efficient and environmentally-effective way.  

As discussed in NACWA’s Water Resources Utility of the Future Blueprint For Action, communities across the country are implementing innovative technologies like green infrastructure to effectively manage stormwater, often save money, and improve the quality of life in their communities.  This is contributing to a broader shift we are seeing among clean water utilities as they transform from basic providers of wastewater services to full blown resource recovery agents, generating renewable energy from biosolids, capturing waste heat, reclaiming and reusing water, and extracting and finding commercial uses for nutrients.  Below is a snapshot of some of the green infrastructure projects NACWA members have undertaken. Many additional communities are in various stages of planning and implementation.

Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGreen City, Clean Waters is a partnership between Philadelphia and EPA that involves a $2 billion investment in green infrastructure to better manage Philadelphia’s stormwater. The 25-year agreement could be a national model for other cities interested in implementing green infrastructure.

Cincinnati, Ohio—The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) of Greater Cincinnati’s Project Groundwork is a two-phase initiative involving the rebuilding and improving of the city’s sewer system. Green infrastructure projects such as retention basins and pervious pavement are being used to control combined sewer overflows. Phase 1 involves completion of 45 construction projects in and around the city by 2018; Phase 2 (after 2018) comprises 256 construction projects across Hamilton County. The entire plan is estimated to cost $3.5 billion.

Los Angeles, California—In September 2011, Los Angeles passed the Low Impact Development Ordinance, which requires that all development projects greater than 500 square feet be designed to capture, reuse, or infiltrate stormwater runoff.  Los Angeles’s Green Alleys Initiative program will add permeable pavement, bioswales, and drought-tolerant vegetation to urban alleys. These projects will improve water quality, reduce flooding, and reduce water demand while creating recreational opportunities and more.

Yesterday, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) re-introduced legislation to provide critical support to innovative stormwater strategies, improving our ability to effectively manage polluted runoff and sewage overflows while relieving pressure on aging infrastructure. S. 1677/H.R. 3449, The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act of 2013 (formerly known as The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act), would promote the use of innovative stormwater infrastructure, provide implementation grants for community-based stormwater control projects, and establish up to five Centers of Excellence throughout the country to conduct research, develop recommendations, and provide training and technical assistance for implementing management practices for stormwater control and management.

With more communities across the country pursuing creative solutions like innovative stormwater infrastructure to manage their stormwater runoff, this legislation will help to secure the resources needed to transform this approach into a mainstream practice.  NACWA commends Senator Udall and Representative Edwards for their leadership on this issue and urges swift passage of this legislation.  


This post was authored by Hannah Mellman, who at the time, was NACWA's Manager of Legislation Affairs she has since left NACWA for other opportunities. 


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