New Green Infrastructure Means Clean Water with Added Benefits

When I first started learning about a practice called “green infrastructure” during my first weeks at NRDC, I found that a certain word kept popping up to describe it: multi-beneficial.  I was amazed by the range of positive effects provided by this stormwater runoff management method beyond, well, the effective management of stormwater.

As I’ve blogged about before, using green infrastructure techniques – such as green roofs, rain gardens, and porous pavement – decreases stormwater runoff and water pollution by capturing rain where it falls. This practice helps clean up our waterways and our beaches, reducing the disease-causing pathogens that get dumped into the water and making it safer to swim.

Remarkably, these techniques also do all sorts of other neat things at the same time: they create green spaces and opportunities for urban recreation, prevent people from dying of heat-related illnesses, save heating and cooling energy costs, generate green landscaping and construction jobs, cleanse pollutants from city air, reduce levels of urban crime and violence… The list goes on and on.  On the other hand, the traditional stormwater management strategy of building gutters and underground pipes provides almost none of these side benefits.

For everybody who’s a fan of multi-beneficial green infrastructure, yesterday was an exciting day.  Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), and Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Oh.) just introduced a bill that will help spread the use of green infrastructure in communities across America.  This bill does three things to promote green infrastructure approaches:

  1. It establishes “Centers of Excellence” for green infrastructure: a small group of research institutions across the country that will get federal support for their research into innovative green infrastructure tactics.  These centers will serve the very important function of coordinating information, so that any community that wants to implement green infrastructure can have the data it needs to get started.
  2. The bill also establishes a green infrastructure program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  It’s crucial that EPA start to incorporate green infrastructure into all of its permitting and enforcement programs so that regulated entities have incentives to take the leap to these new and sometimes unfamiliar techniques.
  3. Last but not least, the bill creates a grant program that will give communities around the nation – especially low-income communities and ones with raw sewage-discharging combined sewer systems – the resources they need to undertake their own green infrastructure projects.  These projects will make the grant recipient counties, cities, and towns into better places to live for all their residents.

The sponsors of the bill gave it the title “Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009.”  But they could just as accurately have named it the “Green Infrastructure for Clean Water, Clean Air, Flood Prevention, Abundant Water Supplies, Green Jobs, Cost Savings, Better Health and Reduced Crime Act of 2009.”  Green infrastructure has all of those positive effects (and more), and it should get credit for being the amazing multi-beneficial approach that it is.