Green Infrastructure Toolkit

Broadly called “green infrastructure,” this new set of strategies seeks to manage stormwater, reduce urban heat island effects, improve air quality, and promote economic development and other sustainability goals. Green infrastructure provides an attractive alternative to traditional concrete (or “gray”) infrastructure by making paved and hard surfaces vegetated or permeable. Permeable pavements and green roofs both capture rainfall and retain it on site, keeping it out of the stormwater system. Green infrastructure also provides wildlife habitat and greenhouse gas reduction benefits. While vanguard communities are innovating, most others are struggling to know where to begin. And while the professional design community has explored a new generation of best design practices, municipal policy frameworks have not incorporated these practices appropriately. In addition, limited resources are available to help jurisdictions develop technical expertise and share best practices. This Green Infrastructure Toolkit was developed in collaboration with leading cities to help them identify and deploy green infrastructure approaches in their communities.

This toolkit is powered by the Georgetown Climate Center's Adaptation Clearinghouse.  For a full list of resources on green infrastructructure in the Adaptation Clearinghouse click here.

 

Introduction

Local governments across the country face serious challenges in managing urban stormwater (surface water runoff resulting from rainfall or snowmelt). Aging infrastructure, changes in precipitation patterns, watershed deforestation, and impervious surfaces such as roadways and parking lots cause urban flooding that pollutes waterways. Climate change will exacerbate these flood risks in many places due to more intense storms that could overwhelm existing infrastructure systems. If we fail to adapt these systems, severe repetitive flooding will increasingly affect community health, safety, and welfare, and the consequences of flooding often impose a disproportionate toll on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations and communities.

Innovative local communities and regions are beginning to implement a wide array of new “green infrastructure” measures, which retain and treat stormwater where it falls instead of relying on traditional, concrete-based systems largely underground. In order to ensure effective implementation, this toolkit identifies the best green infrastructure practices from cities across the country to guide those still designing their programs.

Conventional development and drainage techniques, also known as gray infrastructure, include man-made, constructed assets like roads and sewers.1  “Gray surface infrastructure” covers natural landscapes with impervious surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, tile, or compacted gravel that increase the rate and volume of stormwater runoff.  Stormwater runoff carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape to nearby waterways.  Gray stormwater infrastructure generally uses large tunnels or other underground conveyances to move or store stormwater to treatment facilities.2 

Green infrastructure, in contrast, includes techniques such as using permeable pavements and green roofs to both capture rainfall and retain it on site, keeping it out of the stormwater system.

These techniques also provide a multitude of benefits. Green infrastructure can:

  • reduce urban heat island effects through evaporation of infiltrated water and through shade provided by urban forests;3 
  • improve air quality through increases in vegetation to filter pollutants, as well as indirectly from lowering temperatures (smog forms more easily at higher temperatures);4 
  • absorb carbon, because vegetation uses carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis;5 
  • improve water quality by reducing runoff and filtering pollutants from the runoff that infiltrates or gets stored;6  and
  • provide urban recreational and open space.7 

Building green infrastructure is not without challenges, however. In past years stormwater managers have struggled to quantify the effectiveness of green infrastructure, especially as compared to gray infrastructure. Ongoing monitoring programs are detailed in the Getting Started chapter of this toolkit. Green infrastructure can require collaboration by multiple local agencies that do not always work closely, such as transportation, stormwater, and public health. Successful collaboration efforts are also detailed in the Getting Started chapter. Last but not least, green infrastructure requires different, ongoing maintenance than traditional stormwater infrastructure. Coordinating and paying for that ongoing maintenance can be difficult to plan and implement. The Scaling Up chapter and Funding chapter describes how local governments are beginning to solve the maintenance challenge.

While vanguard communities are innovating, many others are struggling to know where to begin. And while the professional design community has developed a new generation of best design practices, municipal policy frameworks (land-use regulations, street design, etc.) have not institutionalized these practices appropriately. In addition, limited resources are available to help jurisdictions develop technical expertise and share best practices. This toolkit therefore has a chapter dedicated to incorporating green infrastructure practices into jurisdiction-wide plans and processes, from comprehensive plans to zoning and building codes.

Green infrastructure also has to operate within legal and regulatory frameworks at the federal, state, and local level. The Clean Water Act, for example, requires the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address stormwater runoff8  in its effort to “restore the chemical, physical and biological integrity” of the waters of the nation.9   In doing so, EPA has created consent agreements with many municipal governments. These agreements legally require cities to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act’s requirements including controlling overflows from combined sewer systems. Local governments can incorporate green infrastructure practices in addition to gray infrastructure; cities from Louisville, KY to Chicago, IL, have incorporated green infrastructure into those formal agreements.10 

State and local legal authority questions also affect implementation of green infrastructure at the local level. For example, some local governments have funded green infrastructure by setting up a stormwater utility or charging stormwater fees.  However, to do so, local governments need specific authority delegated from their state legislatures authorizing the creation of a stormwater utility and the collection of those fees. The absence of the legal authority to establish a stormwater utility or to establish a stormwater fee can hinder a local government’s ability to implement and pay for green infrastructure.  Finally, constraints in some states on local authority over zoning or building codes can diminish a city’s ability to change policy to require or encourage green infrastructure. This toolkit addresses these legal constraints and requirements where appropriate throughout.

The next tab in this introductory chapter introduces different green infrastructure techniques and their various applications.

Tools

Green Infrastructure Strategies and Techniques

Green infrastructure techniques for managing stormwater come in a variety of types, and several techniques can often be combined in one project. All provide stormwater management and water quality benefits, but each provides a different variety of co-benefits (social or public health, for example) and different approaches are more appropriate based upon site-specific conditions. The following describes the range of green infrastructure interventions, how each works, the benefits each brings, and the type of sites where the technique can be deployed.

About This Toolkit

The purpose of this toolkit is to analyze common trends in the approaches various cities are taking to planning, implementing, and funding green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The toolkit is intended to aid local governments nationwide in comparing best practices across cities, drawing lessons from different approaches, and crafting similar policies for their own jurisdictions.

Green Infrastructure Strategies and Techniques

Green infrastructure techniques for managing stormwater come in a variety of forms, and several techniques can often be combined in one project. All provide stormwater management and water quality benefits, but each provides a different variety of co-benefits (social or public health, for example) and different approaches are more appropriate based upon site-specific conditions. The following describes the range of green infrastructure interventions, how each works, the benefits each brings, and the type of sites where the technique can be deployed.   

Green roofs: Traditional roofs absorb sunlight and radiate heat into the surrounding air.11  Vegetation on green roofs shades the roof and cools the air through evapotranspiration.12  In this way, vegetation can cause a green roof to be 100 °F cooler than a traditional black roof,13  and these cooler roofs transfer less heat to the ambient air. Green roofs do not have as great a cooling effect on air temperatures as ground-level vegetation does, but they have the advantage of not taking up additional land and of keeping building occupants cooler.14  In addition to managing stormwater, green roofs help decrease energy use, improve air quality, and reduce heat.15  Green roofs, however, are not without challenges: They require greater structural support than cool roofs and are expensive to install.

Permeable pavements: Permeable pavements have spaces for air and water to pass through; the spaces allow water to infiltrate into the ground, reducing runoff. Asphalt and concrete can both be made porous by omitting the smaller aggregates that are usual components.16  More specialized forms of porous pavements include interlocking concrete pavers, in which water drains through the gaps between precast blocks, and grass or gravel pavers, in which fill materials are laid on top of a plastic grid.17  Permeable pavements also have cooling properties due to evaporation and reduced heat storage.18  Permeable pavements are appropriate for sidewalks, parking lots, alleys, and streets; some concerns about whether permeable pavements are appropriate for cold climates or high-traffic areas are being monitored and evaluated now in cities like Chicago and Washington, DC, with positive results to date.19 

Bioretention and Bioswales: Bioswales are a type of stormwater retention that use an open-channel shape and vegetation to slow runoff and filter pollutants, reducing strain on stormwater infrastructure and improving water quality.20  Often integrated into streetscapes or used to convey stormwater away from critical infrastructure, bioswales can also reduce the need for gray stormwater systems to be installed by capturing and storing some of the stormwater.21   Bioswales can also reduce temperatures, increase habitat for urban wildlife, and improve air quality. As an added benefit, they are often aesthetically pleasing and potentially increase property values.

Green Streets, Alleys, and Parking Lots: Green streets, alleys, and parking lots can combine all of the above strategies (except perhaps green roofs) into a coherent package. By combining the strategies, green streets can provide multiple benefits, including runoff and pollutant reduction, air quality improvement, and urban heat island mitigation.22  Local governments primarily install green streets in the public right-of-way, but green alleys and parking lots can be installed on both public and private land. For all three, a critical element can be to minimize pavement in the first place.

Rain Gardens: Rain gardens are small gardens that are designed to survive extremes in precipitation, and help retain or reduce stormwater runoff through infiltration or storage.23  The gardens are often small and placed strategically in areas where stormwater currently overwhelms drainage capacity. They can be incorporated as part of general landscape design or as part of a larger streetscape (see Green Streets, Alleys, and Parking Lots, just below). In addition to managing stormwater and reducing nutrient pollution, rain gardens can also reduce temperatures, provide wildlife habitat, and improve aesthetics.24  Rain gardens can be installed in many different areas and do not need to take up much space.

Urban Forestry: Urban forestry is suitable for both public and private properties, including rights-of-way and near existing buildings and homes for shade. Urban trees provide air quality and heat reduction benefits, along with mental health and other social benefits.25  Urban forestry policies can include not only increasing existing canopy (many local governments are setting percentage targets) and planting new trees, but also ordinances to preserve existing mature trees, which provide greater benefits for stormwater and public health than young trees.26  Ongoing maintenance and care can be a concern for urban forestry, as well as balancing canopy goals with power utility concerns, particularly during extreme weather events.

 

About This Toolkit

The purpose of this toolkit is to analyze common trends in the approaches various cities are taking to planning, implementing, and funding green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The toolkit is intended to aid local governments nationwide in comparing best practices across cities, drawing lessons from different approaches, and crafting similar policies for their own jurisdictions.

The Georgetown Climate Center would like to thank the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation for making this work possible, and the other funders who support the Center's work. 

The Georgetown Climate Center benefitted from the expertise of an extensive network of experts and leading communities pursuing adaptation across the country to develop this toolkit of best practices for using green infrastructure to manage stormwater in the face of changes in precipitation due to climate change.  Our advisory group included expert representatives from Milwaukee, WI; Ann Arbor, MI; Detroit, MI; Cambridge, MA; Baltimore, MD; Delaware County, PA; Washington, DC, Santa Fe, NM; and Denver, CO; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Innovation Division and Office of Water; the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN); Smart Growth America (SGA); the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO); and the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. By aligning the development of this toolkit with these organizations, GCC was able to reach a broader national platform, provide desperately needed research capacity to these front-line networks of public officials, and connect this work to public health officials who provide an important constituency in advocating measures that improve water quality. We developed this toolkit in response to requests made by a number of communities through a Request for Proposals (RFP) GCC released in late 2013. Over a quarter of the applications we received from across the U.S. involved requests for assistance with stormwater, illustrating the needs jurisdictions face in trying to use green infrastructure to adapt.  GCC would like to thank representatives from those organizations and local governments listed above for their assistance in developing the content.

Getting Started: Pilot Projects

Introduction

Implementing a comprehensive city-wide green infrastructure policy can be a daunting and challenging process. Regulatory constraints, the need for technical guidance, and inadequate political support are just some of the many barriers that local governments may confront.27  Pilot or demonstration programs can be an effective way to test green infrastructure strategies without initially making a long-term or expensive commitment. Pilot programs are small-scale programs that can demonstrate the cost and performance of a given green infrastructure practice in a given place, which can result in increased confidence and support of further green infrastructure measures. Pilot projects can be installed on public lands through capital improvement projects.  Grant programs can also be established to provide funding to private parties to test approaches on private lands. 

 This chapter focuses on the role of pilots as both demonstration projects and as stepping-stones towards larger-scale implementation, and presents:

 various models for starting green infrastructure pilots,

  • tools to make those pilots most effective,
  • strategic approaches for choosing pilot sites, and
  • effective monitoring strategies to enable scaling pilots up into larger programs.

Image Credit: Dana Brown & Associates, Pontilly Stormwater HMGP

For each set of strategies, this toolkit presents real-life examples of local governments using the strategies effectively. For the models for starting pilots and for the approaches to using pilot sites, the toolkit compares the models and approaches along a set of criteria that supports a choice that best fits the local government’s needs, priorities, and circumstances (for example, an emphasis on retrofits versus new construction, or a desire to focus on streetscapes or roofs first given willing partners.

Tools

Models for Starting Pilots

This section presents pilot project models based on three types of green infrastructure practices (green streets/alleys, green roofs, and rain gardens) and applies various considerations to help local governments choose among them. Some green infrastructure practices, such as green streets, require significant public resources and planning and can only be carried out on the government level. Other practices, such as green roofs, can also be implemented through incentivizing private actors by means of grants or subsidies. This chapter also includes local government examples of each model. Local governments can compare these models along a set of considerations to enable decision making to meet each local government’s particular situation and priorities. These considerations include both the potential benefits that green infrastructure can achieve and the community or administrative considerations that local governments may want to take into account.

Implementing Pilots: Best Practices and Tools

Best practices and tools are emerging around the country to create green infrastructure pilot programs that yield the best outcomes. These best practices and tools relate to 1) communication strategies and engagement with both the public and with other governmental partners; 2) Creating local partnerships; and 3) conducting both cost-benefit analysis and tracking pilot project benefits for economic, environmental, and social criteria.  

Being Strategic: Tools to Choose Pilot Sites

To maximize the benefits of green infrastructure installations, decision makers must be strategic in choosing pilot site locations. By clearly defining the goals of a pilot program, local governments can decide which types of installations and which specific locations will best achieve these goals.[1] The most common goals that local governments tend to consider include reducing strain on the stormwater and wastewater management systems, reducing watershed pollution, reducing flooding, creating public education opportunities, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing other effects of climate change (increased urban heat island, excess runoff due to more severe, less predictable weather patterns). Some local governments take a more holistic approach to maximize both the impact of the investment and the public good.

Effective Monitoring of Pilot Sites

A critical component of a successful pilot program is to demonstrate the performance of the green infrastructure installations. Monitoring a project’s performance (across goals and benefits) allows decision makers to make informed decisions about how to adapt the design of future projects based upon the performance of existing projects. This section of the toolkit describes the types of monitoring that local governments can perform for pilot sites to quantify co-benefits beyond stormwater management, meet regulatory requirements, create accurate performance standards, and use monitoring program to help make the transition from a pilot stage to jurisdiction-wide green infrastructure programs.

