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Communities | Environment

What Rainy Cities Can Teach (And Learn) About Stormwater

A report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council highlights strategies Portland and Seattle are using to divert rainwater from sewers as a model for new federal standards.

Instead of sending rainwater into the sewer system where it could eventually pollute waterways, the group advocates redirecting it into living plants on eco-roofs, in people’s yards or along roadways.

NRDC did 14 case studies to illustrate six ways cities can develop more of this “green” infrastructure to manage stormwater and encourage residents to do the same.

According to the report, “Rooftops to Rivers II,” Philadelphia takes the cake for employing all six strategies. Portland has nailed down five of the six, and Seattle is doing three of them.

Here’s a look at the cities that stand out when it comes to:

  • Dedicating a portion of sewer and stormwater fees to developing green infrastructure. (Portland and Seattle)

  • Requiring developers to consider installing green infrastructure first instead of concrete or other pollution and storm-water controls. (Portland)

  • Requiring new developments to capture and treat a large portion of runoff on site, which is an incentive to consider letting nature do the work. (Portland)

  • Providing incentives for private property owners to plant trees, install ecoroofs, or reduce pavement. (Portland and Seattle)

  • Offering do-it-yourself guidance for creating green infrastructure at home. (Portland and Seattle)

  • Having a comprehensive plan for installing green infrastructure citywide. (Philadelphia only)

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of updating national stormwater regulations under the federal Clean Water Act. NRDC attorney Jon Devine said his group is hoping the agency will design federal rules that mimic what has already been done in cities such as Portland, Seattle and Philadelphia to use more “green” infrastructure for stormwater management.

“The EPA knows better than anybody how important green infrastructure is,” said Devine. “We’re very hopeful about the prospects for this new rule to promote green infrastructure.”

Devine said in addition to reducing water pollution, green infrastructure can beautify communities, reduce urban “heat island” effects, allow future drinking water to be naturally filtered by the soil, and boost vegetation that will absorb air pollution. It can save cities money, too, he said.

“The economics of green infrastructure are often very positive,” said Devine. “The EPA has indicated that in the vast majority of cases green infrastructure can save money for property owners and developers as opposed to gray stormwater solutions.”

The complete NRDC report is available here.

NRDC also unveiled a new website that contains information to aid stormwater management decision-makers and tools to survey cities about green infrastructure strategies being used to control stormwater.

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