Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

Objective 2.4:

Integrate nature-based solutions into infrastructure planning processes and implementation.

The Need

Nature-based solutions in the built environment can be valuable tools for flood mitigation and stormwater management, in addition to preservation of larger tracts of open space. Nature-based solutions, which are defined in the Regional Vision to include green infrastructure, can be used to replace traditional “gray” infrastructure with vegetated or permeable surfaces. When used in this way, these approaches retain and filter stormwater where it falls rather than relying on built systems to convey stormwater elsewhere.See footnote 1 In addition to stormwater management, there are many co-benefits to including nature-based solutions into planning and development. These include environmental benefits, such as filtering water pollutants, improving air quality, sequestering carbon, and providing habitat.See footnote 2 They also provide important social and health benefits, such as reducing urban heat, providing recreational opportunities, and improving mental health and well-being through access to nature.See footnote 3 Local governments can also realize cost savings compared to conventional gray infrastructure for stormwater management.See footnote 4 

Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hard infrastructure, like roads, can exacerbate flooding challenges by reducing the surface area providing natural water storage capacity or by acting as barriers to the surface flow of water.See footnote 5 Additionally, many forms of infrastructure are designed for long lifespans, sometimes many decades for larger investments like bridges. It is therefore important to ensure that these investments will be justified, cost-effective, and informed by the latest data relating both to the need for the infrastructure, and potential risks like flooding.

Planning, appropriately, plays a key role in infrastructure decisionmaking, providing an opportunity to develop a long-term vision and establish priorities for investment needs over time. Infrastructure planning processes can be a useful way to ensure that nature-based solutions are integrated into the built environment and help to minimize environmental impacts like worsened runoff that might otherwise occur from hard infrastructure alone. By recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities upfront, especially during the initial planning phase, local governments can help ensure that benefits provided by nature-based resilience and flood mitigation are realized from infrastructure investments and projects long into the future.

This objective focuses on how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven can integrate policies promoting nature-based solutions into different infrastructure planning processes. For a more holistic approach, local governments should consider conducting infrastructure planning in conjunction with the approaches for fostering resilient, affordable housing (discussed in Goal Three and Goal Four) and for incorporating nature-based approaches and open space in neighborhoods (discussed in Objective 1.2).


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Three types of processes that lend themselves well to integrating nature-based solutions include:

  • Transportation planning;
  • Drainage and stormwater management planning; and 
  • Other broader (non-infrastructure specific) processes, such as climate adaptation, resilience and hazard mitigation planning.

These plans can be used individually or together. However, overall, when developing new or amending existing plans, parishes and municipalities should make an effort to integrate nature-based projects into these plans to help ensure their benefits can be realized community-wide. 

Transportation Planning

“Transportation planning” often refers specifically to the development of long-range transportation plans, a prerequisite for states and urbanized regions to receive federal surface transportation funding. However, individual parishes and municipalities may wish to develop their own transportation plans to set priorities for local investment needs. Used in this part, “transportation planning” is intended to refer to local (parish or municipal) transportation planning, but these recommendations may also be applied in the context of statewide or metropolitan long-range transportation planning. Transportation planning should also integrate well with other forms of development-related planning, including comprehensive planning and any other plans that address land-use patterns and housing considerations.

There are many opportunities to integrate nature-based solutions into transportation planning and design. In doing so, it is possible to mitigate the flooding of roads and other infrastructure, while providing other social, environmental, and aesthetic benefits. Along roadways, for example, nature-based projects have proven to be effective at reducing air pollution including particulate matter, which can be particularly important in urban areas with more vehicular traffic.See footnote 6 These types of solutions can include tree planting, the installation of bioswales, the introduction of other green features along the right-of-way, and replacing traditional, non-permeable roads with permeable pavements (particularly for roads with low-volume traffic). Other nature-based solutions like vegetated berms have been also studied for the potential to provide protection for coastal roads from coastal flooding and surge.See footnote 7

Local governments that opt to develop transportation plans, such as a  transportation master plan or transportation adaptation plan, can prioritize nature-based solutions in these documents as a way to steer investments towards these infrastructure projects that will help build resilience and mitigate flooding. For example, Ascension Parish developed a Transportation Master Plan in 2020 that identifies green infrastructure as a policy consideration that will help the parish achieve its overall vision.See footnote 8 The parish recommends using “green infrastructure best practices when possible for transportation improvements” and adopting green street standards “to provide additional benefits for stormwater management.”See footnote 9

Drainage and Stormwater Management Planning

Credit: The Water Collaborative.