Models for Starting Pilots

This section presents pilot project models based on three types of green infrastructure practices (green streets/alleys, green roofs, and rain gardens) and applies various considerations to help local governments choose among them. Some green infrastructure practices, such as green streets, require significant public resources and planning and can only be carried out on the government level. Other practices, such as green roofs, can also be implemented through incentivizing private actors by means of grants or subsidies.28  This chapter also includes local government examples of each model. Local governments can compare these models along a set of considerations to enable decision making to meet each local government’s particular situation and priorities. These considerations include both the potential benefits that green infrastructure can achieve and the community or administrative considerations that local governments may want to take into account.

Benefits

Green infrastructure provides many benefits in addition to managing stormwater. In contrast to gray infrastructure, which can take decades to build and therefore many years for any stormwater management benefits to accrue, green infrastructure can be constructed much more quickly and in more areas, and the benefits are available along that shorter timeline. Pilots can demonstrate those benefits quickly and increase support for green infrastructure as well.  The benefits can be categorized into economic, environmental, and social benefits:

Economic: Green infrastructure can provide public and private economic benefits including flooding losses avoided, cost savings, and increased property values.

Environmental:  Green infrastructure not only improves water quality by enhancing stormwater management capacity, it can also reduce urban heat islands, sequester greenhouse gases, and improve air quality.

Social:  Green infrastructure can enhance green and recreational space, create jobs, and improve public health.

Local governments, in choosing pilot models, may also want to consider some other administrative considerations including:

Public Engagement: Green infrastructure practices that are widely accessible to the public can help to foster a general awareness of green infrastructure as an innovative practice. Engagement with the community can be used to better tailor project designs to the needs of residents and decrease the chance of dissatisfaction with the project.29 

Public Education: Green infrastructure practices that provide opportunities to educate the public (due to location in the right of way or along pedestrian walkways, for example) can help foster an informed and supportive community.

Coordination: Some green infrastructure practices, such as green streets, require cooperation and coordination among multiple agencies more so than other practices like rain gardens. Collaboration is important to all stages of implementation: planning and design; development and construction; and operations, maintenance and monitoring.

The paragraphs below discuss the relevant benefits and considerations for each of the pilot models, including some examples of those models in practice.

Green Streets and Alleys

Green streets/alleys integrate green elements such as bioswales, bioretention curb extensions, and/or permeable pavement into transportation right-of-ways.30  These practices use vegetation and porous surfaces to capture, store, and infiltrate stormwater in order to reduce runoff from transportation infrastructure, filter out pollution, and mitigate the burden on existing gray infrastructure and treatment facilities.

  • Public education: Green streets are highly visible to the public, and therefore create effective opportunities for public education and outreach concerning green infrastructure and stormwater management issues more generally.
  • Coordination: Efficient inter-agency coordination is important for keeping green infrastructure construction costs as low as possible. When coordinated with broader public transportation improvements such as street improvement or redevelopment, green street practices can significantly reduce the cost of stormwater management by preventing the need for additional and costly gray infrastructure.31  Because multiple departments may be needed in order to carry out the development or redevelopment of roadways, successful green streets/alleys will require effective interagency collaboration and coordination. For example, Chicago’s Green Alley Program involved city agencies controlling stormwater management, street design, street-lights, maintenance, and budgeting.32 

Green Roofs

Green roofs are vegetated systems built on rooftops that capture and filter rain, reducing the amount of stormwater that flows from roofs to the sewer system. Pilot projects focusing on green roofs have been particularly effective in cities such as Washington, D.C., where rooftops constitute a high percentage of the total impervious surface area. In addition to their stormwater management function, green roofs provide many other private and public benefits such as reduced energy costs, reduced noise pollution, improved air quality, and reduced urban heat islands.  Green roof programs can also be used to create green jobs, to provide green recreational space on rooftops, and to facilitate educational opportunities.33  Green roof pilots can focus on either private or public property: many communities provide incentives for private property owners to install green roofs, making them more cost-efficient to install than conventional roofs.34  Some communities also use green roofs as an opportunity for public education. Seattle published a map with a self-guided tour of over twenty publicly and privately owned green roofs that are open for public viewing.35 

Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are gardens that slow, filter, and absorb runoff from rooftops, sidewalks, and streets.36  Rain gardens are particularly effective programs to start with because of their relative simplicity, low cost, and wide application. Unlike green street programs that require significant government involvement, rain gardens can be built and maintained by private individuals on private property. Because they are easy to incorporate into a variety of landscaped areas, rain gardens offer local officials flexibility in how and where to install them, and at what scale.37  As with other types of green infrastructure, increased community involvement and knowledge of green infrastructure can lead to community support for more and larger-scale projects.

 

Related Resources

 
  Climate Change Vulnerability Analysis for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District (District) requested this vulnerability analysis report, which assesses how climate change will impact the District’s existing, as well as proposed, infrastructure and services. The analysis aims to provide the District with the information needed to make strategic planning decisions, such as capital investments. The report documents how climate change may increase flood events and combined sewer overflow volume during larger precipitation events, and increase risk of odor and corrosion within wastewater facilities as well as decreased flow in waterways during periods of warm weather and drought. The analysis also examines the susceptibility of woodpiles and wooden docks at the Jones Island water reclamation facility to degradation resulting from the lower water levels of Lake Michigan brought on by climate change.

  Green City, Clean Waters - City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Green City, Clean Waters is the Philadelphia Water Department's vision for protecting and enhancing local watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure, through its combined sewer overflow control program. The program is pioneering a broad multi-decade investment in green storm water management practices that reduces sewer overflows to the City’s waterways, and in turn enhances communities and the overall urban environment.

  Natural Resource Defense Council: Rooftops to Rivers II

From the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Rooftops to Rivers II describes the challenges of managing stormwater, and the benefits and economics of employing green infrastructure to do so. The report explains how population growth, changing landscapes, aging infrastructure, and climate change are placing increasing pressures on stormwater management. Highly detailed case studies are developed for 14 cities that are all leaders in employing green infrastructure solutions to address stormwater challenges. Local, state and national level policy recommendations are offered also.

  Seattle Public Utilities - Street Edge Alternatives

In 2001, Seattle Public Utilities completed construction of its Seattle Street Edge Alternatives (SEA Streets) project, in which a single residential block was retrofitted with vegetated swales and rain gardens. SEA Streets was a pilot demonstration project designed to return drainage and vegetation in the area to a natural systems approach - providing community and street level aesthetic benefits, as well as contributing to the management of rainfall with green alternatives to stormwater drainage. 

  Chicago Green Alley Handbook

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) authored the Green Alley Handbook to encourage the use of best management practices (BMPs) in and around Chicago alleyways and to address impacts to the city’s infrastructure likely to result from projected increases in precipitation and temperature. The handbook promotes sustainable alley design and adjacent landscaping practices to help reduce flooding and manage stormwater, reduce urban heat, promote recycling, and conserve energy.  

  Portland, Oregon Green Streets Program

Portland, Oregon’s Green Streets are streets that use vegetated facilities to manage stormwater runoff. Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Green Street Program is a sustainable stormwater strategy that meets regulatory compliance and resource protection goals by using a natural systems approach to manage stormwater, reduce flows, improve water quality and enhance watershed health.

  Portland, Oregon NE Siskiyou Green Street Project Report

In 2003, the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services installed two landscaped stormwater curb extensions designed to capture street stormwater runoff on Siskiyou Street in Portland, Oregon. Essentially disconnecting the street’s runoff from the City’s combined storm/sewer system, the Siskiyou curb extensions manage it on-site using a landscape alternative. The objective was to maximize the capture, treatment, and infiltration of street stormwater runoff, while enhancing the neighborhood and offering improved pedestrian safety.

  Washington D.C. Green Roof Program

In 2003, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation initiated a green roof demonstration project funded under the terms of a consent decree negotiated by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority. The money was used to issue grants for the installation of eight different pilot green roofs that would reduce the cost of each green roof cost to the building owner by up to 20 percent. The pilot roofs served as models that building owners could use for future green roof projects, by providing data on costs, construction methods, performance, and maintenance needs. 

  Kansas City 10,000 Rain Gardens Initiative

10,000 Rain Gardens is a public initiative in Kansas City, Missouri, to support the improvement of water quality with rain gardens and other green solutions. In 2005, Kansas City began the initiative to address its stormwater and overflow control issues. The goal of the program was to install 10,000 rain gardens, vegetated swales, and rain barrels in the greater metropolitan area. As a result of these efforts, by 2008, 303 rain gardens had been registered on the website, with both private individuals and businesses implementing their own rain gardens.

Implementing Pilots: Best Practices and Tools

Best practices and tools are emerging around the country to create green infrastructure pilot programs that yield the best outcomes. These best practices and tools relate to 1) communication strategies and engagement with both the public and with other governmental partners; 2) Creating local partnerships; and 3) conducting both cost-benefit analysis and tracking pilot project benefits for economic, environmental, and social criteria.

The following section identifies these best practices and tools, and provides examples of jurisdictions that have used them.

Communication and Engagement

Community involvement is vital to implementing successful pilots.38  Engagement with the community can be used to tailor projects to meet the needs of residents and decrease the chance of dissatisfaction with the project.39  Increased public awareness and satisfaction with green infrastructure projects can lead to increased support for further projects as well as as well as increasing the likelihood that private property owners will install their own green infrastructure, such as rain gardens. Collaborating with partner agencies can spread support for green infrastructure practices across the local government, and can help leverage potential funding streams and manpower for ongoing operations and maintenance. As the benefits of green infrastructure are available more quickly than the benefits for gray, effective communication strategies can relay that information to the public to build support.

Presentations and Workshops: Holding presentations and workshops enables staff to meet individual members of the community and better understand and meet community needs. For example, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection makes presentations to community boards and other civic and environmental organizations, in addition to elected officials and their staffs, about the city’s Green Infrastructure Program.40  Likewise, as part of its 10,000 Rain Gardens Program, Kansas City sponsored “how-to workshops” for private landscaping businesses and municipal employees that explained the initiative and rain gardens, and addressed water quality concerns.41  These workshops not only raised awareness but trained contractors and city employees in installation and maintenance techniques.42 

Media Campaigns: Kansas City engaged in an extensive media campaign involving interviews on television and the radio, as well as advertisements and articles in local newspapers.43  These media campaigns reached an estimated three million people in 2007.44  In 2013, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection created an educational video on the Green Infrastructure Program, which described some of the environmental challenges caused by combined sewer overflows as well as some green infrastructure solutions such as green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavers.45 

Websites: In 2013, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection launched a new website that provides information on the City’s Green Infrastructure Program, including the most common types of green infrastructure practices as well as a map of priority areas. Community members can use the site to see if their neighborhood will receive green infrastructure installations and to better understand the practices. Kansas City’s 10,000 Rain Gardens initiative created a website offering residents and other audiences a clearinghouse of information pertaining to the program and to stormwater management more generally, and was receiving over 100,000 visits per year even after the main media campaign had ended.46 

Written Materials: Written materials such as brochures and surveys can be effective means of engaging the public and partner agencies about stormwater management practices and the municipality’s use of green infrastructure. For example, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection developed a brochure that explains the siting and construction process for projects in the right-of-way, answers frequently asked questions, and describes the co-benefits of green infrastructure.47  Similarly, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) used parking surveys to better understand and meet the needs of the community for its Street Edge Alternatives Program. The surveys revealed community concerns about reductions in parking due to reductions in street width caused by the installation of green infrastructure projects.  SPU responded to this concern by installing occasional angled parking clustered along the street.48 

Inter-Agency PartnershipsCreating partnerships between agencies can help to implement green infrastructure practices both efficiently and effectively. By pooling the resources, expertise, and knowledge of different agencies, inter-agency partnerships can be crucial to successful pilot programs. These partnerships can exist to aid in any stage of the process, including planning, installation, maintenance, and monitoring. For example, in New York City, the Departments of Environmental Protection and Parks and Recreation have worked together to develop the Green Infrastructure Maintenance Program in order to allocate appropriate resources for the long-term maintenance of DEP’s green infrastructure projects.49 

Creating Local Partnerships

Utilizing the resources and expertise of local organizations in both the private and public sectors can increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of implementing pilot programs. Cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., use grant programs to strengthen their local partnerships, providing funds and other resources to private property owners to build green infrastructure projects. NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has used local partnerships to help with green infrastructure retrofit projects.50  As part of its Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, the DEP has worked with the not-for-profit Trust for Public Land, Department of Parks and Recreation, NYC Department of Education, and NYC School Construction Authority to renovate school playgrounds in an attempt to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-inute walk from a park.51 

Quantifying Costs and Benefits

Effective engagement with elected officials, partner agencies, and the public requires that proponents of green infrastructure be able to speak to the priorities and concerns of different agencies and interest groups. To do so effectively, proponents need to be able to provide accurate information about the costs of a proposed project and the expected benefits it can create. This information can come from monitoring data on the pilots that have already been constructed, or from available calculators for modeling projected costs and benefits. While specific monitoring techniques will be discussed later in the chapter, the following section provides a number of useful online tools that local governments can use to help calculate and project costs and benefits.

Green Values National Stormwater Management Calculator: developed by The Center for Neighborhood Technology, this online calculator can be used to compare the performance, costs, and benefits of green infrastructure to conventional stormwater practices, as well as to find the appropriate green infrastructure practice for a given location given that location’s site-specific conditions and constraints.

EPA National Stormwater Calculator: developed by the EPA, this desktop application can provide approximations of annual rainwater and runoff frequency from any location in the United States. This information will assist a local government’s determination as to what green infrastructure practices would be most effective and where. With the update of its Climate Adjustment Tool, local governments can now incorporate the effects of climate change into rainwater and runoff projections.

New York City Co-Benefits Calculator: Developed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Co-Benefit Calculator is a single comparative tool that calculates the environmental, social, and economic benefits associated with each type of green infrastructure practice, allowing users to compare the costs and benefits of each green infrastructure practice. The metrics that the calculator uses focus on urban heat island mitigation, increased property values, green jobs, and reduced treatment needs, among other things.

Related Resources

 
  Natural Resource Defense Council: Rooftops to Rivers II

From the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Rooftops to Rivers II describes the challenges of managing stormwater, and the benefits and economics of employing green infrastructure to do so. The report explains how population growth, changing landscapes, aging infrastructure, and climate change are placing increasing pressures on stormwater management. Highly detailed case studies are developed for 14 cities that are all leaders in employing green infrastructure solutions to address stormwater challenges. Local, state and national level policy recommendations are offered also.

