Water-Centric Green Infrastructure: ‘Moving from market-niche to market-share’ across North America
Legislative Initiatives in the United States
In December 2009, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009 was introduced in the United States House of Representatives.
In July 2010, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2010 was introduced in the United States Senate. This bill is based on the 2009 Act and prioritizes green infrastructure as an alternative to traditional hard infrastructure fixes.
Green Infrastructure is defined within the bills as a stormwater (rainwater) management technique that preserves the natural hydrology of an area to help reduce stormwater (rainwater) runoff from hard surfaces.
Regulatory versus Educational Approach
“In British Columbia, we are watching with interest to see how green infrastructure legislative initiatives play out federally in the United States,” comments Raymond Fung, Chair of the Green Infrastructure Partnership.
“In the 1990s, we in BC looked to practices in Washington State as leading-edge examples of green infrastructure. We’ve been able to learn from those experiences and to develop a ‘bottom up’ educational approach with stakeholders to achieve the same objectives. So the American experience provides us with a basis for comparison with a more regulatory approach.”
Moving to Centre Stage
“It’s time for Congress to move Green Infrastructure to center stage in our national water strategy,” said Jacky Grimshaw, Vice President for Policy at the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a think-and-do tank founded in 1978.
“Green Infrastructure creates healthier, more vital communities, protects clean water, saves money and energy, and helps to create green jobs. The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act will extend EPA’s partnership toward sustainable communities by expanding cost- and ecologically effective green infrastructure.”
“The CNT and a broad national coalition worked vigorously for development of the ‘GI for Clean Water Act’, which is now introduced in both chambers.”
“By establishing a precedent of green infrastructure solutions, this approach can become a new norm rather than just a demonstration,” added Katherine Baer, Senior Director, Clean Water Program at American Rivers.
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) has also applauded the introduction of the legislation. “I have seen first-hand the water quality benefits of Green Infrastructure projects,” stated Kevin Shafer, NACWA President and Executive Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Regional Centers of Excellence
These bills envision establishing up to five Centers of Excellence for green infrastructure in the United States. The Centers would conduct research on green infrastructure relevant to the geographic region in which the center is located, and provide communities with training and technical assistance on how to implement green infrastructure best management practices.
The legislation would also provide incentive funding to help communities develop green infrastructure technologies.
A 21st Century Approach
“Green infrastructure offers a 21st century approach to managing our nation’s stormwater,” stated CNT in a news release lauding the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act.
“By replicating, restoring, and protecting the natural hydrology of the landscape, water is infiltrated where it falls, filtering out contaminants and reducing the volume of stormwater that overwhelms our water infrastructure systems.”
“From the neighborhood scale rain barrel to a watershed scale system of green roofs, permeable pavements, and wetland restoration, green infrastructure has the flexibility and economic viability to protect and restore clean water supplies for communities.”
From Market-Niche to Market-Share:
“The introduction of a ‘Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act’ demonstrates the extent to which green infrastructure is moving from ‘market-niche’ to ‘market-share’ across North America,” observes Patrick Condon. He is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments at the University of British Columbia.
In the late 1990s, Patrick Condon was tireless and influential in helping to facilitate a paradigm-shift in British Columbia when he drew attention to the need to look at the rainfall spectrum differently. He is the author of Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities; Design Strategies for a Post Carbon World, published in 2010.
Green Infrastructure in British Columbia
“A decade ago, we made a conscious decision to follow an educational rather than prescriptive path to implementing green infrastructure in British Columbia,” explains Raymond Fung. “We realized that changing the way we develop land depends on establishing higher expectations and challenging practitioners to embrace shared responsibility.
“We branded this as The New Business As Usual. We knew it would take time to change the culture. We now have the tools and the case study experience to ‘design with nature’. We believe that BC is at a tipping point. Implementation of a new culture for urban watershed protection and restoration is within our grasp.”
Beyond the Guidebook 2010
The Province of British Columbia has provided a ‘design with nature’ policy framework that enables local governments to build and/or rebuild communities in balance with ecology:
- This is what we want to collectively and incrementally achieve over time, and this is how we will work together to get there.
“Beyond the Guidebook 2010 is the ‘telling of the stories’ of how a water-centric approach to green infrastructure and community development is being implemented on-the-ground in BC. The stories of three regional initiatives demonstrate that the practitioner culture is changing as an outcome of collaboration, partnerships and alignment,” explains Glen Brown, Executive Director in the Ministry of Community & Rural Development.
“Beyond the Guidebook 2010 also provides local governments with ‘how to’ guidance for developing outcome-oriented urban watershed plans, with emphasis on a necessary course correction for Integrated Stormwater Management Plans (ISMPs),” adds Ted van der Gulik, Senior Engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture & Lands, and Chair of the Inter-Governmental Partnership that developed the Water Balance Model.
To Learn More:
There is now clear guidance for aligning local actions with provincial and regional goals to ‘design with nature’ so that British Columbians can create greener communities, live water smart and prepare for climate change.
Released in June 2010, Beyond the Guidebook 2010 describes how water sustainability can and will be achieved through implementation of green infrastructure policies and practices. Getting there relies on a change in mind-set.
Posted July 2010