What a Difference a “Green” Year Makes

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As we all know, a lot can happen in a year. 33 communities gathered this week in Cleveland for the second annual Green Infrastructure Summit. Green infrastructure (GI) has become such  a “regulator approved” approach to manage stormwater that it is hard to believe only one year ago, when a slightly smaller group of communities gathered in Syracuse, NY for the first Summit, the conversation seemed to revolve more predominantly around the myriad challenges facing GI programs – public engagement, public/private land, maintenance, project siting and authority. While both events were blessed with beautiful fall weather and held in a similar format, this year’s conversation painted a much rosier picture. The Summit participants should all be commended for their integral role in furthering GI’s acceptance and success as a wet weather management tool.

EPA partnered with Cleveland State University and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) to host the second Summit. Communities, many NACWA members, regulators, and other participants enjoyed a three-day green infrastructure event which began with a day of visiting GI around Cleveland, and ended with a day and a half of community dialogue. NEORSD has over 30 GI installations in their service area, including pervious pavement and bioretention, many of which have been seamlessly incorporated into some of Cleveland's hottest neighborhoods like Waterloo Arts District.

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The bulk of the event involved a large roundtable facilitated discussion covering a broad array of topics including using GI to:

  • reduce volume into combined sewer systems,
  • effectively managing Stormwater in separate systems,
  • provide multiple community benefits, and
  • build resilient communities.

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The roundtable setting provided a rare opportunity for a large number of GI leaders, program managers, and planners to exchange best practices and lessons-learned on GI’s use for all of the above applications. While participants touched on broad policies, the majority of the conversation was much more detail oriented – looking at how municipal codes need to be modified, how success is more easily achieved by partnering with other city departments and non-profits, and how the public has been effectively informed and engaged over the course of these GI programs. Communities noted that they are applying GI differently in their combined sewer areas vs. separate storm sewer areas (CSO vs. MS4). For example, the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services has a very successful down-spout disconnection program they have run for over 17 years and disconnected over 17,000 homes in their CSO area, but when applying GI in their MS4 they noticed centralized approaches like treatment wetlands provide more impact. Communities with fledgling GI programs were able to learn directly from those who have been testing GI for almost 20 years!

A common refrain from attendees was “I learned so much” at the Summit. It would be impossible to capture the full breadth of topics discussed and information shared. Appropriately, to coincide with the Summit, EPA released the Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure Guidebook on Monday which illustrates how a sustainable combination of green and gray infrastructure ultimately builds sustainable and resilient communities. Those new resources, along with relationships and dialogues forged this week, will provide the foundation for another year of tremendous progress.  NACWA looks forward to our members continuing to utilize this powerful tool in their communities.

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