  Portland, Oregon NE Siskiyou Green Street Project Report

In 2003, the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services installed two landscaped stormwater curb extensions designed to capture street stormwater runoff on Siskiyou Street in Portland, Oregon. Essentially disconnecting the street’s runoff from the City’s combined storm/sewer system, the Siskiyou curb extensions manage stormwater onsite using a landscape alternative. The objective was to maximize the capture, treatment, and infiltration of street stormwater runoff, while enhancing the neighborhood and offering improved pedestrian safety.

  Portland, Oregon Green Streets Program

Portland, Oregon’s Green Streets are streets that use vegetated facilities to manage stormwater runoff. Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Green Street Program is a sustainable stormwater strategy that meets regulatory compliance and resource protection goals by using a natural systems approach to manage stormwater, reduce flows, improve water quality and enhance watershed health.

  Kansas City 10,000 Rain Gardens Initiative

10,000 Rain Gardens is a public initiative in Kansas City, Missouri, to support the improvement of water quality with rain gardens and other green solutions. In 2005, Kansas City began the initiative to address its stormwater and overflow control issues. The goal of the program was to install 10,000 rain gardens, vegetated swales, and rain barrels in the greater metropolitan area. As a result of these efforts, by 2008, 303 rain gardens had been registered on the website, with both private individuals and businesses implementing their own rain gardens.

Being Strategic: Tools to Choose Pilot Sites

To maximize the benefits of green infrastructure installations, decision makers must be strategic in choosing pilot site locations. By clearly defining the goals of a pilot program, local governments can decide which types of installations and which specific locations will best achieve these goals.52  The most common goals that local governments tend to consider include reducing strain on the stormwater and wastewater management systems, reducing watershed pollution, reducing flooding, creating public education opportunities, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing other effects of climate change (increased urban heat island, excess runoff due to more severe, less predictable weather patterns). Some local governments take a more holistic approach to maximize both the impact of the investment and the public good.53 

Designing with green infrastructure often fits within a city’s larger sustainable development goals.54  By considering the co-benefits of green infrastructure (including social, economic and environmental values), decision makers are able to get the most “bang for the buck” from their stormwater management investment.55 

This section offers decision makers a variety of successful tools for choosing sites for green infrastructure programs, drawn from practices around the country. The three basic models that this chapter covers include 1) a Priority Watersheds approach, which focuses on water quality almost exclusively and is the most traditional of the three; 2) a Public Input-Based Approach, which explicitly incorporates community priorities; and 3) a Score Ranking approach, which allows a local government to delineate a full set of priorities and rank the sites using those priorities.

Criteria

This chapter analyzes each of the three approaches using a set of four criteria to enable local governments to decide among them.

  • Co-Benefits: Some approaches more easily incorporate and maximize co-benefits, which may range from reduced flood risk, improved air quality, improved public health, financial savings, and more.56  Intentionally comprehensive green infrastructure programs may create the most robust benefits.
  • Flexibility: A flexible approach allows decision makers to choose pilot sites based on specific pre-established priorities. A flexible approach can more easily accommodate interagency collaboration, public input, and various outcome goals. A flexible approach can also readily account for adaptive management and comprehensive planning goals.
  • Administrative Burden: Some approaches are administratively more burdensome than others, requiring more staff time and resources, for example. This criterion assesses how burdensome each approach is in terms of interagency partnerships, program management, and efficiency in implementation.
  • Public Participation: This criterion measures an approach’s tendency to meaningfully incorporate public input. This may include meaningful community engagement strategies, consideration of equity and environmental justice issues, and long-term community goals.

Priority Watersheds Approach

In an urban setting, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), flooding, and other problems that arise from excess runoff are symptomatic of overburdened systems and high percentages of impervious surface.57  To mitigate these effects, local governments can incorporate green infrastructure on a watershed scale to reduce the total volume and velocity of stormwater runoff to traditional sewer systems.58  To meet this set of priorities, local governments first identify tributary areas and construct green infrastructure on sites designed and placed to maximize stormwater retention and water quality benefits.59 

This approach, by focusing on the water quality priorities within particular watersheds, can create a comprehensive picture of the causes of and remedies for water pollution. Taking a priority watershed approach is appropriate for local governments that are primarily concerned with pollution control in watershed outflows, and can be an effective methodology in green infrastructure development aiming to serve Clean Water Act compliance goals.

A priority watershed approach is efficient for stormwater management purposes. However, because it is most often designed with a singular focus for water quality goals, it may have fewer opportunities for triple bottom line co-benefits.

Public Input-Based Approach

Local governments can address community priorities by engaging the local population in their planning processes while choosing and designing publicly funded projects. Surveys, community workshops, open comment periods, and other direct outreach efforts can supplement project environmental goals and can enhance community support.60  A public input-based approach is flexible and fosters community buy-in; however, it can be time- and resource-intensive to carry out a robust a public process that results in meaningful engagement.

When the public can participate in the planning process, pilot site installations will better respond to community needs and be tailored to achieve community priorities.61   This can be particularly transformative for communities facing environmental justice concerns such as lack of access to green space or playgrounds, those with disproportionately poor air quality, food deserts, or living with urban heat island effects.62  Furthermore, policy makers should be aware that while green infrastructure can enhance local economies via higher property values, this might also increase living costs for low-income residents and accelerate gentrification.63  Public input and community collaboration can help frame project planning and provide critical information for the long-term success of green infrastructure programs, which may need to be paired with affordable housing or other equitable development policies.

Score Ranking Approach

Decision makers can use a score ranking approach to set program goals and priorities, and to ensure that the chosen pilot sites achieve those priorities. A comprehensive scoring system allows decision makers to rank projects across a set of diverse factors (such as potential for reducing runoff or pollutants, maintenance burdens, educational opportunities, and other co-benefits). This ranking then enables decision makers to create a model for strategically selecting projects based on those factors.64  For instance, a local government might consider scheduled transportation construction in a site’s score. The construction window for road maintenance provides a cost-effective opportunity to install permeable pavement, right-of-way bio-swales, or other green infrastructure.65  The success of this approach requires close inter-agency collaboration that may include the departments of transportation and public works, among others that can help to increase the public investment’s utility and efficiency during construction.66 

Using a scorecard approach requires decision makers to think carefully about the goals that are most important to them and the types of projects and practices that are most likely to achieve those goals, but also provides a high level of flexibility to set those goals. Setting up those criteria and ranking potential sites may be time intensive. This approach also requires intensive planning and potentially cross-sector collaboration in advance of choosing sites. 

Related Resources

 
  San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Green Infrastructure Projects

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is implementing multiple green infrastructure projects based on their Urban Watershed Assessment, which will identify green and grey sewer infrastructure improvements over the next twenty years. The SFPUC recognizes that the sewer system, treating both sewage and stormwater runoff, was not built to withstand the impacts of climate change - such as intense rainstorms that overwhelm the system. The watershed-based planning process is being used to help plan the City’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), a multi-billion dollar project to to upgrade aging infrastructure, and ensure the reliability and performance of the sewer system.   

  Storm Lake, Iowa Green Infrastructure Plan for Water

In 2014, the City of Storm Lake, Iowa was chosen for a pilot project by the Iowa Economic Development Authority to develop a plan for city-wide green infrastructure technology for improved urban water management - including storm, sanitary, and potable water solutions. This Plan is meant to serve as a case study and guidance document for green infrastructure planning in other communities. The Plan demonstrates a process that can be replicated and scaled to any size city.

  Arlington, Virginia Watershed Retrofit Study

Completed in December, 2013, Arlington County, VA produced a Watershed Retrofit Study and plans with the purpose of strengthening the resiliency of its stormwater management systems to climate change. Arlington developed a County-wide project inventory by surveying all of the County's watersheds to find space for small stormwater facilities. This study informed the City of Arlington’s Stormwater Master Plan, which was adopted in Sept. 2014.

  Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan focuses on the improved management of storm water, surface waters and groundwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, in response to flooding, land subsidence and “wasted water assets.” The primary area of focus is 155 miles of urban areas and 69 square miles of protected wetlands in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. The plan discusses how climate change threatens to raise the frequency of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Considered along with land subsidence, residents and economic assets are at great risk - and pumping stormwater and keeping floodwaters out are both projected to become more difficult over time.  

  Milwaukee Regional Green Infrastructure Plan

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has established a 2035 Vision for “zero basement backups, zero overflows, and improved water quality.” To achieve these goals, MMSD has transformed its approach to managing stormwater by utilizing green infrastructure technologies in its urban watershed management plan. By implementing widespread use of green infrastructure (GI) to complement the region’s grey infrastructure, the Regional Green Infrastructure Plan documents how to meet the 2035 goal by capturing the first 0.5 inch of rainfall on impervious surfaces, the equivalent of 740 million gallons of stormwater storage. The plan identifies the best GI strategies, presents a cost-benefit analysis, and make recommendations to ensure implementation.  

Effective Monitoring of Pilot Sites

A critical component of a successful pilot program is to demonstrate the performance of the green infrastructure installations. Monitoring a project’s performance (across goals and benefits) allows decision makers to make informed decisions about how to adapt the design of future projects based upon the performance of existing projects.67  This section of the toolkit describes the types of monitoring that local governments can perform for pilot sites to quantify co-benefits beyond stormwater management, meet regulatory requirements, create accurate performance standards, and use monitoring program to help make the transition from a pilot stage to jurisdiction-wide green infrastructure programs.

Local governments can use monitoring data to assess the feasibility of meeting their priority goals with green infrastructure projects, alone or in combination with traditional infrastructure.68  While goals for green infrastructure fundamentally include water quality, green infrastructure also offers an array of co-benefits that can add value and maximize the value of these investments across multiple sectors. Identifying and measuring these co-benefits through monitoring may contribute to positive cost benefit analysis and multi-sector/public buy in for green infrastructure programs. Known as a triple bottom line (TBL) approach, local governments can conduct an assessment of the co-benefits associated with green infrastructure, including environmental, social, and economic factors.69 

Regulatory Requirements

EPA guidance on Clean Water Act compliance encourages use of green infrastructure installations in local government plans, particularly to achieve water quality requirements.70  Permits and enforcement agreements that incorporate green infrastructure must include green infrastructure performance criteria and post-construction performance standards.71  To set these criteria, decision makers must first have designed their pilots to include a monitoring component that gauges their performance and sets those performance standards going forward.

The strength of green infrastructure, however, is in its ability to deliver more than just stormwater management and water quality benefits. The following discussion of the triple bottom line takes into account a variety of so-called “co-benefits” that green infrastructure can deliver on an everyday basis, not only during heavy precipitation events. Additionally, green infrastructure can be deployed more quickly than large-scale gray infrastructure projects, resulting in a shorter timeline to realize those benefits. While gray infrastructure is undoubtedly necessary for management of the most intense storms, gray and green infrastructure in combination may provide both protection against extreme events and many of the triple bottom line benefits listed below. By monitoring and quantifying those benefits, local governments may be able to build greater support in the community and among other partner agencies that might initially be skeptical.

Triple Bottom Line (TBL)

In monitoring pilots, collecting data to measure triple bottom line (TBL) goals provides important information on the co-benefits associated with green infrastructure programs. By quantifying these co-benefits in the pilot program stage of implementation, the broader eventual green infrastructure programs can integrate projections about TBL benefits.72  Because different green infrastructure types may achieve TBL values to varying extents, decision makers may choose pilot projects with particular TBL co-benefits that would best serve their communities’ interests.73  This section next discusses the economic, social, and environmental co-benefits that green infrastructure pilots can provide, and that local governments can monitor for achievement of those benefits.

Economic: Long-term projections based on economic co-benefits can assist decision makers in budgeting and maximizing capital investments. Project proponents can use data demonstrating economic savings in costs avoided (including gray stormwater infrastructure that would otherwise have needed to be built), economic gains in added green jobs, or higher property values, to build public and private support for green infrastructure projects. The Philadelphia Water Department’s Comprehensive Monitoring Plan, for example, analyzed its monitoring results from green infrastructure sites and found that the green infrastructure plan for Clean Water Act compliance was projected to be $7.8 million more cost effective than a gray stormwater plan alone.74 

Social: Monitoring for social co-benefits enables integration with other sustainability goals such as addressing environmental justice. Using pilot sites to design for and monitor social benefits may also boost community support where pilot sites are located.75  Social co-benefits of green infrastructure projects may include: reduced health risks associated with both urban heat islands and air pollution, increased recreational opportunities, lower localized crime rates,76  access to fresh produce via community gardens, safer traffic flow, and more.77 

Environmental: In addition to addressing stormwater runoff and associated pollution, green infrastructure sites add environmental value by supporting important ecosystem services in urban settings. Ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure sites may include: improved air quality from increased urban forest, new wildlife habitats, soil erosion control, decreased localized flooding, and more. These important features may help local governments contribute to reducing the coming impacts of climate change, and are quickly realized due to the short timeline for installing green infrastructure relative to large gray infrastructure projects.78 

Beyond triple-bottom line considerations, monitoring of pilot installations for a variety of outcomes can also help local governments achieve a variety of goals, including meeting regulatory requirements, creating accurate performance standards, confirming site selection, and scaling up from pilot stage to jurisdiction-wide green infrastructure programs.

Performance Standards

Local governments can use monitoring data to adapt management of green infrastructure projects and to model the projected benefits of larger programs.79   Performance standards can include rates of runoff, capacity for stormwater retention, reductions in pollution, and more.  Performance standards provide a scale to determine program success and to create accurate expectations for the future, as well as enabling decision makers to adapt programs based on performance as they go.80

Scaling Up

To successfully move from the pilot stage of a green infrastructure program to a jurisdiction-wide program, local governments need accurate, comparable data. Pilot sites can provide data sets by which decision makers can set goals for large-scale green infrastructure program.  Monitoring data can also be used to help decision makers anticipate both costs and benefits of projects and set targets for long-term implementation,81  including integrating green infrastructure plans into existing processes such as street design standards or zoning codes.  

Related Resources

 
  Climate Interactive, Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Scenarios Tool

Climate Interactive, a “climate change think tank” has created a Green Infrastructure Scenarios Tool (GIST) for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that allows for scenario testing related green infrastructure investment and future precipitation scenarios. The simulation allows users to test investments into different types of infrastructure for managing stormwater, and supports exploration of different possible future rainfall patterns, to see how investments might turn out under various future climate conditions.  Users can build more grey infrastructure or invest in new green infrastructure for 8 different classes of green infrastructure, such as green roofs, pervious pavement, and rain gardens. The simulation reports a full picture of the implications of each investment.

