Infrastructure is Going Green in Communities Across America

When I released the Water Technology Innovation Blueprint last spring, it framed the top ten opportunities to help solve current water resource issues. Green infrastructure is one of my favorites in the top ten, and it is rapidly expanding across the country. Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems. Green infrastructure tools and techniques include green roofs, permeable materials, alternative designs for streets and buildings, trees, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems.

Green infrastructure is also a critical tool for addressing climate change and mitigating its impacts by making communities more resilient. Green infrastructure can increase the capacity of sewer systems by reducing the flow into them, making the systems more resilient.

This fall I attended the first national Community Summit on Green Infrastructure, co-hosted by the Syracuse Environmental Finance Center and EPA in partnership with Onondaga County, NY  and the City of Syracuse. The summit provided an opportunity for communities across the country to share experiences and innovation in green infrastructure, while also strengthening the EPA Green Infrastructure Community Partnerships.  The pioneering cities who attended this community summit are ahead of the curve, paving the way for more natural stormwater controls through the use of green infrastructure.

Green roof on top of Syracuse University’s LEED Platinum certified Gateway Center. Photo Credit: Caitlin Eger, Syracuse Environmental Finance Center

EPA also released its new 2013 Green Infrastructure Strategic Agenda during the summit, which was held at the new LEED Platinum Gateway Center on the campus of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).  At the Gateway Center I toured one of the first green roofs in the country to use plant species that are native to the area.

Some attendees of the summit participated in a green infrastructure tour of projects installed in Syracuse, which included visiting a ground-breaking  hockey rink at the War Memorial Arena.  Syracuse Crunch fans have the first hockey rink in the country made of captured rainwater.  The water harvesting system at the arena captures an estimated 400,000 gallons of rainwater and snow melt per year.  In the basement is a 15,000 gallon cistern system that captures, filters, and uses the rainwater for the hockey rink and other purposes.

The need for improvements to the nation’s water and sewer infrastructure is staggering, estimated to cost over $650 billion dollars over the next 20 years. Increased emphasis should be placed on green infrastructure for stormwater management and decentralized approaches that can reduce pumping and treatment costs, as well as provide other local environmental and economic benefits. EPA has released a new report analyzing the economic benefits of green infrastructure in 13 locations to help utilities, states, municipalities, and other stormwater professionals understand the potential financial benefits in their communities.

The many benefits of green infrastructure are why EPA recently provided $400,000 to help six communities expand their use of green infrastructure to reduce water pollution and boost resilience to the impacts of climate change. In the last two years, EPA has provided $1.35 million to more than 20 communities for green infrastructure projects. The conference in Syracuse reaffirmed my belief that countless communities across the country are also driving this change in how we handle water.

Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

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