Another way that local governments can plan for nature-based flood mitigation is through drainage master planning or stormwater management planning. Drainage master plans and stormwater management plans provide an overall vision and plan for managing surface water and storm runoff, identifying drainage and flooding challenges and proposing infrastructure investments and regulatory changes to mitigate these challenges.

East Baton Rouge Parish is in the process of finalizing a comprehensive Stormwater Master Plan, which includes gathering data and developing models to understand buildings and areas at higher risk from flooding now and in the future. The parish is working to identify criteria, guidance, ordinances, projects, and other activities to mitigate flooding, and ultimately will develop a 20-year stormwater capital improvement plan to prioritize projects based on established criteria.See footnote 10 During the process of developing its Stormwater Master Plan, the parish also approved an interim change to its Unified Development Code to require the prioritization of green infrastructure solutions in transportation investments.See footnote 11

On a smaller scale, many local governments require drainage plans as a condition of subdivision development, which can help mitigate any exacerbated flood impacts that would otherwise occur as a result of development activities. St. John the Baptist Parish mandates that project proponents create a stormwater management plan for any development occurring on one acre or more (or resulting in the installation of one acre or more of impervious surface).See footnote 12 This plan must “include post-development stormwater best management practices (BMPs) that limit the post-developed peak flow rate to the pre-developed peak flow rate for the ten-year, 24-hour and the 25-year, 24-hour storm event.”See footnote 13 St. Tammany Parish requires a drainage and pavement plan for “construction of commercial, industrial, institutional and certain multifamily developments, with the goal of improving pre-development runoff and reducing post-development runoff based on a minimum 25-year storm event.”See footnote 14

Broader Cross-Sector Planning

Although not specific to infrastructure, local governments can also integrate policies and projects featuring nature-based solutions in other types of crosscutting plans, such as local comprehensive, hazard mitigation, and climate adaptation and resilience plans.

Comprehensive Planning

As discussed previously in Objective 1.1 and Objective 2.2, comprehensive planning provides the overarching policy vision for development within a specified parish or municipality. Comprehensive plans can therefore help a local government establish policies that prioritize green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in the built environment as land is developed or redeveloped.

Hazard Mitigation Planning

Hazard mitigation planning is another valuable tool for expanding the use of nature-based solutions, particularly in that it opens up new potential sources of funding to implement these projects. Developing a hazard mitigation plan (HMP) is a prerequisite for receiving Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 15 Projects implemented with HMA funds must align with priorities established and mitigate vulnerabilities identified in a local government’s HMP. Hazard mitigation planning can also earn a community credit under Community Rating System (CRS) Activity 510 ⎯ Floodplain Management Planning (although the maximum credit awarded is for the development of a community-wide floodplain management plan rather than a multi-hazard plan).See footnote 16

Climate Adaptation and Resilience Planning

Climate adaptation and resilience plans outline or direct how local governments will aim to address forecasted climate change impacts, including challenges related to floods increasing in magnitude and frequency. These plans vary in format, level of detail, and sectors covered, among other factors, and are often preceded by and aligned with or include a climate vulnerability assessment. Adaptation and resilience plans are a logical vehicle for identifying priorities to reduce flood impacts, including through nature-based solutions; however, they typically lack the same authority or legal status of a local comprehensive plan or hazard mitigation plan.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When considering the most effective ways to integrate nature-based solutions in infrastructure-related planning processes, decisionmakers may find the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips useful:

  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation
  • Lead with data 
  • Educate the public and elected officials about the benefits of nature-based solutions
  • Coordinate with other authorities within the parish
  • Identify and allocate long-term funding for maintenance

