As more communities across the United States seek creative and innovative solutions for managing storm water, there is growing recognition among various stakeholders, including ASCE, that “green” infrastructure not only is cost effective but also offers environmental, economic, recreational, and public health benefits. However, many of these communities face regulatory and financial barriers in implementing green infrastructure.
On September 20 the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a joint conference entitled “Municipal Storm-Water Infrastructure: Going Gray to Green” to examine the growing role of green infrastructure in managing urban storm-water runoff. The invitation-only event included 100 key stakeholders from utilities, educational institutions, and engineering and environmental firms, along with representatives from federal, state, and local government; its purpose was to call attention to barriers and examine ways of giving greater scope to green infrastructure practices. Several of the attendees were ASCE members.
ASCE’s president-elect, Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., D.WRE, F.ASCE, the chief executive officer of the Tualatin Valley Water District, a publicly owned utility serving nearly 200,000 customers in Washington County, Oregon, was invited to participate and provide ASCE’s perspective.
“The conference was a great opportunity for a diverse group of people in the same industry to come together and do some critical thinking on this topic,” says DiLoreto of the conference, which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “It was good that both the White House and EPA saw this as [offering] value and called us together. We had the opportunity to raise the visibility of green infrastructure because a lot of cities around the U.S. are doing that, but not everyone is. This was a good conference with some frank discussions, and I was thankful that [the CEQ and the EPA], which organized this conference, recognize the role that ASCE plays in green infrastructure and infrastructure in general. When I was introduced and said I was with ASCE, [the organizers] said, ‘Great, I am glad that ASCE came and will participate.’”
Among the issues that DiLoreto and other participants were asked to consider were the range of benefits offered by green infrastructure practices; the barriers that are encountered in implementing these practices; opportunities for financing and valuing green infrastructure; and practical steps that government at all levels, together with communities and other interested groups, can take to harness the potential of green infrastructure for better managing urban storm water.
Following an introduction by Nancy Sutley, the CEQ’s chair and the principal environmental policy adviser to President Obama, there were roundtable discussions by a panel of experts. The discussions were facilitated by Jeff Eger, the executive director of the Water Environment Federation, and Kevin Shafer, the executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and the chair of the U.S. Water Alliance’s Urban Water Sustainability Council. The attendees then broke up into small groups to discuss the most effective ways of implementing green infrastructure.
“We worked in groups of eight and were asked to brainstorm a number of questions: what are the barriers to implementing green infrastructure, what are the benefits of implementing green infrastructure, what can we do, and what are the implementation steps?” says DiLoreto. “Our group focused on the barriers, and one of the things that we recommended was getting buy-in from our customers, and among some of the solutions we came up with was finding a champion in the community that supports green infrastructure to work with elected officials. We also talked about financing, which is always an issue in terms of implementing anything and the role of the federal government.”
Prior to the conference, each of the attendees was asked to answer a series of questions, and the answers were discussed at the meeting. The questions were as follows:
- What are the most significant barriers to the use of green infrastructure?
- What steps should the federal government take to promote green infrastructure?
- Which practices are most effective in implementing green infrastructure?
- What funding strategies would you recommend?
ASCE contributed to the discussion by suggesting that green infrastructure is hindered by the limited experience of contractors in this area, inconsistent local codes, a lack of consistent performance standards, and concerns regarding long-term maintenance costs. In considering what the federal government could do, ASCE recommended that it should lead by example; adapt exiting storm-water permits to encourage green infrastructure; create incentive programs, rating systems, and contractor accreditation systems; expand research into the effectiveness and cost of green infrastructure; and organize public education and outreach efforts. ASCE believes that green infrastructure can best be implemented by engaging the community, focusing on simple and low-cost practices, choosing prominent, highly visible locations for projects, and carefully responding to community objections and environmental concerns. With regard to funding, ASCE recommended that water utilities help fund the installation and maintenance of green infrastructure, that incentives and credits be offered to promote green technologies, and that wider scope be given to such federal funding mechanisms as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
Over the next few months, the CEQ and the EPA will be sharing the recommendations from the conference with the attendees and their organizations. They will then start drafting a report on the conference that will outline measures that could be implemented to integrate green infrastructure into communities around the country.
“The intent of both the EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality,” says DiLoreto, “is to take what we have done at this conference and try to synthesize it into a white paper which will provide a national vision for green storm-water infrastructure in the U.S. Being invited and participating in this conference was a great opportunity for ASCE and a great experience for me personally. Certainly ASCE and our EWRI [Environmental and Water Resources Institute] have a role to play in looking at what [green infrastructure] products can be designed and implemented and what technologies can be developed that the utility companies can use. We have experts who could help identify and look at existing federal regulations and [could] play a big part in green infrastructure research.”
For additional information about the joint CEQ and EPA conference, click here.