Some 800 communities around the country are obligated under the Clean Water Act to reduce stormwater pollution and sewage overflows, which can occur after heavy rains. Addressing this problem with traditional water infrastructure is expensive. As a result, many cities are looking to green infrastructure—such as green roofs, porous pavement, and street plantings, which all absorb rainwater where it falls—as a cost-effective way to control pollution and flooding, as well as gain other benefits such as improved air quality.
But financing these projects can be challenging because public funding is often tied to conventional water management and don't account for the non-water benefits that green infrastructure provides to a community. NRDC's policy and finance experts are collaborating with cities to find ways to spur private investment in green infrastructure. We helped the Philadelphia Water Department, for example, launch a competitive grant program to encourage the development of green infrastructure on private property. Through this innovative program, commercial landowners can get the water department to pay for green-infrastructure upgrades and reduce their stormwater fees. In just three months, Philadelphia effectively transformed 92 acres at a fraction of the cost of retrofitting public spaces like streets and sidewalks.
We are encouraging other cities to adopt similarly structured grant programs. Using a competitive award process encourages more green projects and allows contractors to seek out the most cost-effective opportunities.
We analyze and publicize the added value that green infrastructure can bring to commercial property owners, helping motivate the private sector to make changes more quickly. NRDC is also urging policy reform at the state level. Our experts have pinpointed several strategies that allow states to access federal funds for green-infrastructure development, ensuring communities are better prepared to handle stormwater pollution and the impacts of a warming climate.