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting practice tips and considerations including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and using quantitative and qualitative data to inform decisions.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation: Nature-based solutions can provide substantial benefits to communities in the form of flood mitigation, improved air quality, heat mitigation, aesthetic improvements, recreational opportunities, and general health and well-being. However, there are challenges with implementing these projects, particularly relating to upfront and maintenance costs, especially when considered outside of the context of long-term cost benefits or when not considering the advantages of co-benefits. Additionally, in areas at risk of gentrification, nature-based solutions have the potential to actually harm communities and exacerbate displacement pressures. Policymakers should practice meaningful engagement early and throughout infrastructure planning processes to ensure that policies and priorities included in these plans reflect the needs of communities. Effective community and stakeholder engagement practices that decisionmakers can adopt in this context are discussed further in Objective 5.1.
  • Lead with data: As with other decisions regarding flood risk mitigation, planners and policymakers should ensure that planning efforts are informed by the latest data and science. This should include, as part of the planning process, a standardized method to integrate any updates to the science and analysis related to flood risk and the economic and environmental benefits of nature-based solutions. Accurate data and models with a good understanding of uncertainties can help local governments justify policy changes and projects prioritized in infrastructure planning efforts, as well as investment decisions. For more information on prioritizing data needs related to flood mitigation and green space, see Objective 5.2 and Objective 5.3.
  • Educate the public and elected officials about the benefits of nature-based solutions: In order to build capacity and generate buy in from community members and organizations, academic and private experts, and elected officials to prioritize nature-based solutions, these audiences should have access to spaces where they can develop a common understanding of the many benefits of these approaches, including social, environmental, and economic co-benefits. Local governments should consider a variety of approaches to interact with relevant audiences, such as through fact sheets, social media, displays and signs in preservation areas, and through meetings and other forms of in-person and virtual engagement.
  • Coordinate with other agencies and authorities within the parish: As with Objective 2.2 and Objective 2.3, intraparish coordination should also be prioritized in infrastructure planning processes. This is particularly important across agencies and departments like planning, transportation, and the environment because they may not often interact with one another and will need to coordinate to plan for and implement nature-based solutions as part of infrastructure investments. A clear understanding of the key agencies’ authorities is critical. Any relevant agencies that may need to be involved in the implementation of these projects should communicate regularly and have collaboration structures in place to ease project implementation.
  • Identify and allocate long-term funding for maintenance: One of the main challenges of implementing nature-based solutions is in long-term financing and structures in place for maintenance, which is critical for these projects to function properly (i.e., for flood mitigation and other purposes). There are many options for funding and financing nature-based solutions, but local governments should understand the potential limitations (e.g., whether certain sources can be used for ongoing maintenance or only as capital investments). For more information on funding and financing nature-based solutions, see the Georgetown Climate Center’s Green Infrastructure Toolkit, Funding and Financing.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — Miami-Dade County, Florida: Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan

Little River — one community within Miami-Dade County — includes the Village of El Portal, the northern part of Miami, and two unincorporated areas. The Little River Adaptation Action Area (AAA) plan was released in January 2022 as part of the process to implement the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Adaptation Action Areas are locations that are especially prone to climate impacts like coastal flooding so that they can be prioritized for funding and planning purposes. The primary drainage system within the Little River AAA is made up of the Little River canal and its associated salinity control structures, the smaller canals, and the neighborhood systems, which consist of street inlets, pipes, pumps, French drains, and exfiltration trenches. When conducting a study relating to potential flood mitigation alternatives, the South Florida Management District (the District) found that the Little River area and its drainage infrastructure was among the most vulnerable in the area. To continue to address stormwater and drainage concerns, the Little River AAA plan offers four adaptation tools: improving the regional drainage system, improving local stormwater management, increasing permeable surfaces, and expanding green spaces. Other local jurisdictions could look to the Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan for an example on how to integrate nature-based solutions into a community-level adaptation planning process.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2014 and a Coastal Zone Management Plan in 2016. Most recently in 2019, the parish partnered with the state and nonprofit philanthropy Foundation for Louisiana through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) capital improvement process to create an Adaptation Strategy. Collectively, the plans offer a variety of principles, goals, and policies related to the parish’s growth and development. Those policies and development planning goals encompass prioritizing natural features, such as adopting green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) solutions and conserving open space. In general, the parish seeks to preserve low-density and conservation-oriented development trends across most of the parish, much of which is flood-prone. This approach will discourage floodplain and open space development by directing population growth and affordable housing investments toward drier, denser areas of the parish. Those policies allow the parish to preserve rural and flood-prone areas and maintain parish character and reduce risk to homes and infrastructure. Other local jurisdictions could look to St. John the Baptist Parish for an example on how to integrate nature-based solutions into a parish- or county-level adaptation planning process.

