Challenges and Solutions for American Communities
How stormwater runoff affects you
When water from rain and melting snow runs off roofs and roads into our rivers, it picks up toxic chemicals, dirt, trash and disease-carrying organisms. Studies show that this stormwater pollution rivals sewage plants and large factories as a source of damaging pollutants in our drinking water and at our beaches.
Strategies for capturing, controlling and reusing rainwater
Rainwater capture and control practices, also called green infrastructure, help address stormwater problems by restoring parts of the natural water cycle that were paved over by development. Strategies most commonly being used in urban areas include green roofs, rain barrels and cisterns, rain gardens, pocket wetlands, and permeable pavements. Not only do these smarter water practices help address stormwater runoff, but they also beautify neighborhoods, cleanse the air, reduce heat-related illnesses, save on energy costs, boost economies, and support American jobs.
How cities are implementing solutions
Strategies for reducing urban stormflow pollution are flexible - so site-specific solutions can be tailored to newly developed land or retrofitted into existing areas. These solutions can be used on individual sites, at the neighborhood level, or can be incorporated into a more widespread municipal stormwater management program. In our Rooftops to Rivers report, we explore how different cities are taking steps to address their stormwater issues. Click on the different cities below to learn about their efforts:
Achieving 4 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Aurora has successfully integrated green infrastructure (GI) into the planning done by all its city departments, has dedicated GI funding sources, and adheres to the county-wide retention ordinance. The city could benefit more by establishing private-party incentives and requiring the use of GI to reduce some portion of the existing impervious surfaces.
Achieving 3 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Chicago has embedded green infrastructure (GI) into various city policies and initiatives and become a national leader on green roofs and permeable pavement. The city lacks a comprehensive plan, a requirement to reduce impervious surfaces and dedicated funding.
- Kansas City
Achieving 3 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Kansas City kicked off its green infrastructure (GI) strategy with a "10,000 Rain Gardens" initiative in 2005 and is now pursuing its first wide-scale pilot project that will use GI as the sole control method for combined sewage overflows in a 100-acre residential area.
Achieving 5 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Milwaukee is a leader in its integration of green infrastructure (GI) into its combined sewer overflow reduction strategy, including specific reduction targets and a triple-bottom-line analysis. Dedicated capital funds support green roof grants, rain barrels, and rain gardens.
- New York
Achieving 5 of 6 Emerald City criteria, New York continues to expand one of the most extensive programs of public investment in green infrastructure in the United States, with an initial focus on greening municipal capital projects and implementing several neighborhood scale demonstration projects.
The only city achieving 6 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Philadelphia is the first city in the nation formally committed to using green infrastructure as the primary means to satisfy its combined sewer overflow obligations. The city will fund its share of the costs of the program with a stormwater fee based on impervious area.
Achieving 1 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Pittsburgh's most tangible step toward full-scale green infrastructure implementation is passage of an ordinance that establishes stormwater volume reductions standards, including a requirement that developments larger than 10,000 square feet retain the first inch of rainfall on-site.
- Rouge River Watershed
Achieving 3 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Seattle has a strong program that includes strategies to help private parties implement green infrastructure (GI). Initiatives are now accompanied by a regulatory GI program called Green Factor, which requires that development projects achieve minimum scores based on landscaping features that promote GI.
Achieving 5 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Syracuse was the first community in the United States subject to a legal requirement to reduce sewage overflows with green infrastructure (GI). GI investments totalling nearly $80 million will account for nearly two-thirds of future combined sewage overflow reductions, funded by a combination of sewer fees and low-interest loans and grants from the state.
Achieving 4 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Toronto made downspout disconnection mandatory, adopted construction standards to require buildings to include green roofs, established rainwater capture demonstration projects, and provided funding for tree plantings to double the city's existing tree canopy.
- Washington, D.C.
Achieving 5 of 6 Emerald City criteria, Washington, D.C. has issued a federal stormwater permit that contains a 1.2-inch retention standard for new development and redevelopment -- to be achieved through evaportranspiration, infiltration, and harvesting -- and numeric retrofit targets for street trees and green roofs.
- Kansas City
- New York
- Rouge River Watershed
- Washington, D.C.
- Composite Case Studies
Making Simple Changes in Your Home to Capture Rainwater
There are several simple things you can do at home to save water -- and money. See how easy it is:
- Install a rain barrel
- Build a rain garden: watch a video or read this how-to manual
- Redirect your downspouts
- Learn more about the value of trees
We want to hear from you!
Click here to tell us about green infrastructure in your city.
LATEST FACT SHEETS AND REPORTS
With the federal "Clean Water Needs Survey" identifying over $100 billion in needed infrastructure investment over the next twenty years to address stormwater and sewage overflows, the time for creating private markets for green infrastructure has arrived.
Rooftop rainwater capture is a simple, cost-effective approach for supplying water that promotes sustainable water management and reduces pollution.
Cities across the United States face significant water-related vulnerabilities based on current carbon emission trends because of climate change, from water shortages to more intense storms and floods to sea level rise.
California's water utilities and consumers burn large amounts of energy to treat, deliverheat, and cool water. A proper understanding of the close connections between water and energy can save both money and resources.
A Clear Blue Future: How Greening California Cities Can Address Water Resources and Climate Challenges in the 21st Century
As global warming threatens our water resources, low impact development can help communities ensure access to safe and reliable sources of water while reducing energy consumption and global warming pollution.
Climate change will increase the risk that water supplies will fall short of demand in many areas of the United States. More than one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming.
last revised 11/2/2011
Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter
Water on Switchboard
NRDC experts write about water efficiency, green infrastructure and climate on the NRDC blog.
Recent Water Posts
- New Public Polling Research Shows Americans Want Clean Water Safeguards
- posted by Jon Devine, 1/22/15
- NY State of State 2015: Time to Go All-In on Clean Energy, Safe Water & Local Food
- posted by Richard Schrader, 1/13/15
- Latin America Green News: record deforestation in Paraguay, renewables in Nicaragua, World Bank suggests carbon tax for Peru
- posted by Maria Martinez, 1/12/15
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.