  Milwaukee Regional Green Infrastructure Plan

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has established a 2035 Vision for “zero basement backups, zero overflows, and improved water quality.” To achieve these goals, MMSD has transformed its approach to managing stormwater by utilizing green infrastructure technologies in its urban watershed management plan. By implementing widespread use of green infrastructure (GI) to complement the region’s grey infrastructure, the Regional Green Infrastructure Plan documents how to meet the 2035 goal by capturing the first 0.5 inch of rainfall on impervious surfaces, the equivalent of 740 million gallons of stormwater storage. The plan identifies the best GI strategies, presents a cost-benefit analysis, and make recommendations to ensure implementation.  

  Green City, Clean Waters - City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Green City, Clean Waters is the Philadelphia Water Department's vision for protecting and enhancing local watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure, through its combined sewer overflow control program. The program is pioneering a broad multi-decade investment in green storm water management practices that reduces sewer overflows to the City’s waterways, and in turn enhances communities and the overall urban environment.

Scaling Up: Integrating Green Infrastructure into Existing Processes

Green infrastructure in this toolkit includes strategies to manage stormwater, reduce urban heat island effects, improve air quality, and promote economic development and other sustainability goals.  Green infrastructure provides an attractive alternative and complement to traditional concrete (or “gray”) infrastructure by making paved and hard surfaces vegetated or permeable. Permeable pavements and green roofs both capture rainfall and retain it on site, keeping it out of the stormwater system, and can also provide wildlife habitat and greenhouse gas reduction benefits.82  Climate change will exacerbate stormwater runoff problems in many places due to more intense storms that could overwhelm existing infrastructure systems; green infrastructure, when installed at a larger scale and in combination with gray infrastructure, can help to manage those more intense storms.  

While many local governments begin experimenting with green infrastructure practices through pilot or demonstration projects, in order for green infrastructure to have a substantial impact on managing stormwater, it must be constructed and installed on a much larger scale. Therefore, local governments are increasingly incorporating green infrastructure practices into their existing laws, policies, plans, and processes, so that its implementation can be more systematic.

 This chapter investigates legal tools designed to integrate green infrastructure into:

  • planning tools (including green infrastructure-specific plans and comprehensive plans),
  • regulatory tools (including zoning and building codes and stormwater ordinances),
  • incentive-based tools (including grants, subsidies, and stormwater fee adjustments), and
  • government operations (efforts involving public infrastructure, land, or facilities).

These tools vary in their ability to reach new construction versus existing development and in reaching public versus private property. Effective green infrastructure programs leverage multiple tools to encourage or require green infrastructure.83  As such, it is prudent to consider each set of tools alongside the others and craft an implementation approach that incorporates many of the tools discussed in this chapter. Similarly, many of these approaches deliberately build off of pilot programs that carefully monitored demonstration projects for effectiveness in managing runoff, reducing nutrient pollution, reducing urban temperatures, and other factors. Many are therefore beginning to “scale up” with rigorous data on the effectiveness of individual projects, and are continuing to monitor on a larger scale for cumulative effectiveness.

Criteria

Different types of tools can achieve different goals and will face different challenges in enactment and implementation. The following chart compares the types of tools local governments can use to integrate green infrastructure practices into their existing systems along four sets of criteria.84 

New vs. Existing Development:  some tools are better suited for incorporating green infrastructure into new development – these largely include tools that involve permitting or governmental review of some kind such as zoning. Others might also be able to influence installation on existing development – these tools would more often involve incentive-based approaches than regulatory approaches.

Public vs. Private Property: some tools will more effectively influence design and construction on private property, and others on publicly-owned land such as in the public right-of-way or surrounding public buildings. Government operations tools clearly will most directly affect public property and facilities, while regulatory tools will mainly influence private property. Some tools will be able to impact both types.

Administrative: some tools will require higher levels of organization, coordination across agencies, and participation from residents or other private actors to be successful. Because most local governments are starting from some kind of existing program, they must consider how current policies fit with their adaptation and other goals. The “Administrative” criterion captures how complex each tool is along these dimensions.

Legal: Local governments will need to consider which tools fall within the authority that agencies already possess and which may require further granting of authority from either the local legislative body or the state legislature. In addition, certain methods or tools could conflict with current state or local law. To improve current laws, governments can consider consolidating the laws on a particular topic or revising existing ordinances to better enable green infrastructure practices to become regular practice in that jurisdiction. We have attempted here to identify potential legal obstacles for each local government to consider.

The following table compares the types of policy tools that the rest of the chapter describes in order to provide a starting place for local governments to begin to make their own decisions about how to integrate green infrastructure into their own systems and usual processes. It is not a sufficient guide to the intricacies of every potential cost and benefit, nor does it answer specific questions about each jurisdiction’s local law, politics, and geography. Each of the sections of this chapter will explores the methods in more detail, including evaluation of how local governments might implement each one.

Options for Integrating Green Infrastructure into Existing Processes

Planning Tools

Local governments are increasingly creating plans for their green infrastructure programs and incorporating green infrastructure into other planning documents such as comprehensive plans and general resilience plans. Incorporating green infrastructure goals and practices into those plans can shape local governments’ interventions to be as highly effective and strategic as possible, instead of installing green infrastructure on a more ad-hoc basis.

Regulatory Tools

Regulatory tools include requirements set in zoning or building codes or stormwater retention ordinances, mandating action by private property owners. In many jurisdictions, stormwater retention ordinances establish retention requirements and then lay the foundation for other regulations that mandate green infrastructure as a specific set of practices to meet those retention requirements.

Incentive-Based Tools

While mandates are the most certain method to change behavior, both financial and development incentives to build more green infrastructure can be important tools as well. Both types of incentives can stand alone or can accompany mandates; unlike mandates, they can influence stormwater management practices on property that was not otherwise subject to zoning or building code requirements (i.e., existing development not planned for renovation). They therefore can be a critical tool for highly-developed municipalities to spur change on private property.

Government Operations

Unlike regulatory and incentive-based tools designed to influence private landowners, local governments have much greater discretion and control over municipal operations. Green infrastructure can be incorporated into processes and plans governing public land, such as street design standards governing road construction, capital planning processes guiding public investment, and facilities management governing construction of public buildings and on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas.

Planning Tools

Local governments are increasingly creating plans for their green infrastructure programs and incorporating green infrastructure into other planning documents such as comprehensive plans and general resilience plans. Incorporating green infrastructure goals and practices into those plans can shape local governments’ interventions to be as highly effective and strategic as possible, instead of installing green infrastructure on a more ad-hoc basis.

Green Infrastructure-specific plans

Because green infrastructure can involve so many different agencies, partners, and funding streams, some local governments have created green infrastructure-specific plans to coordinate all of those moving pieces. These green infrastructure plans can accomplish several purposes including prioritizing particular neighborhoods or types of locations (such as streetscapes or parking lots), setting goals for research or monitoring of installations, clarifying relationships among partners, and calling for policy changes to support green infrastructure investments.

Because green infrastructure-specific plans are not regulatory, they can influence behavior for both new and existing development and can affect decision-making on both public and private land. Hoboken, NJ has created a green infrastructure-specific plan that lays out the target neighborhoods and even individual parcels for green infrastructure installation. Because these plans are not regulatory, however, they may need changes in law to implement their recommendations. Hoboken’s plan identifies the zoning changes that would need to happen to generate more green infrastructure on private property.

Comprehensive plans

Local governments use comprehensive plans to set policy and to plan the direction of their communities for years to come. In some localities, a larger jurisdiction such as a county might create the comprehensive plan, which then would guide the zoning codes set by the municipalities in that county. By incorporating requirements for green infrastructure into its comprehensive plan, a local government can thus require or encourage the use of green infrastructure through requirements or incentives in the zoning code for various types of land uses.

Because comprehensive plans shape future changes in zoning codes, they can directly cause green infrastructure to be required for new development and on private property. However, changes to the zoning code generally must happen for the comprehensive plan to be effective in changing construction and development; this can be a long and burdensome process for small local governments, and developers may resist additional requirements.

Different types of planning tools can achieve different goals and will face different challenges in enactment and implementation. The following chart compares green infrastructure-specific plans and comprehensive plans along four sets of criteria, following the discussion of each type of planning tool above.85 

 

Related Resources

 
  Norfolk, Virginia Resilience Strategy

The City of Norfolk, Virginia released its Resilience Strategy in October 2015 to address the three major challenges facing the city today including sea level rise and recurrent flooding; a shifting economy; and a need to build strong, healthy neighborhoods. The report proposes high-level strategies and actions to address a wide range of challenges the city faces, focusing on sea level rise and broader risks such as an over-reliance on limited industrial or economic sectors and concentrated poverty.  This plan was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

  Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan

The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan focuses on the improved management of storm water, surface waters and groundwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, in response to flooding, land subsidence and “wasted water assets.” The primary area of focus is 155 miles of urban areas and 69 square miles of protected wetlands in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. The plan discusses how climate change threatens to raise the frequency of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Considered along with land subsidence, residents and economic assets are at great risk - and pumping stormwater and keeping floodwaters out are both projected to become more difficult over time.  

  Baltimore's Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3)

The City of Baltimore Maryland’s Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3) was created by the Department of Planning as an effort to address existing hazards while simultaneously preparing for predicted hazards due to climate change. This project develops a program that integrates an All Hazards Mitigation Plan (AHMP), floodplain mapping, and climate adaptation planning. DP3 links research, outreach, and actions to create a comprehensive and new risk-preparedness system for addressing existing and future impacts.

  Hoboken, New Jersey Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan

Hoboken's Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan calls for above-ground detention, infiltration, and retention using various green infrastructure strategies, and encourages policy changes, such as zoning requirements and incentives, pilot projects, and plans for public lands and rights-of-way. The Plan identifies neighborhoods, and even specific buildings and parcels, as candidates for a first round of green infrastructure pilot projects, including some pilots in public housing projects in multiple areas of the city in order for low-income and potentially more vulnerable populations to reap the benefits of the green infrastructure practices.  

  Linn County, Iowa Comprehensive Plan - A Smarter Course: Building on the Past and Embracing the Future of Rural Linn County

The 2013 Linn County Comprehensive Plan, effective July 19, 2013, broadens the scope of previous comprehensive plans beyond land use planning to include a broad range of goals such as economic development, sustainability, hazard planning, and renewable energy. While climate adaptation is only briefly mentioned, the plan does describe the expected risk from climate change to the county (including increased floods, heat waves, and other severe weather events).  Additionally, the plan encourages the use of green infrastructure to achieve sustainability and hazard mitigation goals.

  NYC Green Infrastructure Plan - A Sustainable Strategy for Clean Waterways (New York City)

NYC's Green Infrastructure Plan was created in 2010 and sets water quality targets with very specific green infrastructure strategies for different land use types and with specific timeframes over the next twenty years. By establishing an interagency task force, engaging the community, using green infrastructure in combination with gray infrastructure, and carefully monitoring the performance of pilot installations, the City has been able to manage shifting priorities and adapt its approach based on real-time data. 

Regulatory Tools

Regulatory tools include requirements set in zoning or building codes or stormwater retention ordinances, mandating action by private property owners. In many jurisdictions, stormwater retention ordinances establish retention requirements and then lay the foundation for other regulations that mandate green infrastructure as a specific set of practices to meet those retention requirements.

Regulatory tools, because of their inherent nature as requirements (as opposed to options or incentives), get surer results than programs that rely solely on capital improvement projects on publicly owned lands or voluntary measures for private land.  Private property owners must meet regulatory requirements to obtain a permit and, therefore, they must change their landscaping and building practices to comply. As a result, regulatory approaches may result in some political pushback. Many of the regulatory tools below may be more palatable to local developers if some flexibility is built into the system. For example, Seattle’s stormwater ordinance allows some retention offsite if retention is not practical onsite,86  while the District of Columbia’s ordinance allows for payment of a fee or purchase of stormwater credits as alternative methods of meeting its retention obligation.

Last, because of the nature of regulatory requirements as things mandated in laws such as zoning codes or other ordinances, many of these strategies may require legal changes to incorporate those requirements into that particular legal framework. These legal changes can be administratively complicated and time-consuming.

Zoning Codes

Zoning codes can create green infrastructure requirements for new construction and sometimes substantial renovations. Zoning codes are particularly suited to tailoring those requirements to particular land uses such as industrial, residential, etc, and for addressing the entire site under development, including landscaping (in contrast to building codes, which generally focus more specifically on the buildings. Zoning requirements can either set retention requirements that property owners can meet by choosing green infrastructure practices themselves, or can enumerate particular green infrastructure practices that qualify to meet the regulatory requirement. Each local government will need to look at the authority given by its state government to enact zoning regulations in order to determine how strong that local government can make green infrastructure requirements.

Building Codes

Building Codes can similarly create green infrastructure requirements for new construction and sometimes substantial renovations. In contrast to zoning codes, however, building codes are particularly suited to tailoring requirements to particular building types regardless of the use – for example, single-family residential, office buildings, etc.  Different states grant different authority to local governments for building codes; some states require local building codes to conform to state standards, while other states give local governments wide latitude to create their own standards.87 Each local government will need to look at the authority its state government has given it over building codes in order to determine how strong that local government can make green infrastructure requirements.

Stormwater Ordinances

Stormwater Ordinances can directly require green infrastructure practices, as Binghamton, NY’s, ordinance does, or can serve as a foundational regulation to encourage green infrastructure to meet retention requirements. Stormwater ordinances can link these practices to reductions in stormwater fees (see incentive-based approaches), or can simply require retention and/or green infrastructure practices. Like zoning and building codes, stormwater ordinances best reach new construction projects, although they can impact existing buildings when those buildings are undergoing substantial renovation. Unlike state-level authorizing statutes for zoning and building codes, authority delegated to local governments to enact stormwater ordinances can be found in any of several sources, including authority to enact zoning codes, erosion control ordinances, and subdivision regulations.

 

Related Resources

 
  Buffalo, New York, Green Code Unified Development Ordinance, Article 7.3.4 Best Management Practice

The City of Buffalo, New York’s Unified Development Ordinance now includes a Green Code that requires use of green infrastructure best management practices (BMPs) wherever practical to achieve the Code’s performance-based stormwater retention standards. The ordinance, at Article 7.3.4 of Section 7 on Stormwater, specifies infiltration on-site using bioswales, rain gardens, and other strategies; or stormwater capture and reuse through cisterns, green roofs, and other strategies. The ordinance clarifies the order of preference for stormwater management facilities utilizing BMPs, prioritizing conservation of natural areas before on-site infiltration practices, and on-site infiltration practices before capture and reuse practices. 

  New Orleans Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, Article 23: Landscape, Stormwater Management, and Screening

New Orleans Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance directly addresses landscaping and stormwater management. Article 23 of the CZO includes several elements that require or strongly prefer green infrastructure practices to manage stormwater in parking lots, including bioswales, pervious pavement, and green roofs. For example, every parking facility is required to capture, filter, infiltrate, or store the first 1.25 inches of stormwater. Section 23.12 outlines various Best Management Practices (BMPs) which minimize runoff, increase infiltration, recharge groundwater, and improve water quality. These include bioswales, constructed wetlands, detention basins, ditch gardens, sand filters, and tree protected areas. The CZO does not prescribe the use of any specific BMP, but describes them with the goal of providing guidance. 