City of Mexico Beach, Florida: Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code

Mexico Beach is a small, coastal community in Bay County, Florida that has begun to adopt resilience measures following climate-enhanced disasters from hurricanes and flooding. Mexico Beach’s land development code outlines requirements for all development in the city and describes its zoning principles. In addition the land development code contains measures to preserve the city’s natural features, including district-specific maximums on impervious surface cover, landscape requirements, and protective zones for beaches, dunes, endangered species, wetlands, shorelines, and trees. Each district in Mexico Beach comes with a maximum permitted ratio of impervious surface area. The lowest of these is found in preservation districts, where impervious cover cannot exceed 20 percent. Regardless of the type of district, all development and redevelopment in the city is subject to landscape requirements. The purpose of these requirements is to encourage a holistic design approach that integrates existing vegetation, natural stormwater management systems, and native species to protect environmentally sensitive features and reduce the negative impacts of urbanization. Mexico Beach provides a model for other jurisdictions looking to increase the use of nature-based solutions and reduce impervious space through development regulations.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Following Hurricane Harvey, the city created its Resilient Houston plan to guide investments to make Houston more resilient to future storms and disasters. Houston’s post-Harvey approach to embracing nature involves adopting nature-based approaches for flood control and resiliency purposes. The city’s bayous receive significant amounts of pollution, especially during hurricanes and other disaster events. In addition to stormwater runoff, storm surges that result from the wind created by hurricanes carry pollutants and threaten coastal stability by eroding shorelines and disrupting habitats. Goal 9 of Resilient Houston addresses these issues and embraces the role of the area’s bayous by incentivizing “water-aware” development, designed to work in tandem with the natural flowing of rivers and bayous, and by employing natural systems to improve and protect surface water quality and coastal protection. Resilient Houston Goal 11 calls for updating Houston’s infrastructure design manual and adopting more comprehensive approaches like encouraging the use of GSI and on-site water capture and retention through best management practices, such as low-impact development. Resilient Houston outlines proposed initiatives like incorporating large-scale GSI and nature-based planning and design to expand the water detention capacity of bayou corridors. The city also recommends developing a new resilience quotient points system for GSI projects to better ensure that they provide a more standard or consistent level of benefits for people throughout the city. Other jurisdictions looking to integrate green infrastructure and nature-based solutions into a resilience planning process can look to the recommendations provided in Resilient Houston.

Broward County Florida Resiliency Standards for Flood Protection: Broward County Code of Ordinances Article XXV, Chapter 39.

Adopted by the Broward County Board of Commissioners in early 2020, Broward County’s new flood protection standards establish, and account for sea-level rise in, baseline elevation and maintenance standards for coastal and shoreline flood mitigation infrastructure for tidally affected communities in the County. Broward County adopted a new policy (2.21.7) in the County Land Use Plan requiring tidally influenced municipalities to adopt a local ordinance consistent with the regional standards, which were incorporated into county code as a model ordinance. The standards are meant to implement a regionally-consistent minimum elevation for flood mitigation and tidal barrier infrastructure that accounts for combined effects of sea-level rise, high tides, and high storm surge, and to ensure new structures are constructed under standardized criteria that account for future sea-level rise and flood pattern predictions through 2070. This approach to infrastructure planning and design by Broward County can serve as an example to other jurisdictions on how to ensure more resilient infrastructure through design standards.

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