Many cities rely on gray infrastructure to control stormwater runoff, meaning they construct a layout of pipes and sewers that lead stormwater off the streets and into waterways. While this is an effective method for flood control and property protection, stormwater runoff carries pollutants, waste, trash, and bacteria into water systems (EPA, 2022). This unfortunate consequence can be avoided by implementing green stormwater infrastructure, or GSI. GSI is a system that installs permeable pavement, or soil and vegetation, to absorb or harvest stormwater and reduce the amount entering waterways (EPA, 2022). According to Janet Clements, President of One Water Econ, some examples of green stormwater infrastructure include rain gardens, bioretention facilities, green roofs, tree planting, permeable pavement, rainwater harvesting, constructed wetlands, wet ponds, or installing biofiltration or grasses. Images and descriptions of these GSI best management practices can be found here.
Green stormwater infrastructure is proven to have social, financial, and environmental benefits, which is why it is becoming more prevalent in communities. Janet Clements lists just a few of these benefits. Socially, GSI lowers urban heat stress and flood risk, increases property value, improves recreation, and generates green jobs. Financially, it avoids infrastructure costs, extends asset life, and boosts utility energy savings. Environmentally, GSI improves air and water quality, reinforces natural habitats, and reduces carbon in the atmosphere. It can also inhibit trash and pollutants from invading waterways.
The NOAA Climate Program Office hosted a webinar entitled "Showcasing Leading Practices in Climate Adaptation" where Robyn DeYoung, the US EPA Lead of Green Infrastructure Program; Pinar Balci, the Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Planning and Analysis at NYC Department of Environmental Protection; and Janet Clements, the President of One Water Econ, spoke about the need for green stormwater infrastructure and how they are actively putting it into practice in their communities. DeYoung explained how climate change has resulted in increased precipitation and stormwater runoff, which severely affects underserved communities where government agencies are not investing in GSI. In order to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change and storm patterns, we must encourage education and job generation surrounding GSI. Balci then reported that by the year 2050, there will be a 7% increase in precipitation, leading to increased runoff and potential water damage. Because of this, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection is starting to develop GSI at public facilities such as schools, parks, and housing tracts to lessen sewer overflow.
Seaside Sustainability is passionate about protecting and restoring oceans, and lowering the amount of waste entering waterways is a major step in the right direction. Cities on the east coast are already taking action, and hopefully these efforts will continue to spread throughout the country. DeYoung, Balci, and Clements are just a few of many that are working to educate about the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure, and with plans underway to install GSI in underserved communities, it is likely that an increase in education and action will encourage cities nationwide to take on more sustainable practices. If you are interested in implementing green stormwater infrastructure within your community, the EPA provides design tips and tools to help get you started.
EPA. (2021). Green Infrastructure Design and Implementation. EPA. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/green-infrastructure-design-and-implementation.
EPA. (2022). What is Green Infrastructure? EPA. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/what-green-infrastructure.
NOAA Climate Program Office. (2022). Showcasing leading practices in climate adaptation: Experiences from the water sector to empower other sectors and communities an eight-part webinar series hosted by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Adaptation Sciences Program (adsci), Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA), the Water Research Foundation (WRF), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: November 2021 - February 2022. Climate Program Office. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://cpo.noaa.gov/Divisions-Programs/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/Water-Resources/Showcasing-Leading-Practices-in-Climate-Adaptation-Experiences-from-the-Water-Sector-to-Empower-Other-Sectors-and-Communities?udt_8550_param_detail=7713#session-detail.