  District of Columbia Green Area Ratio - Zoning Regulations

The District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) Green Area Ratio (GAR) is an environmental sustainability zoning regulation which sets requirements for landscape elements and site design to help reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and mitigate urban heat. The GAR sets minimum lot coverage standards for landscape and site design features to promote greater livability, ecological function, and climate adaptation in the urban environment. The GAR requirements provide a firm retention target and allow local governments to weight the elements they prefer in order to influence behavior, while providing some measure of flexibility for property owners.

  Washington D.C./District of Columbia Stormwater Ordinance - 2013 Rule on Stormwater Management and Soil Erosion and Sediment Control

In 2013, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) released an amended Rule on Stormwater Management and Soil Erosion and Sediment Control, and the Stormwater Management Guidebook (SWMG) which provides technical guidance on how to comply with the rule.

  City of Binghamton, New York Erosion Control Ordinances

The City of Binghamton, New York’s erosion control ordinances require property owners seeking permits for construction to submit an Urban Runoff Reduction Plan (URRP) to demonstrate how they will manage stormwater after construction.  The URRP must show how the development will manage a 10-year, 24-hour storm event and include green infrastructure techniques.  Like Seattle Washington’s stormwater ordinance, the clear requirement to include green infrastructure takes the code beyond simple retention, specifying the best management practices (BMPs) that the city most wants to see, such as green roofs.  

  City of Seattle, Washington Stormwater Code

The City of Seattle, Washington’s stormwater regulations are implemented in order to improve stormwater management for new development in Seattle, including on-site stormwater management. Seattle’s Stormwater Code imposes retention requirements on residential properties.  These requirements vary according to several factors, including the type of sewer system or water body to which the site discharges and the size of the land disturbance or impervious surface on that site.  For example, if a parcel discharges into small lake basins and its total new-plus-replaced impervious surface is 2000 square feet or more, it must manage stormwater from a 25-year rainfall event (a storm that has a 4% chance of occurring in any given year). Additionally, construction sites are required to maintain natural drainage patterns, protect downstream properties from erosion, and implement green infrastructure, to the maximum extent feasible.

  Boulder Green Building and Green Points Program - Boulder, Colorado Municipal Code Chapter 7.5, Ordinance 7565

Boulder, Colorado’s municipal building code integrates Ordinance 7565 (Green Building and Green Points Program) which was adopted by Boulder City Council on Nov. 13, 2007 and went into effect on Feb. 1, 2008. The Boulder Green Points Building Program is the nation’s first mandatory residential green building program that requires a builder or homeowner to include a minimum amount of sustainable building components based on the size of the proposed structure. 

Applicants are required to earn “green points” which are generated from adaptive strategies/sustainable practices in landscaping, shading of hardscape (trees), surface water management, high efficiency irrigation, waste management and building rehabilitation. For example, preserving existing mature trees on site earns one point per tree, up to a maximum of five points.

Points are also awarded for stormwater management practices, such as installing permeable surfaces. The number of points earned is based on the percentage of the site that is permeable, up to four points for a site that is 100% permeable.  Applicants must reach a certain number of points (depending on type of project and square footage) in order for the project to be permitted.

  New York City Zoning Code - Permeable pavement requirements

Since 2007, New York City’s zoning code has required parking lots for community facilities to allow permeable pavements where appropriate. 

Parking lots at community facilities must capture stormwater through larger perimeter plantings and planting islands than is required for other parking lots, and the facility lot must be properly graded to drain runoff to those plantings. Both types of plantings must include trees of a certain diameter and spacing, and all vegetation must be from a list of pre-approved species. The objectives of these zoning requirements are to better manage stormwater on parking lots and reduce urban temperatures by providing shade.

Incentive-Based Tools

While mandates are the most certain method to change behavior, both financial and development incentives for green infrastructure can be important tools as well. Both types of incentives can stand alone or can accompany mandates; unlike mandates, incentives can influence stormwater management practices on property that is not otherwise subject to zoning or building code requirements (i.e., existing development not planned for renovation). They therefore can be a critical tool for highly-developed municipalities to spur change on private property.

Financial incentives

Financial incentives such as subsidies, grants, and rebates can make the initial capital costs needed to install green infrastructure seem less daunting to private property owners, while tax incentives can reduce costs to property owners over time. Both strategies require the local government’s having funds available, although tax incentives involve foregone revenue more than direct expenditure. Developing a financial incentive strategy may also require local governments to choose between subsidizing many properties with small amounts of money, or few properties with larger amount of money. Local governments may also want to consider whether to take a “first-come, first-serve” approach to those subsidies, or to be strategic about targeting funds to particular watersheds, neighborhoods, or land-use types that are the highest priority (for example, areas with greater urban heat islands or with high percetages of vulnerable residents). Local governments wishing to use tax incentives will need to look at their taxing authority to determine whether tax incentives are a viable option for them. City or county governments can look to the breadth of the tax authority delegated to them, and other types of governments (i.e., water utilities or regional governments) will need to assess whether they have the authority to tax at all. 

Development incentives

Development incentives such as expedited permitting are likely to make a difference only for large development projects, but those projects may have the most potential for intensive green infrastructure installation, due to their higher acreage. The effectiveness of development incentives may also depend on the amount of new development happening in that jurisdiction in the first place; smaller urban areas with less development are likely to see less change from development incentives.

Related Resources

 
  City of Philadelphia Stormwater Incentives/ Grants

The City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has created a suite of subsidies, grants and rebates for both residential and non-residential properties to encourage more stormwater retention and green infrastructure practices.  The Stormwater Management Incentives Program and the Greened Acre Retrofit Program offer a reduced  price for qualified non-residential customers and contractors to design and install stormwater best management practices which reduce stormwater pollution and enhance water quality.  

  New York City Green Infrastructure Grant Program

New York City’s Green Infrastructure Program is a multi-agency effort led by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Grants are offered to private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City. The program provides funding for green infrastructure projects that manage the first inch of rainfall, including blue roofs, rain gardens, green roofs, porous pavement and rainwater harvesting. Private property owners in combined sewer areas are eligible for grants of up to $5 million. In order to ensure that the green infrastructure is well-maintained, grantees must sign a covenant that requires twenty years of maintenance.  Due to this covenant, the grant money continues to have a long-term impact long after the funds are disbursed.

  Chicago Zoning Ordinance 17-4-1015 Green Roofs Incentives

Chicago’s zoning code awards a Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) bonus for green roofs that cover more than 50 percent of the roof area. FAR bonuses allow developers to build  on a higher percentage of the property, or to a higher density, than would ordinarily be permitted for a particular zone. Chicago's FAR is available for buildings in downtown mixed-use districts. This type of incentive does not cost the municipality any additional money beyond a small amount of staff time to assess the plans and grant the FAR bonus. For new buildings, developers can make more money by being able to build more square footage on the same plot, and the city gets more square footage of green roofs without large expense.

  New York City Green Roof Property Tax Abatement Program

The Green Roof Property Tax Abatement provides a one-year tax abatement for the construction of a green roof on residential and commercial buildings in New York City. The City of New York and New York State passed legislation in 2008 to provide a one-year tax abatement, or tax relief, of $4.50 per square foot (up to $100,000 or the building's tax liability, whichever is less). Amended in 2013 by New York State’s AB 7058, the tax abatement is now available through March 15, 2018. 

  Toronto's Eco-Roof Incentive Program

Toronto's Eco-Roof Incentive Program provides grants to commercial, industrial and institutional (ICI) property owners to improve the sustainability of Toronto's infrastructure and its resilience to climate change. Financial incentives are provided for the construction of green roofs that support vegetation and cool roofs that reflect the sun's thermal energy. The program, launched in March 2009, supports the City's Climate Change Action Plan and complements the City's 'Green Roof Bylaw' and the 'Green Standard' by encouraging owners of existing buildings to retrofit their roofs.

Government Operations

Unlike regulatory and incentive-based tools designed to influence private landowners, local governments have much greater discretion and control over municipal operations. Green infrastructure can be incorporated into processes and plans governing public land, such as street design standards governing road construction, capital planning processes guiding public investment, and facilities management governing construction of public buildings and on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas. By investing public dollars in green infrastructure, local governments can achieve multiple goals simultaneously, from managing stormwater to reducing temperatures and improving water quality.

Street Design Standards

Street Design Standards allow local governments to provide clear direction for employees and contractors who may be installing green infrastructure in rights-of-way along roadways. Street design standards allow green infrastructure to be built to a consistent standard, and to a standard that is well-suited for that particular locality’s soil type, traffic priorities, and drainage systems. These design standards may require time and effort to develop, and will require data from monitoring of pilot programs to ensure effectiveness.88  Street designs that incorporate street trees should develop protocols for ongoing maintenance of trees, particularly in areas anticipating increased temperatures and/or drought.

Capital Planning Processes

Capital planning governs how local governments invest their funds in infrastructure and facilities over time. Local governments are beginning to incorporate green infrastructure into those capital plans, enabling green infrastructure to be funded by the bonds that generally support capital investments. 

Facilities Management

Facilities management is the term for the methods that local governments use to guide construction of public buildings and construction on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas. Local governments are now incorporating green infrastructure practices into the management and retrofitting of public properties in order to manage stormwater, increase energy efficiency, and improve water quality. The most innovative local governments are strategically choosing government facilities to get the most “bang for the buck,” as in the District of Columbia’s Smart Roofs Program, and are ensuring that green infrastructure investments benefit low-income and overburdened communities within their localities.

 

Related Resources

 
  San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Green Infrastructure Projects

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is implementing multiple green infrastructure projects based on their Urban Watershed Assessment, which will identify green and grey sewer infrastructure improvements over the next twenty years. The SFPUC recognizes that the sewer system, treating both sewage and stormwater runoff, was not built to withstand the impacts of climate change - such as intense rainstorms that overwhelm the system. The watershed-based planning process is being used to help plan the City’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), a multi-billion dollar project to to upgrade aging infrastructure, and ensure the reliability and performance of the sewer system. Phase One of the SSIP, will construct, monitor and evaluate eight green infrastructure projects to manage stormwater before it enters the combined sewer system in each of the eight urban watersheds, including projects with rain gardens and permeable pavement.

  Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Rules and Guidelines: Procedures and Design Criteria for Stormwater Management Systems

Michigan's Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner released stormwater management guidelines in August 2014.  The guidelines outline the best management practices (BMPs) that should guide the design criteria for green infrastructure installations. The rules address when different BMPs are appropriate, how to design and build them (including calculations for runoff), how to test their effectiveness, and how to maintain them over time.

To achieve these goals, the guidelines outline a hierarchy of management techniques, placing infiltration techniques that reduce runoff at the top of the hierarchy. Retention and detention of stormwater was identified as the second most effective stormwater control, with the guidelines favoring green and vegetated techniques over structural changes. 

  Baltimore, Maryland Growing Green Initiative

Baltimore, Maryland launched the Growing Green Initiative (GGI) on May 14, 2014. This City effort repurposes vacant lots to advance community priorities, including open space, growing fresh food, managing stormwater with green infrastructure, recreational space, and social resilience. The Baltimore Office of Sustainability created a “Green Pattern Book” to guide community groups and residents through the process of converting vacant and blighted properties into community spaces that can meet environmental and social equity priorities. To date, city residents and agencies have turned nearly 800 vacant lots into gardens and community open spaces. The goals of the Initiative include increasing tree canopy, creating jobs, and managing stormwater using green infrastructure techniques.

  City of Chicago Green Stormwater Infrastructure Strategy

In 2014 Chicago, Illinois released their green stormwater infrastructure plan to improve the city’s water quality, reduce flood risks, and build climate resilience. This plan describes ways to integrate green techniques into Chicago’s well established, but already overtaxed stormwater system that will only become more burdened as climate change causes increased precipitation. The plan explains how urban landscapes such as Chicago will benefit from capturing, sorting, and filtering water using green techniques rather than diverting it to a sewer system. The long-term stormwater management goals of the plan are to minimize basement flooding, reduce water pollution, enhance environmental quality, and increase extreme rain and climate resilience. The City presents six major new initiatives to meet these goals, including integrating green stormwater infrastructure into future public capital projects and increasing the use of green stormwater infrastructure in streetscape projects. Through this plan, the City of Chicago recognizes the need for significant long-term investment in stormwater infrastructure, committing $50 million over five years to green infrastructure construction. In planning for the future, the report notes that Chicago intends to incorporate projections of climate change to ensure they are addressing the city’s long-term challenges.

  Great Lakes Green Streets Guidebook

This guidebook, published by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), provides examples of roadway projects within the Great Lakes Watershed that utilize green infrastructure methods to improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff. Developed as a complement to the Low Impact Development Manual for Michigan, the guidebook offers support to municipalities interested in planning, designing, and constructing green streets. Chapter 3 describes green street techniques with demonstrated success including:

  • Bioretention/bioswales: areas or channels utilizing vegetation to clean stormwater runoff);
  • Native plant grow zones: vegetation areas that improve water quality, habitat, and reduce stormwater runoff volume; and
  • Permeable pavement: porous surface that drains water into a storage reservoir to facilitate stormwater infiltration.

The guidebook also includes 26 case studies showcasing projects from the Great Lakes regions that utilized green street techniques. Each case study describes the green technique used, the outcome of the project, the funding mechanisms that supported the project, who sponsored and designed the project, and any implementation challenges. Each case study also includes contact information for anyone interested in learning more. 

  Washington D.C. Smart Roof - Roof Asset and Energy Management Program

Through the Smart Roof Program, the Washington D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) is successfully integrating roof asset and energy management projects to reduce its energy use by 20 percent across its entire municipal portfolio. The strategic approach to portfolio-based roof management is being applied across 435 buildings including schools, police stations, fire stations, parks and recreation centers, and office buildings that make up 321 acres of roof area in D.C.

How to Pay for Green Infrastructure: Funding and Financing

Introduction

Communities are increasingly turning to green infrastructure as a vital tool to help manage stormwater and improve climate resilience. However, many local governments seeking to establish green infrastructure programs face budget constraints that may limit the scope or effectiveness of program implementation. Fortunately, local governments have the opportunity to draw upon a wide range of funding sources, revenue models, and financing strategies to support green infrastructure programs. This Funding and Financing Chapter provides strategic guidance on how to pay for green infrastructure. 

