Smart Communities Shifting From Gray to Green to Tackle Runoff

Washington, DC (January 22, 2013) – According to NRDC, an estimated 10 trillion gallons each year of untreated stormwater runs off roofs, roads, parking lots, and other paved surfaces.  It moves through sewage systems and into rivers and waterways reaching water supplies and beaches impacting health, the economy, and ecosystems. To respond to this pollution, pioneering communities are slowly replacing gray infrastructure with one that is green, including strategically placed street trees, green roofs, rain gardens, and more. To help them do this are a range of federal and municipal partnering initiatives.
Green infrastructure photoGreen infrastructure attempts to work more like nature, creating a natural, porous cycle for rain water. It helps mitigate runoff by capturing rainwater and either storing it for use or letting it filter back into the ground, replenishing vegetation and groundwater supplies. Examples of green infrastructure include green roofs, street trees, increased green space, rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable pavement.
Trees and green spaces also beautify the community, cool and clean the air, reduce asthma, and lower energy costs. These kinds of green infrastructure also assist in cleaning up a variety of pollutants gathered as the water runs off sidewalks and roadways.
According to Annie Donovan, Senior Policy Advisor for New Financial Instruments at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, one innovative solution is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, organized in June 2009. To date, the Partnership has invested nearly $4 billion in over 700 communities for projects that integrate affordable housing, transportation, clean water and environmental protection.  Green infrastructure is emerging in some cases as the centerpiece of redevelopment strategies.
The Urban Waters Program is another collaborative approach involving thirteen federal agencies.  Urban Watersrecognizes that revitalizing waterways transforms overlooked assets into treasured centerpieces that help drive urban revival.  It also aligns with President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which calls on agencies to support innovative community efforts to provide safe, healthy and accessible outdoor spaces.
green infrastructure photo 3And in 2011, the city of Philadelphia created the Green City, Clean Waters program, a 25-year, $2.5 billion plan to protect and enhance the cities watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure.  The city estimates that the use of green infrastructure in lieu of traditional approaches will save $8 billion over the life of the program.  Read more from Annie Donovan.
In addition to Philadelphia, several cities around the country, including New York, Washington, Portland, and Seattle, are building innovative stormwater runoff solutions that rely less on the aging gray infrastructure, including huge, piped systems and sewage treatment plants, and more on new green infrastructure techniques to collect and treat stormwater at the street level. Read more from Yale 360 on what these cities are doing and the price tag.