Green Infrastructure Toolkit
Federal programs can provide significant funding for local green infrastructure programs. Federal funding can come in the form of competitive grants or formula programs.See footnote 1 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.See footnote 2
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).See footnote 3 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 ProgramSee footnote 4 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.See footnote 5 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.See footnote 6 Additionally, green infrastructure can increase property values by mitigating flooding, improving neighborhood aesthetics, and providing other co-benefits.See footnote 7 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.See footnote 8 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.
Green infrastructure projects are often eligible for transportation funding because they improve transportation networks by efficiently and cost-effectively mitigating street and alley flooding.See footnote 9 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.See footnote 10 The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program allocates federal funding for infrastructure projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality.See footnote 11 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.See footnote 12
Clean Water Act: Section 319 Grant Program
EPA Urban Waters Small Grants
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 guidanceSee footnote 13 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.See footnote 14
HUD Community Development Block Grant Program
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,See footnote 15 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.
FEMA Hazard Mitigation 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.See footnote 16
City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin All Hazards Mitigation Plan
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.See footnote 17
HUD Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery
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.
USDOT Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program
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.
Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality 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.See footnote 18
HUD Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative
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.
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.See footnote 19
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.See footnote 20 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.
How to Pay for Green Infrastructure: Funding and Financing State Funding