Bill Introduced in Senate Cleans Up Waterways, Boosts Water Supplies & Greens Cities Nationwide

Last week, the Senate introduced a bill I’ve been working on that will provide tools to help communities clean up their waterways and make them more resilient to droughts, water shortages and floods at the same time.

That bill -- sponsored by Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) -- is the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act, and I blogged about it back when it was introduced in the House of Representatives last December.  Since then, 40 members of the House have signed on.  Now it’s the Senate’s turn.  If enacted, it will provide funding and technical support for communities to use something called “green infrastructure” techniques to manage their stormwater pollution.

Every time it rains, water carries trash and pollutants from hard surfaces (like roads, parking lots, and roofs) into our waterways.  Green infrastructure prevents that from happening by using techniques like green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavement to stop rain where it falls: storing it, allowing it to filter into the ground, or using it as water for thirsty plants.  That way, rainfall is prevented from turning into harmful polluted runoff.

When that kind of runoff isn’t controlled, it creates a lot of problems for our lakes, rivers and bays.  It’s one of the main sources of pollution for America’s waterways, and one of the only sources that’s still growing. 

Nationwide, our water and sewer systems -- made of concrete, pipes and tanks -- are failing as their age increases and our population grows.  Those systems can no longer adequately deal with wastewater and runoff.  But green infrastructure, which prevents stormwater from entering sewer pipes in the first place, is the most cost-effective way to address the problem.  The bill introduced last week recognizes that.

In addition to cleaning up waterways, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act will also help to increase property values, foster job growth, improve air quality, promote health and fitness, and improve the overall quality of life in cities nationwide -- all added benefits of green infrastructure.  After all, who doesn’t want to see more plants and enjoy more green space in their town?

Green infrastructure techniques also happen to be a great way to both naturally boost water supplies for dry times and reduce flooding on wetter days.  Because it gets water to soak into the ground instead of being lost as runoff, green infrastructure can help recharge groundwater supplies in places that are dealing with droughts and shortages.  And because it uses vegetation to decrease runoff volume and slow the water down, green infrastructure can also reduce flooding.

Because green infrastructure is effective in all climates, it makes sense that the two Senate sponsors of the bill come from a dry state (New Mexico) and a wetter one (Rhode Island). Here's what the two sponsors had to say about the bill in a press release from earlier today:

“Water quality is an issue facing states across the country, but in particular those of the arid southwest like my home state of New Mexico, where water is always in limited supply,” Udall said. “By promoting greener design of stormwater infrastructure, we can create jobs, save on construction costs, and help recharge our aquifers, all while reducing pollution and flooding of our scenic rivers.”

“In the wake of the March floods, it’s become clear that we need improved techniques to handle storm water runoff,” Whitehouse said. “This legislation will help improve green infrastructure, create good jobs and help control future floods.”

Let’s hope that the Senate moves quickly to pass the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act.  There’s a lot to love about a bill that will not only help to curb water pollution but also make communities more livable, make water supplies more sustainable, and protect against floods when it storms.