Stormwater management is increasingly becoming a major expense for local governments addressing persistent flooding or responding to legal and regulatory mandates, such as combined sewer overflow (CSO) consent decrees,89  total maximum daily load waste load allocations,90  or municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits.91   

Investing in green infrastructure can cost-effectively help communities manage stormwater while also producing significant co-benefits. Examples of co-benefits include improvements in air quality and public health, increased climate resilience, opportunities for community recreation, and enhanced community aesthetics.92 Designing green infrastructure programs to maximize co-benefits may open up funding sources that would otherwise not be available for stormwater management projects or programs. For example, communities can use funds for programs such as transportation and street design, open space and wildlife conservation, or disaster relief to pay for green infrastructure programs. Additionally, communities can implement innovative financing strategies to capture the economic value created by flood costs avoided, increased health benefits, or increased property values. Communities can aggregate multiple funding and revenue sources, or combine a funding source with financing options such as low-interest loans or green bonds.

Green Infrastructure Cost Effectiveness

Green infrastructure can effectively manage the “first flush” of stormwater while producing significant cost savings for local governments. For example, Philadelphia’s city-wide Green City, Clean Waters program is projected to save the city $8 billion over a twenty-five year implementation period compared to the traditional gray infrastructure that would have been required under an agreement with the U.S. EPA to control the city’s stormwater.93 Similarly, Chicago, Illinois, has reported that its green infrastructure installations are more effective at managing stormwater than traditional techniques on a per-dollar basis.94 The Chicago Green Alley Program is estimated to manage stormwater between 3 and 6 times more effectively per dollar compared to traditional stormwater infrastructure.95 However, it can still be hard to find the funds to build and maintain green infrastructure.

This chapter provides descriptions of multiple strategies that a local government can use to pay for green infrastructure program implementation.  The tools covered in this chapter are broken down into five categories. For each of the funding or financing strategies, this toolkit provides an overview of how the mechanism can be used to pay for green infrastructure projects or programs. Linked resources in the Georgetown Climate Center Adaptation Clearinghouse provide more detailed information about funding programs or descriptions of jurisdictions that have successfully paid for green infrastructure projects or programs using the various funding or financing tools. This Chapter explores federal funding sources, state funding sources, local funding models, government financing options, and private financing options (each described in more detail below).96  

Each funding or financing strategy can be compared under a set of decision-making criteria, including:

  • Funding Availability, which includes the ease of getting funds and the ability to sustain them over time. For example, whether a federal program is available every year and calculated by a formula, as opposed to being a competitive grant program.
  • Funding Flexibility, meaning the amount of discretion the local government has to decide how to use the funds, or the breadth of activities that the funds can support.
  • Municipal Budget Impact, meaning whether the particular funding strategy takes money out of the local government’s general fund.
  • Administrative Burden, which includes the time and resources necessary for the local government to administer or manage that funding strategy, in addition to any potential administrative process to begin the program (writing new regulations, for example).
  • Legal Constraints, such as whether the funding strategy is constrained by state statutes that may give the local government legal authority for that strategy (or not), or by related state laws such as, for example, caps on borrowing.

Funding and Financing Options

Federal Funding

Federal programs can provide significant funding for local green infrastructure programs. Local governments may be eligible for federal government grants administered by a range of departments and agencies (e.g., DOT, EPA). Federal funding can come in multiple forms: some in competitive grants, and some in formula programs that local governments are already likely to be receiving. Federal grants may be used to supplement money available to local governments through traditional budgeting or financing. However, federal grants can be highly competitive, may require lengthy application, are limited in size and scope, and often are awarded on a one-time basis.

Local Funding

Local governments can also pay for green infrastructure using local revenue sources, including the government’s general fund appropriations and capital budget, or through user fees or stormwater utility fees. These local funding sources, if implemented, may be consistently available and more flexible for application to green infrastructure projects; general funds, however, may present a strain on municipal budgets because green infrastructure projects could compete for money with other projects without an increase in revenue.

Government Financing

Municipal governments may also be able to use public financing methods, such as municipal bonds, to pay for green infrastructure projects. Local governments may be able to use Clean Water State Revolving Fund money to finance green infrastructure projects. Additionally, local governments can explore strategies that capture the value created by installing green infrastructure, such as tax increment financing.

Private Financing

Communities may also explore innovative strategies to leverage limited municipal funds to attract private capital. One approach that is common to infrastructure projects but has been limited in green infrastructure stormwater management is the use of public-private partnerships (P3s). P3s provide access to private capital and may provide a means to rapidly scale up green infrastructure project installation; however, local governments must take care to ensure that the program will take into account and ultimately reflect the community’s needs.

Federal Funding

Overview

Federal programs can provide significant funding for local green infrastructure programs. Federal funding can come in the form of competitive grants or formula programs.97  that local governments are already likely to be receiving. Grant funding may provide a local government with the resources to implement green infrastructure projects. However, federal grants can be highly competitive, may require lengthy application, are limited in size and scope, and often are awarded on a one-time basis. Many federal grants require a funding match from state or local sources for some percentage of the awarded funds. Some funding sources also prohibit the use of grant funding for operations and maintenance expenses. Local governments that use grant funding for green infrastructure installation should take these factors into account and recognize the importance of identifying additional funding streams to support on-going expenditures.98

Local governments can expand opportunities for federal funding by designing green infrastructure projects in ways that maximize particular co-benefits. For example, designing bioswales with native plants may provide eligibility for wildlife conservation or pollinator grant funding (e.g., State Wildlife Grant Programs, funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).99  Similarly, green infrastructure can be included in local programs that already receive or apply for federal funding, such as transportation projects or disaster recovery plans.

This toolkit covers several types of federal funds in more detail below: 1) water quality; 2) economic and community development; 3) disaster recovery; and 4) transportation. Within each substantive area, some federal funding strategies are competitive grant programs and some are regularly given, formula grant programs.

Water Quality Funding

Green infrastructure projects may be funded by federal programs that support efforts to reduce water pollution and manage stormwater. Programs include the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 319 Nonpoint Source Program100  and the Urban Waters Small Grants Program (UWSG). Under Section 319 (of the Clean Water Act), EPA provides grant funding to states to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff and other sources; EPA recognizes the “importance of green infrastructure … in managing stormwater” has made clear that funds can be used for green infrastructure projects.101   EPA’s UWSG Program focuses on improving the quality of urban waters and stimulating neighborhood revitalization in underserved communities, and can be used specifically for innovative or new green infrastructure practices.

Economic and Community Development Funding

Community development money can be used to fund green infrastructure because these projects can create jobs, increase economic activity, and increase property values. Urban tree planting can increase economic activity in a commercial district.102   Additionally, green infrastructure can increase property values by mitigating flooding, improving neighborhood aesthetics, and providing other co-benefits.103  As a result, green infrastructure can be funded using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program funding (formula funding), administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Disaster Recovery Funding

Local governments eligible for disaster recovery and relief funding following a presidentially declared disaster may be able to use this federal funding to pay for green infrastructure projects. Many local governments have included green infrastructure in disaster recovery and rebuilding plans to mitigate flood risk and manage stormwater. The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides post-disaster federal aid to states to mitigate the risks of future disasters and can fund flood mitigation projects, including acquisition and relocation of flood-prone properties and soil stabilization projects like the installation of vegetative buffer strips.104  The Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program also provides federal aid to states post-disaster, and funds can be used for a variety of community development activities that benefit low- and moderate-income individuals, reduce blight, or address an urgent community need. In rehabilitating housing and constructing public amenities, cities may be able to incorporate green infrastructure techniques (like street trees and permeable pavements) in street design.

Transportation Funding

Green infrastructure projects are often eligible for transportation funding because they improve transportation networks by efficiently and cost-effectively mitigating street and alley flooding.105  The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) provides funding for “transportation alternatives,” including “off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized forms of transportation.” TAP funding could be used to pay for green infrastructure components of trails and sidewalks such as permeable pavements.106  The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program allocates federal funding for infrastructure projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality.107  Bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways are eligible uses of the money, and can be designed to include green infrastructure features, such as permeable surfaces for trails, and bioswales and bioretention for areas adjacent to trail surfaces. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program funds investments in road, rail, transit and port projects. TIGER grants have been awarded to projects that included green infrastructure components.108 

 

Related Resources

 
  DOT TIGER Grant Program

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), has been used to fund green infrastructure projects as part of transportation improvements.  TIGER provides funding for investments in road, rail, transit and port projects. TIGER grants have been awarded to projects that included green stormwater management components, including a project in Syracuse, NY.109 The Connective Corridor project in Syracuse created more bikeable and walkable streets to encourage active transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and incorporated green infrastructure elements such as tree trenches and porous pavements. 

  Clean Water Act: Section 319 Grant Program

EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 grant funding goes to states to reduce nonpoint source pollution (pollution caused by rainfall running over the ground and carrying pollutants including trash, oil and grease, and fertilizers into nearby waterways). EPA’s most recent program guidance110 recognized the “importance of green infrastructure … in managing stormwater” and supported awarding funding to green infrastructure projects.  The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) used Section 319 funding to partially fund remediation of the Watts Branch watershed in northeast D.C. Watts Branch suffered from severe erosion and sediment pollution due to frequent flooding. DDOE led a project to restore the stream bed and control flooding using tree and shrub plantings, regrading of the stream bed, and upstream low-impact development practices to manage impervious surface runoff.111 

  City of Milwaukee All Hazards Mitigation Plan

Milwaukee, WI, included green infrastructure projects for flood control in the City Of Milwaukee All Hazards Mitigation Plan. Stormwater management is included as an element of managing flood hazards in that Plan, and several green infrastructure projects are listed as hazard mitigation strategies relevant to the stormwater management element of the plan, in addition to more tradition stormwater management strategies. Hazard Mitigation Grant program money is identified in the Plan as a potential funding source.

  EPA Urban Waters Small Grants

The EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program provides funding to communities to improve the quality of urban waters while simultaneously stimulating neighborhood revitalization. The Urban Waters Small Grants Program has a focus on underserved communities, defined as “communities with environmental justice concerns and/or susceptible populations.” The Program can be used specifically for innovative or new green infrastructure practices that improve water quality; state, local, and tribal governments, as well as universities and nonprofit organizations, are eligible to apply. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) is utilizing UWSG funding for its Green Infrastructure Monitoring Project,112 in which data will be collected and analyzed to measure the effects of green infrastructure on water quality at specific sites. The data will then be used for public engagement at community workshops and trainings.

  HUD Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative report provides case studies of 30 local governments who have used U.S. HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants or Community Challenge Planning Grants to fund green infrastructure programs. Although the HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative grant programs have not received Congressional appropriations since 2011, the case studies provide excellent examples of how local governments can combine various funding streams to pay for green infrastructure programs. For example, the City of Pittsburgh combined funding from a HUD Community Challenge Planning Grant and a U.S. DOT TIGER II grant to fund the planning of the Allegheny Riverfront Green boulevard project.113 

  HUD Community Development Block Grant Program

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is a funding program that supports communities’ development needs.  Communities may be able to use CDBG Program funds to acquire property and build public facilities, including green infrastructure installations. In rehabilitating housing and constructing public amenities, cities can incorporate green infrastructure principles (like street trees and permeable pavements). Detroit, MI, used $8.9 million in CDBG funds in 2014 to create a major flood prevention and economic development program. Detroit is using the funding to demolish blighted properties, landscape and install trees on 200 vacant lots to improve stormwater management and neighborhood aesthetics, and install infrastructure that will direct stormwater into new bio-retention basins.114 

 

  HUD Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery

 The Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program also provides federal aid to states during the post-disaster period. CDBG-DR funds can be used for a variety of community development activities, but must help low- and moderate-income individuals, reduce blight, or address another urgent community need in addition to addressing the effects of the disaster. In rehabilitating housing and constructing public amenities, cities may be able to incorporate green infrastructure principles (like street trees and permeable pavements) in street design.

  FHWA Transportation Alternatives Program

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is administered by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and can be used to pay for green infrastructure projects integrated into transportation improvements, including trails and sidewalks with permeable pavement. It can also be used to mitigate environmental impacts from transportation, including for green infrastructure projects that help to manage stormwater or abate water pollution from highway construction or run off. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) used TAP funding in 2015 from the state of Michigan to fund the Detroit – Inner Circle Greenway Railroad Acquisition, which included 1) installation of green infrastructure such as green streets and bioretention and 2) repurposing of 8.3 miles of abandoned railway near Detroit.115 

  Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program, jointly administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), allocates federal funds for infrastructure projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality. Because CMAQ funding can be used for bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways, such pathways can be designed to include green infrastructure features, such permeable surfaces for trails and bioswales and bioretention areas adjacent to trail surfaces.  

  FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program

The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides federal aid to states during the disaster reconstruction process to fund critical projects to mitigate the risks of future disasters and can be used to fund green infrastructure projects. HMGP can be used to fund projects that will both improve water quality and reduce flood risks such as projects involving acquisition and relocation of flood-prone properties, and soil stabilization projects including the installation of vegetative buffer strips. New Orleans used HMGP funding for its post-Katrina rebuilding process, including the reconstruction of the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Although the New Orleans Stormwater plan calls for a significant expansion of green infrastructure to manage the city’s chronic flooding, the city initially had difficulty demonstrating the benefits of green infrastructure under FEMA’s required benefit-cost analysis because the city 1) lacked the data to demonstrate potential flood losses avoided and 2) could not count many of green infrastructure’s environmental benefits. Demonstrating the cost-benefit of green infrastructure under HMGP has been much easier since FEMA amended its policy to allow counting of some “ecosystem services” (including aesthetic value, air quality, recreation space, and water filtration) as benefits.116 

State Funding

Overview

Many states have grant programs that may be used to fund green infrastructure projects and programs. Because of the varied and broad benefits of green infrastructure, a diverse array of stormwater and other environmental programs, including those for wildlife preservation, land conservation, tree planting, and water quality improvement, may be available. For example, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, supported its green infrastructure planning by applying for and receiving funding to  develop an open space and smart growth plan from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource (DCNR) Keystone Grant Funding program.117 

The City of Tucson, Arizona, used a grant from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to fund a series of green infrastructure projects in the Rincon Heights neighborhood, including the conversion of vacant lots into stormwater management pocket parks featuring bioretention elements, curb cuts, and the removal of impervious surfaces.118 

State-administered transportation grants can provide a regular funding source for municipal green infrastructure programs. The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, used a Michigan Department of Transportation Enhancement Grant (complemented with funding from neighborhood and business associations and a regional environmental council) to construct bioretention islands in the roadway. These islands capture stormwater and reduce sediment runoff and phosphorus loading.119 

The greater Memphis region created a plan to combine multiple sources of federal, state, and local funding – including transportation funding for recreational trails – to implement a regional plan for trails and open space to mitigate flooding and promote community growth.  In 2015, the Mid-South Regional GreenPrint, a vision for the next 25 years, envisions a regional network of green space, including parks and greenways. The plan includes a comprehensive description of how multiple sources of funding, from federal funds to state wildlife and conservation funding, could be combined to pay for this network.120 

Local governments can increase the effectiveness and reach of grant funding by leveraging federal or state grants through environmental loan programs.  For example, the City of Lancaster, PA, funded a program that installed stormwater management features in parking lots by leveraging grant money from the state natural resources agency (as well as from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation) to secure a loan from Pennsylvania’s infrastructure bank.121 

Related Resources

 
  Memphis, Tennessee Mid-South Regional GreenPrint

The greater Memphis region created a plan to combine multiple sources of federal, state, and local funding – including transportation funding for recreational trails – to implement a regional plan for trails and open space to mitigate flooding and promote community growth.  In 2015, the Mid-South Regional Commission created the Mid-South Regional GreenPrint for the next 25 years and envisions a regional network of green space, including parks and greenways. The plan includes a comprehensive description of how multiple sources of funding, from federal funds to state wildlife and conservation funding, could be combined to pay for this network.

