Greening America’s Capitals: Protecting Water, Boosting Resiliency, Strengthening Economies

Protecting water quality from polluted runoff is just one of the challenges many towns and cities face. Since 2010, our Greening America’s Capitals Program has helped 18 state capitals and the District of Columbia create sustainable community designs that incorporate green infrastructure. These projects can help clean the air and water, increase resilience, stimulate economic development and assist economically distressed neighborhoods, and make existing neighborhoods more vibrant places to live and work.

Today, we announced five new recipients of this technical assistance: Austin, TX; Carson City, NV; Columbus, OH; Pierre, SD; and Richmond, VA. Along with benefiting these communities, the projects are intended to serve as models for other communities that are trying to grow in sustainable ways.

A 2008 EPA study put the national cost of water infrastructure for managing combined sewer overflows and stormwater at more than $105 billion. As communities make choices about infrastructure investments in the face of growth and shifting climate patterns, green infrastructure offers a beneficial and cost-effective alternative. Green infrastructure can complement gray infrastructure by reducing and treating stormwater at its source while delivering a variety of environmental, social, and economic benefits.

In the coming year, we will work with landscape architects and planners to provide design assistance to help each city move forward with its plans to revitalize a particular community. Three of the cities will also focus part of that assistance on flood resilience:

  • Austin will receive assistance to create design options to improve pedestrian and bike connections in the South Central Waterfront, a 97-acre area that runs along the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake. The project will incorporate green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff into the lake and improve water quality, reduce the risk of localized flooding, increase shade, and create a more attractive waterfront area.
  • Carson City will receive assistance to improve William Street, a former state highway that connects to the city’s downtown. The project will help the city explore how to incorporate green infrastructure through the use of native plants and also how to enhance the neighborhood’s economic vitality.
  • Columbus will receive assistance to develop design options that use green infrastructure to improve stormwater quality, reduce flooding risks, and encourage walking and cycling in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood. The city seeks to ensure that new investments will be made in an environmentally friendly manner that minimizes climate impacts while ensuring that revitalization is economically sustainable.
  • Pierre will receive assistance to redesign its historic main street, South Pierre, using green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff and improve resilience to extreme climate conditions. Pierre is focused on disaster resilience after experiencing the effects of flood waters from the Missouri River that inundated 250 acres of green space in May 2011 and did not abate for four months.
  • Richmond will receive assistance to design options for more parks and open spaces. They will incorporate green infrastructure to better manage stormwater runoff on Jefferson Avenue, the street which serves as the gateway to some of Richmond’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods.

The support from Greening America’s Capitals has helped previous recipients secure additional investment for planning or implementation. For example:

  • Lincoln, Nebraska, a 2011 recipient, has invested $950,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a project that will revitalize the South Capitol neighborhood by making their sidewalks wider and adding green infrastructure elements to help collect runoff.
  • Phoenix, Arizona invested $575,000 of their own funds to add dedicated bike lanes and crosswalk enhancements to Lower Grand Avenue. Local businesses have reported that pedestrian and bike traffic has doubled since the improvements, and seven new business have opened along the street.
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a 2012 recipient, invested $250,000 from the city’s Downtown Development District to begin design on the Downtown Greenway and an additional $100,000 for construction on the first section of the Greenway trail. When complete, the 2.75-mile pedestrian and bicycling corridor will connect neighborhoods to parks, businesses, and cultural attractions.

We do this work in partnership with local citizens and businesses; state and local government staff, and with DOT and HUD through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. By working together, we’re able to develop designs that help communities meet their goals to become more resilient in the face of a changing climate, strengthen their economies, and provide more housing and transportation options – all while helping to protect our environment.

Learn more about our Greening America’s Capitals program at

View design options for several Greening America’s Capital cities on Flickr at

Joel Beauvais is the Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy.


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