by Aqsa Butt, Associate ASLA, SITES® AP
Aqsa Butt, Associate ASLA, SITES® AP, is pursuing her Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. This blog post was inspired by her literature review for her Foundations of Public Policy and Planning class, where she reviewed articles and publications that address the topic of stormwater runoff and sustainable solutions. The purpose of the literature review was to address current gaps and limitations in knowledge and practice of sustainable strategies around stormwater management.
With the growing population density in the U.S., our nation’s waters are experiencing significant problems due to heavy reliance on grey infrastructure. The issue persists due to increased population growth and climate change. Federal regulations, such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), have relied on cities to manage their aging grey infrastructure without any control over private parcels that generate significant source of pollution by overland runoff, also known as non-point source pollution. The recent enactment of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act is a significant step forward in influencing cities to implement green infrastructure (GI), but is that the only limitation in implementing this sustainable practice?
Resource and cognitive barriers such as lack of funding, lack of awareness and knowledge, as well as fear of new strategies create reluctance in adopting GI strategy. Though there are many cost and ecological benefits associated with GI strategies, they are undervalued due to limitations of use and absence in market value. Fear, attitudes, and perceptions also create reluctance in adopting new sustainable practices.
What are some strategies that can help influence cities to use GI strategy in managing stormwater?
A Community Participatory Process
Implementing a community participatory process will elicit stormwater objectives, meet regulatory requirements, and provide amenities valued by the community.
Public engagement can enhance the knowledge of GI through awareness, developing more social acceptance for new strategies. Over the last decade, the emergence of ecosystem services (ES) (additional services such as cultural preferences, health, and recreation, etc.) has offered an opportunity to improve green infrastructure design. These services produce an array of benefits encompassing one of the objectives of CWA, restoring and maintaining the physical integrity of the Nation’s water.
In “Ecosystem Services and US Stormwater Planning: An Approach for Improving Urban Stormwater Decisions,” an adapted ecosystem service-based conceptual framework is used to evaluate connections between stormwater planning and ecosystem services. The framework takes inputs (e.g. pollutants, pathogens), translates them into ecological functions (e.g denitrification) and the ecological functions into services and benefits (e.g. lower nitrate levels). These services are a result of community participatory process and elicit stormwater objectives that along with meeting regulatory requirements, provide factors valued by the community (e.g site amenities, improved habitat, and educational features) to natural networks, while ES provide functions that benefit both humans and nature. Together they provide interdisciplinary knowledge to resolve environmental challenges and enhance quality of life.
Potential market-based solutions can encourage GI and ES approach, allowing less reluctance in adapting sustainability practices.
Potential market-based solutions can also encourage these sustainability practices, including incentives for parcel owners. In U.S cities such as New York, NY; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; and Seattle, WA owners are paid for providing ecosystem services such as flood mitigation and carbon storage.
Other development incentives, such as one in Chicago, include expedited permitting for projects meeting standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria. LEED is a rating system established by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) that recognizes the importance of sustainable practices in stormwater management including categories that focuses on prevention of erosion and sediment control, habitat and wetland conservation, and minimizing site disturbance.
Federal stormwater regulations such as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) that require discharge of pollutants from point sources create barriers for GI implementation. Resource and cognitive barriers such as lack of funding, lack of awareness and knowledge, as well as fear of new strategies create further reluctance in adopting GI. These suggested strategies can be worked into the NPDES permit to create awareness and provide interdisciplinary knowledge to resolve environmental challenges and enhance quality of life.
Carli D. Flynn and Cliff I. Davidson, “Adapting the Social-Ecological System Framework for Urban Stormwater Management: The Case of Green Infrastructure Adoption,” Ecology and Society 21, no. 4 (2016).
Edward A. Cook, “Green Site Design: Strategies for Storm Water Management,” Journal of Green Building 2, no. 4 (FAL 2007): 46-56.
Francisco J. Escobedo et al., “Urban Forests, Ecosystem Services, Green Infrastructure and Nature-Based Solutions: Nexus or Evolving Metaphors?,” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, March 2, 2018.
“Hydrologic Performance of Bioretention Storm-Water Control Measures,” Journal of Hydrologic Engineering | Vol 17, No 5, accessed November 10, 2018.
“Introduction to the Clean Water Act | Watershed Academy Web | US EPA,” accessed November 7, 2018.
Krishna P. Dhakal and Lizette R. Chevalier, “Managing Urban Stormwater for Urban Sustainability: Barriers and Policy Solutions for Green Infrastructure Application,” Journal of Environmental Management 203 (December 1, 2017): 171–81,
“National Water Quality Inventory: Report to Congress,” n.d., 22.
Robert D. Berghage et al., “Green Roofs for Stormwater Runoff Control,” February 2009, 81.
Timothy T. Eaton, “Approach and Case-Study of Green Infrastructure Screening Analysis for Urban Stormwater Control,” Journal of Environmental Management 209 (March 1, 2018): 495-504.
Todd K. BenDor et al., “Ecosystem Services and US Stormwater Planning: An Approach for Improving Urban Stormwater Decisions,” Environmental Science & Policy 88 (October 2018): 92-103.
William F. Hunt, Allen P. Davis, and Robert G. Traver, “Meeting Hydrologic and Water Quality Goals through Targeted Bioretention Design,” Journal of Environmental Engineering 138, no. 6 (June 2012): 698-707.
Aqsa Butt, Associate ASLA, SITES® AP, is pursuing her Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University and currently serves as Chair of ASLA’s Public Practice Advisory Committee.