  Community-Based Conservation in Tucson’s Rincon Heights Neighborhood

The City of Tucson, Arizona, used a grant from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to fund a series of green infrastructure projects in the Rincon Heights neighborhood, including the conversation of vacant lots into a stormwater management pocket parks featuring bioretention elements, curb cuts, and the removal of impervious surfaces.

  Rainscaping Iowa

The Rainscaping Iowa Program is a collaboration among several state and local agencies in Iowa and is dedicated to educating the public and training professionals in infiltration-based stormwater management. The program is funded through a variety of state and local sources, including the state Department of Transportation’s Living Roadway Trust, along with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship, Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Storm Water Education Program, and the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District.

Local Funding

Overview

Local governments have multiple options for using local funding to pay for green infrastructure projects. If resources are sufficient, local governments can include green infrastructure programs and projects in capital budgets.122 If local governments want a dedicated source of funds just for green infrastructure and stormwater management, municipal and stormwater utility fees may also provide an important source of revenue.

Coordinating Across Multiple Agencies

Local governments can increase the efficiency of green infrastructure programs and expand the pool of available funding by coordinating funding across municipal agency budgets. Such coordination can reduce project costs by ensuring that projects are installed at the most cost-effective times – for example, when street or sidewalk construction is already scheduled. In addition to improving cost effectiveness, encouraging collaboration among agencies may enable sharing of green infrastructure costs among agency budgets.  For example, in Los Angeles, CA, the Bureau of Street Services and the Bureau of Sanitation collaborated to implement the Oros Street project – a $1 million installation of bio-retention areas in the street parkway and a large infiltration basin underneath a nearby park.123   Boulder, Colorado’s Greenways program is funded by equal contributions from the City’s Transportation Fund, Stormwater and Flood Control Utility Fund and the state’s Lottery Fund, with additional funding by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.124 

Local Funding Options

Municipal Budgets

Many local governments fund green infrastructure and stormwater management programs through the general fund, which in most local governments is primarily funded through income and property taxes. A local government using funds from general tax revenue for green infrastructure will not need to set up new revenue collection and appropriation systems, but funding for green infrastructure programs may not be stable year-to-year if other spending obligations are seen as higher priorities. Additionally, the use of general funds could be seen as inequitable, because some property owners that contribute to stormwater runoff (such as public facilities, universities, and churches) may be exempt from the income or property taxes used to fund the program.125 

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District in the Twin Cities in Minnesota provided initial funding for its green infrastructure program with the watershed district’s Capital Improvements Budget.126   The project received additional support from property tax revenue and state grant funding.127 

Permit Fees

Local governments can assess permit fees to provide additional revenue for green infrastructure programs. The fees allow local governments to raise revenue directly from any proposed development or construction that might worsen stormwater impacts.  Portland, Oregon, has established a “One Percent for Green” Fund, which requires that all construction projects in the public right-of-way that do not include “green street facilities” (including curb extensions and porous pavement) must contribute one percent of project costs to a city fund for other green infrastructure projects that exceed city requirements.128 

However, assessed fees may not provide sufficient funding for full program implementation, and likely would need to be combined with additional funding sources. Additionally, fees may not be a consistent source of revenue, as they may decrease during a time of slow construction.129 

Stormwater Utility Fees

Local governments may choose to assess stormwater utility fees as a reliable means of paying for green infrastructure programs. This approach is advantageous because it provides a dedicated funding stream with sustainable and predictable revenue over time.

A stormwater utility fee may be seen as a more equitable way to pay for stormwater management, compared to general funds, because local governments or utilities may be able to raise money in a way that is directly related to a property’s stormwater impacts. Many local governments allow property owners to offset stormwater user fees or earn incentives and credits by managing stormwater onsite through best management practices such as reducing impervious surface area. For example, the programs in Prince William County, Virginia, and Lenexa, Kansas, provide fee reductions or credits to property owners who manage stormwater onsite.130 

However, establishing utility fees may face regulatory and legal limitations, including sometimes approval of a legislative body. An entity (local or regional government or utility) that decides to establish a stormwater user fee must first determine its legal authority to do so, and must structure the user fee in a way that meets all applicable state legal requirements. State law sets the parameters for what types of local or regional entities are allowed to establish fees or taxes, and local governments must be extremely clear that they meet their own states’ definition. While these requirements vary by state, they can include procedural questions (e.g., whether a vote by the local elected body or the voters is necessary) and substantive questions (e.g., whether the fee is structured in such a way as to fairly relate to the amount of impervious surface on a particular property).

A number of local governments have faced legal challenges following the imposition of utility fees, including stormwater fees.131  One of the most commonly litigated issues is whether an assessed utility fee is considered a fee or a tax. Because some jurisdictions require voter approval to assess a tax, this distinction can be critical. In the event of a legal challenge, courts commonly look to several elements to distinguish between a tax and a fee. These elements include: the relationship between the assessed fee and the service provided by the local government, the purpose of the fee, the uniformity of application of the fee, and whether the fee benefits those who pay.132  Similarly, lawsuits have been filed challenging the authority of a local government to establish a utility.  Local governments should carefully consider all applicable legal requirements and relevant case law before implementing a stormwater utility fee.

Establishing and assessing a utility fee requires upfront administrative costs, including a feasibility study, stakeholder outreach, and fee structure design and implementation. Additionally, there have been a few high-profile examples of public resistance to the stormwater user fee model.133  However, through effective outreach, local governments may be able to establish strong community support for stormwater user fees. The City of Orlando, Florida, funds its stormwater management activities through a stormwater utility fee, and successfully built public support for fee implementation by linking the fee to citizens’ concerns about flooding and clean waterbodies.134 

Related Resources

 
  Boulder's Greenways Master Plan

In addition to traditional revenue sources such as taxes or fees, many local governments draw on other revenue sources.  In Boulder, Colorado, the city’s Greenways program is funded by equal contributions from the City’s Transportation Fund, Stormwater and Flood Control Utility Fund and the State’s Lottery Fund, with additional funding by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.

  Lenexa, Kansas Rain to Recreation Program

Lenexa, KS, is funding its robust Rain to Recreation program by pairing the city’s Storm Systems Development Charge (a 1/8 cent sales tax) and a permit fee that the city called a “capital development charge,” along with available sources of local, state and federal funding. Combining multiple sources of funding enables Lenexa to have longer-term and more sustainable funding for its program.

  Prince William County Stormwater Fee

Prince William County, VA, assesses a stormwater management utility fee to all owners of developed property. Residential property owners are biannually assessed a flat fee based on the type of residence (single family home or apartment). Nonresidential properties are assessed a fee of $18.56 for every 1,000 square feet of impervious area on the property. Property owners can get a fee reduction or a credit for reducing the amount of impervious surface, encouraging more use of green infrastructure.

Government Financing

Overview

In addition to using funding and revenue sources, municipal governments may be able to use public financing strategies to pay for green infrastructure projects. Financing a project through a municipal bond or Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan may have significant advantages. For example, a local government may be able to make upfront investments in green infrastructure programs and realize more immediate benefits from project installation. However, financing strategies have limitations. Local governments may not be able to find sufficient financing for small scale or demonstration projects because investors are generally interested in bigger projects. Additionally, financing may only be available for capital projects and not for the operations and maintenance that are essential to successful green infrastructure programs.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund

One important source of financing for water infrastructure projects is the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).  The federal government provides grants to capitalize state CWSRF programs. States contribute a 20 percent funding match, and administer and operate the programs. The state programs function as infrastructure banks: repaid principal and interest from loans is returned to the state program, allowing the state to finance new projects.135 

States have significant flexibility over CWSRF program administration, and can provide several forms of financial assistance to local governments, including:136 

  • Direct loans: CWSRF can provide financing for a project and offer interest rates at or below market rates.
  • Debt purchasing or refinancing: CWSRF can be used to purchase a community’s stormwater infrastructure debt to relieve unfavorable loan terms; projects may be refinanced using CWRF funds.
  • Loan guarantees and insurance: CWSRF funding can be used to increase access to private credit markets or lower a jurisdiction’s private borrowing costs.
  • Additional subsidization: Under certain conditions and federal appropriation levels, additional subsidization in the form of loan forgiveness or grants may be available.

States can use the CWSRF to fund the capital costs of both gray and green infrastructure, but CWSRF funding cannot be used for operations and maintenance expenses.137 

Although only a small percentage of CWSRF funding has historically been directed to green infrastructure projects, the EPA and many states have recently made green infrastructure a priority for CWSRF programs. The CWSRF operates a Green Project Reserve, designed to encourage environmentally responsible investments with CWSRF funds. Green Project reserve guidance requires states to invest at least ten percent of their federal grant funding in four priority areas, including green infrastructure.138   Since 2009, state CWSRF programs have provided $800 million in assistance to green infrastructure projects. In January 2016, the EPA issued a statement of policy encouraging states to support green infrastructure projects by prioritizing these projects for CWSRF funding.

Bond Financing

Local governments and municipal utilities may be able to finance capital spending through the issuance of municipal bonds.139  Municipal bonds are a very common way for local governments to finance capital projects – in the United States there are approximately $2.8 trillion in outstanding U.S. municipal bonds.140  For infrastructure that requires significant upfront capital investment but will operate for a number of years, bond financing allows a local government to pay for a project over the entire life of the infrastructure because the debt is repaid gradually over time.

Municipal bonds can be issued as:

  • General obligation bonds: secured by the full faith and credit of a local government, or
  • Revenue bonds: secured by a future revenue stream (e.g., a stormwater fee).

While local governments and utilities can raise funds in the private bond market, municipal bonds often provide capital at a lower interest rate.141   An EPA study found that a typical interest rate on a municipal bond was 3-4 percent, compared to a private bond typical rate of 5-15 percent.142 

Municipal bond issuance is regulated by state law, and state laws generally cap the total amount a jurisdiction may borrow through bonding. State law also controls a local government’s authority to issue bonds at all, the type of projects that can be financed with bond issuance, the eligibility of bond proceeds to pay for operations and maintenance expenses, and other factors.143  It is important that a jurisdiction considering bond financing look into its applicable state laws on all of these topics to ensure compliance.144 

Green bonds are an emerging, promising mechanism by which local governments can fund climate resilience and other environmentally focused projects. Green bonds are not significantly different in structure than bonds used for other purposes, but are used to finance environmentally beneficial activities. Because green bonds must be used for environmentally beneficial projects, they may attract the interest of investors interested in environmental issues, as well as traditional investors. This increased interest may in the future reduce borrowing costs (compared to traditional bonds) for governments raising funds through bond issuance.145 

Many investment institutions, including major private and public banks, have developed independent principles and guidelines governing green bonds.146  Green infrastructure installations would qualify under most definitions and institutional guidelines for green bonds, due to the numerous environmental benefits of green infrastructure installations. Over the past several years, green bonds have been one of the fastest growing sectors of the bond market, with over $37 billion in green bonds sold globally in 2014.147 

Tax Increment Financing

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a method of financing a project or development in a designated geographic area based on the anticipated increase in property tax that will be generated by the project. The revenue generated by a TIF is the property tax assessed on the increase in property value of a designated district following a development project, compared to the baseline property value prior to the development project. Tax increment financing originally developed as a means of financing the redevelopment of “blighted” areas, but is now used for a broad range of infrastructure improvements.148  Chicago, Illinois, has established more than 120 TIF districts, and has leveraged its public investment to attract over $6 billion in private capital investment in TIF districts over two decades of development.149  Revenue from Chicago’s Central Loop TIF has been used to fund the city’s Green Roof Improvement Fund, which incentivizes and provides partial reimbursement to commercial buildings that install green roofs to manage stormwater.150 

Green infrastructure may be an important component of a TIF development because the installation of green infrastructure can increase property values. The property value increases are driven by the effectiveness of green infrastructure at mitigating persistent flooding, as well as co-benefits such as providing community amenities and improving aesthetics.151  The city of Milwaukee performed a quantitative analysis of green infrastructure installations and found that such projects added significant value to neighboring property, as expected when the TIF district was created.152 

Local governments can use tax increment financing for large capital projects (such as green infrastructure installation) or incremental, longer-term spending.  A local government could issue municipal or private bonds to raise capital for a large-scale green infrastructure project, and use the TIF revenue to service bond payments. Alternatively, a local government could use TIF revenue incrementally—as the revenue is collected—to pay for smaller-scale green infrastructure projects153  or, in many jurisdictions, to provide a sustainable revenue source to pay for operations and maintenance of green infrastructure installations.154   

Tax increment financing may be a valuable option for a local government because the TIF model allows a development or infrastructure project to “self-finance”—the increase in assessed property value caused by the development is used to repay the cost of the property development. This process allows a local government to finance a capital project without raising property tax rates or exceeding its debt limit.

However, tax increment financing has several limitations that local governments must consider. A local government cannot implement a TIF unless the state has passed TIF-enabling legislation.155  State-specific statutory and regulatory requirements regulate the type of projects permitted and administrative procedures required for tax increment financing, such as requirements to pass local ordinances.156  For example, some states require a local government to make a finding of blight in a district before using a TIF as part of a redevelopment plan, which might limit the neighborhoods in which a local government could focus green infrastructure projects.157  Additionally, TIFs have received significant criticism and opposition due to the potential of TIF financing to divert property tax revenue from other municipal needs, such as school funding.158 

 

Related Resources

 
  City of Berkeley, California 2016 Measure T1 - Bonds to Improve Existing City Infrastructure and Facilities

On November 8, 2016 Berkeley voters passed Measure T1 with an 86.5% approval.  This measure authorizes the City to sell $100 million of General Obligation Bonds (GO Bonds) to repair, renovate, replace, or reconstruct the City’s aging infrastructure and facilities, such as sidewalks and streets, senior and recreation centers, and other important City facilities and buildings. The first round of funding includes the use of green infrastructure for storm drains and parks, and is focused on advancing social equity across projects. City staff prioritized potential T1 projects using Berkeley’s Resilience Strategy criteria, which focus on addressing safety, financial, social, and environmental criteria to provide multiple benefits from infrastructure investments.  

