Emerald Cities: Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more

By Christina Blackston

The Natural Resource Defense Ccouncil’s new report, Rooftops to Rivers II, identifies six actions that cities should take to maximize green infrastructure investment and become what they are calling “Emerald Cities.”

The steps are:

  • Develop a long-term green infrastructure plan to lay out the city’s vision, as well as prioritize infrastructure investment.
  • Develop and enforce a strong retention standard for stormwater to minimize the impact from development and protect water resources.
  • Require the use of green infrastructure to reduce, or otherwise manage runoff from, some portion of impervious surfaces as a complement to comprehensive planning.
  • Provide incentives for residential and commercial property owners to install green infrastructure, spurring private owners to take action.
  • Provide guidance or other affirmative assistance to accomplish green infrastructure through demonstration projects, workshops and “how-to” materials and guides.
  • Ensure a long-term, dedicated funding source is available to support green infrastructure investment.

Stormwater management is made difficult because it must take into account population growth, a changing landscape, aging infrastructure and climate change. Overall, though, the most effective way to avoid runoff related pollution and overburdening water infrastructure is to reduce the volume of stormwater flowing to storm drains. Green infrastructure helps to restore more natural conditions to the urban landscape allowing increased water retention and filtration.

Chicago earned three out of a possible six points when its green infrastructure actions were analyzed. Chicago has a stormwater retention standard, incentive for private-party actions, and guidance or other affirmative assistance to accomplish green infrastructure within the city. The report highlights Chicago’s successes in green roofs, green alleys, and increased tree canopy.  It highlights the success of measures such as green permits and the rebates for rain barrels, native plants, etc. offered by the Sustainable Backyards Program. But, without a dedicated source of funding for stormwater management, green infrastructure is spread across multiple departments. Without a long-term green infrastructure plan, a dedicated funding source for green infrastructure, or a requirement to use green infrastructure to reduce some portion of existing impervious sources, Chicago could benefit from a comprehensive green infrastructure plan with a guarantee of funding in order to make new projects as well as retrofits more guided and feasible.

Aurora, Ill., has crafted a long-term green infrastructure plan and secured a dedicated funding source for green infrastructure. The city created a Naturalized Stormwater Management Corridor Plan to dictate the role of green infrastructure as it transitions from a combined sewer system to a separated system. Aurora levies a $6.90 bimonthly charge to residential and business water and sewer accounts in order to raise money for the Stormwater Management Fee Fund. The city has also attained loans from the Illinois EPA and been awarded grants under the Clean Water Act.

At a national level, the report calls on the EPA to reform the Clean Water Act so that it adopts standards for the allowable amount of runoff volume from new and redeveloped sites, creating an incentive to use green infrastructure. Additionally, the report calls on the EPA to require retrofits in already developed areas. Unfortunately, Congress has already cut funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), and will likely cut $1 billion from  the CWSRF and the Safe Drinking Water Revolving Fund for the next fiscal year. The “Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2011” was recently introduced in Congress, and would guarantee $13.8 billion over 5 years for wastewater infrastructure through the State Revolving Fund. The bill also envisions the creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund, providing up to $10 billion per year for green infrastructure and other projects that improve water efficiency. In the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act Congress aims to expand the knowledge of green infrastructure by establishing education centers and giving technical assistance to local governments, as well as giving grants to state and local governments to develop green infrastructure projects.


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One Response to Emerald Cities: Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more

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