  EPA Financing Green Infrastructure: A Best Practices Guide for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund

In 2015 the U.S. Environmental Protection agency published a best practices guide for funding green infrastructure projects through states’ Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) programs.  The Best Practices Guide highlights successful case studies from several states, and provides examples of ways in which state CWSRF programs can prioritize green infrastructure projects for program funding. The EPA suggests that states can increase CWSRF support for green infrastructure by implementing priority point systems, program set-asides, and marketing strategies for state programs.

  Massachusetts Green Bonds

In 2014, the state of Massachusetts issued $350 million in green bonds to fund water infrastructure projects, including stream bed restoration and open-space protection. Bond funds also covered the planting of new trees in the City of Worcester and surrounding areas, including several urban “orchards.” These orchards are small plots within the city designed to accommodate fruit bearing trees, to help with access to healthy foods in these neighborhoods. Bond funding supported the Worcester Tree Initiative, which also engages and trains residents in care for the trees and the benefits of urban forestry.

  City of Chicago Tax Increment Financing and Green Roof Improvement Fund

The City of Chicago, Illinois, has successfully used tax increment financing (TIF) to fund public infrastructure and development projects. The city has established more than 120 TIF districts, and has leveraged its public investment to attract over $6 billion in private capital investment in TIF districts over two decades of development. Revenue from Chicago’s Central Loop TIF has been used to fund the city’s Green Roof Improvement Fund, which provides partial reimbursement to commercial buildings that install green roofs to manage stormwater.159 Several complete street green infrastructure projects in Chicago have been partially funded by the use of tax increment financing, including the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape project.

  Funding Green Infrastructure in Pennsylvania: Funding the Future of Stormwater Management

American Rivers’ Funding Green Infrastructure in Pennsylvania report provides an overview of financing and funding strategies currently being employed to fund green infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania, including the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). In Pennsylvania, the CWSRF is administered by PENNVEST, an independent state agency that awards funds allocated to the state. PENNVEST funds all stages of a project: development, construction, and rehabilitation. In 2009, PENNVEST awarded the city of Philadelphia a low-interest loan of $30 million for green infrastructure projects, including street tree planting and permeable pavement installation.

Private Financing

Overview

Communities may also explore innovative strategies to leverage limited municipal funds to attract private capital. One approach that is common to infrastructure projects but has been limited in green infrastructure stormwater management is the use of public-private partnerships. Even more innovative strategies to engage private sector capital include pay-for-performance funding mechanisms such as social impact bonds.

Public-Private Partnerships

A public-private partnership (P3) is a collaboration between a government and one or more private sector partners. Under a P3, the private sector partner contracts to fulfill one or more traditional government functions, including financing, delivery, operations, and/or maintenance of public infrastructure.  

A P3 may allow a local government to make significant upfront capital investments without straining its municipal debt limit, by leveraging limited public funds to attract private capital.160  Commonly cited benefits of P3s include more cost effective and faster program implementation, due to potential economies of scale and technical expertise that a private-sector partner can provide.

However, local governments exploring a P3 must examine several significant legal and policy considerations.  A local government must first determine whether its state has passed enabling legislation for P3s, as well as any restrictions in the enabling legislation on the categories or structures of P3s.161  Additionally, there can be some degree of public opposition to private-sector management of traditional public functions such as operations and maintenance post-installation.162  Prior to establishing a P3, local governments should conduct meaningful stakeholder and community outreach to ensure that the goals of the P3 and terms of the contract agreement align with community interests and achieve community objectives.

For example, local governments can structure a P3 to achieve those community objectives such as community development and local jobs growth by adding local workforce training and hiring requirements into the P3 contract agreement. Prince George’s County, Maryland, has entered into a P3 to address its stormwater management problems through a comprehensive, county-wide green infrastructure program.  Corvias Solutions, the private sector partner, assumes responsibility for design, construction, operations, and ongoing maintenance. As part of the P3 agreement, Corvias will use small and minority businesses in Prince George’s County for at least 30 to 40 percent of the total project.  To verify the effectiveness of the P3, Prince George’s County is independently conducting its own green infrastructure program using conventional public processes during the first three years of the contract. After three years, the county will evaluate the effectiveness of the P3 and determine whether or not to extend the agreement with Corvias.163 

Related Resources

 
  DC Water Environmental Impact Bond

DC Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), the water utility in Washington, D.C., has announced the nation’s first Environmental Impact Bond (EIB), an innovative bond to fund the construction of green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff and improve the District’s water quality. The $25 million, tax-exempt EIB was sold in a private placement to the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and Calvert Foundation to fund the initial green infrastructure project in its DC Clean Rivers Project, a $2.6 billion program to control stormwater runoff that pollutes the Anacostia River, Potomac River and Rock Creek. The linked case study from the US Environmental Protection Agency's Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center provides an overview of how the transaction was structured.

  Public-Private Partnership (P3) Model State Legislation

The Bipartisan Policy Center prepared model legislation to help states pass legislation authorizing the use of public-private partnerships (P3). Before a local government can use a P3 to implement green infrastructure projects, it must determine whether its state has passed enabling legislation for P3s, as well as whether the enabling legislation is broad enough to allow for green infrastructure or stormwater management P3s. As of December 2015, 33 states have passed some form of P3 enabling legislation. Many states’ enabling laws contain specific limitations on the types of P3s, the length of P3 agreements, and the process for negotiating P3s. 

  Community Based Public-Private Partnerships (CBP3s) and Alternative Market-Based Tools for Integrated Green Stormwater Infrastructure

This report is a comprehensive guide for local governments developed by U.S. EPA Region 3. The Community Based Public-Private Partnerships provides background on Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) and a detailed case study of the Prince George’s County green infrastructure P3. The guide provides more general information about the cost and cost-effectiveness of green infrastructure techniques for stormwater management and includes an overview of traditional and innovative strategies for communities funding green infrastructure programs.

  Prince George’s County Clean Water Partnership FAQs

The Clean Water Partnership Frequently Asked Questions document provides an overview of the green infrastructure P3 agreement between Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Corvias Solutions, the private-sector partner. The document includes an overview of the project goals and schedule, and explains the role of the private and public-sector parties.

Communication Strategies for Green Infrastructure

Communication and Engagement

Communications strategies focusing on both the public and on other government partners are vital to implementing successful green infrastructure programs.  Increased public awareness and satisfaction with green infrastructure projects can lead to increased support for further projects as well as potential opportunities for private property owners to install their own green infrastructure practices, such as rain gardens. Collaborating with partner agencies can increase the potential buy-in for green infrastructure practices throughout the local government, as well as to increase the potential funding streams and manpower for ongoing operations and maintenance. As the benefits of green infrastructure are available more quickly than the benefits for gray, effective communication strategies can relay that information to the public to build support. Several strategies exist to communicate the benefits of green infrastructure:

Source: Clean Waters, Healthy Families Coalition, www.cleanwaterhealthyfamilies.org

Presentations and Workshops: Holding presentations and workshops enables staff to meet individual members of the community and better understand and meet community needs. For example, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection makes presentations to community boards and other civic and environmental organizations, in addition to elected officials and their staffs, about the city’s Green Infrastructure Program.  Likewise, as part of its 10,000 Rain Gardens Program, Kansas City sponsored “how-to workshops” for private landscaping businesses and municipal employees that explained the initiative, rain gardens, and water quality concerns.  These workshops not only raised awareness but trained contractors and city employees in installation and maintenance techniques.

Media Campaigns: Kansas City engaged in an extensive media campaign involving interviews on television and the radio, as well as advertisements and articles in local newspapers.  These media campaigns reached an estimated three million people in 2007.  In 2013, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection created an educational video on the Green Infrastructure Program, which described some of the environmental challenges caused by combined sewer overflows as well as some green infrastructure solutions such as green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavers. In the state of Maryland, the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition created a radio ad with a catchy song to combat opponents who had labeled stormwater fees as a "rain tax."

Websites: In 2013, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection launched a new website that provides information on the City’s Green Infrastructure Program, including the most common types of green infrastructure practices as well as a map of priority areas. Community members can use the site to see if their neighborhood will receive green infrastructure installations and to better understand the practices. Kansas City’s 10,000 Rain Gardens initiative created a website offering residents and other audiences a clearinghouse of information pertaining to the program and to stormwater management more generally, and was receiving over 100,000 visits per year even after the main media campaign had ended.

Written Materials: Written materials such as brochures and surveys can be effective means of engaging the public and partner agencies about stormwater management practices and the municipality’s use of green infrastructure. For example, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection developed a brochure that explains the siting and construction process for projects in the right-of-way, answers frequently asked questions, and describes the co-benefits of green infrastructure.  Similarly, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) used parking surveys to better understand and meet the needs of the community for its Street Edge Alternatives Program. The surveys revealed community concerns about reductions in parking due to reductions in street width caused by the installation of green infrastructure projects.  SPU responded to this concern by installing occasional angled parking clustered along the street.

Inter-Agency PartnershipsCreating partnerships between agencies can help to implement green infrastructure practices both efficiently and effectively. By pooling the resources, expertise, and knowledge of different agencies, inter-agency partnerships can be crucial to successful pilot programs. These partnerships can exist to aid in any stage of the process, including planning, installation, maintenance, and monitoring. For example, in New York City, the Departments of Environmental Protection and Parks and Recreation have worked together to develop the Green Infrastructure Maintenance Program in order to allocate appropriate resources for the long-term maintenance of DEP’s green infrastructure projects.

Equity and Environmental Justice

Many local governments are incorporating principles of equity, environmental justice, and social vulnerability into their climate adaptation planning. This section highlights some tools for targeting social vulnerability, engaging overburdened communities, and incorporating equity principles into adaptation planning and implementation.

Image Credit: Jessica Grannis.  Green roof being installed on a school in Washington, DC.

 

Equity and Environmental Justice

Equity Tools

The following resources include local governments who have incorporated equity into resilience planning, federal grant money that has been used for green infrastructure job training for prison inmates, social vulnerability mapping tools, and resources for meaningfully engaging communities to set goals. Some of the examples are green infrastructure-specific, and some are related to cliamte adaptation more generally.

Related Resources

 
  NYC Climate Justice Agenda

In this report, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) presents an analysis of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s OneNYC Plan and recommends ways to strengthen the city government’s efforts to cultivate climate justice. The document is organized under five themes: (1) climate adaptation and mitigation, (2) equity and infrastructure, (3) public health, (4) community preparedness, and (5) community-based planning. Under each theme, NYC-EJA lists the strengths and shortcomings of OneNYC, as well as a set of recommendations to build a more just, equitable, and resilient city. 

  Equity in Sustainability: USDN Capacity Building Program

In September 2015, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), in partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Center for Social Inclusion, launched a professional development program for sustainability directors and their staff for advancing racial equity into sustainability planning and development. The program became available online and includes a holistic curriculum of five webinars, videos and worksheets to support local government staff in applying an equity lens to sustainability projects. A facilitator’s guide is designed for equity advocates to lead workshops using the related videos and worksheets.

  South Ironbound Resiliency Action Plan (Newark, New Jersey)

The South Ironbound Resiliency Action Plan lays out resiliency goals for a portion of the Ironbound neighborhood in the East Ward of Newark, New Jersey called South Ironbound, that will inform funding priorities and inform longer term climate mitigation and adaptation goals. The neighborhood is prone to flooding due to sewer back-ups, heavy rain storms, and storm surge. The report is organized into strategic components related to resilience. For each strategy, there is an in-depth review of major actions and implementation considerations.

  Resilient New Orleans: Strategic Action to Shape Our Future City

In August 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city's vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans that will serve the next generations of residents. The strategy was developed by the City of New Orleans as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. Resilient New Orleans identifies a number of ongoing and supporting actions that the city is already taking, as well as 14 new strategies that New Orleans will implement in support of its resilience vision.

  EJSCREEN: EPA Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a new environmental justice (EJ) mapping and screening tool called EJSCREEN. EJSCREEN allows users to access high-resolution environmental and demographic information for locations in the United States, and compare their selected locations to the rest of the state, EPA region, or the nation.

  City of Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon Climate Action Plan 2015

The City of Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon 2015 Climate Action Plan (CAP) presents a plan to reduce local carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 with specific objectives to achieve by 2030. The Plan also identifies over 100 strategies to both reduce local carbon emissions, and adapt to and prepare for climate change in the short-term. The CAP states that its success is dependent on ability to create jobs, advance social equity, improve public health, strengthen natural systems and enhance quality of life, as co-benefits of these mitigation and adaptation strategies.   

  One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (One NYC)

The 2015 plan for New York City, One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC) was originally released in 2007, and again in 2011 under the name "PlaNYC."  As in past iterations of this report, OneNYC addresses New York City’s economic growth, sustainability, and resiliency - but also seeks to address issues of equity, and provides a strategic plan for collectively achieving this goal. OneNYC lays out strategies for dealing with income inequality along with plans for managing climate change impacts, while establishing the platform for another century of economic growth and vitality.

  Memphis, Tennessee Mid-South Regional GreenPrint

In 2015, the Mid-South Regional Commission created the Mid-South Regional GreenPrint as a visioning document for the tri-state area of the greater Memphis region for the next 25 years. The plan envisions a regional network of green space, including connected parks and greenways, or Greenprint. The intention of the Greenprint plan is to address long-term housing and land use, resource conservation, environmental protection, accessibility, community health and wellness, transportation alternatives, economic development, neighborhood engagement, and social equity in the Greater Memphis Area.

  NAACP Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Planning

From the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), this report contains a list of equity based indicators that are measures of vulnerability and resilience to climate change impacts. The indicators were developed for both pre-existing vulnerabilities and assets, as well as for processes and results of resiliency planning. The aim of this resource is for city planners, community organizations, elected officials, and other decision-makers to consider these equity based indicators as they design climate adaptation plans. 

  EPA Urban Waters Small Grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Urban Waters Program aims to restore urban waters in ways that also benefit community and economic revitalization. With a focus on vulnerable populations and environmental justice, the EPA recognizes that healthy and accessible water in urban areas can help grow local businesses and enhance educational, recreational, social and employment opportunities in local communities. EPA will support projects and build partnerships with a variety of federal, state, tribal, and local partners that foster increased connection, understanding, and stewardship of local waterways through the Urban Waters Program.