Using Integrated Planning and Green Infrastructure Techniques to Address Stormwater Challenges

October 16, 2012

By David DeVaughn

Managing stormwater in urban areas is a complex and potentially costly challenge. In recent years, there has been a growing understanding that "green infrastructure" practices for managing stormwater can, in many instances, take the place of more expensive conventional management methods and also provide diverse economic, recreational, environmental and public health benefits. Taking a new approach to the issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released an Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework (Framework), which encourages local governments to adopt green infrastructure approaches and related innovative practices that provide more sustainable, and in some cases, more cost-efficient solutions to managing stormwater.

In June 2012, EPA released the Framework to help local governments meet Clean Water Act (CWA) water quality objectives and prioritize capital investments. While an overarching principle of the Framework is to maintain existing CWA regulatory standards, an integrated planning approach will allow local governments to meet those requirements in an efficient and cost effective manner through sequencing and scheduling of projects.

The integrated planning approach is voluntary, placing the responsibility to develop an integrated plan with local governments and relevant utilities. As a first step, cities interested in pursuing an integrated planning approach should contact their state department of environment, as well as their EPA regional office. While many cities have existing water, wastewater and/or stormwater integrated plans, the Framework allows those plans to be incorporated into National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits or negotiated into a consent decree. To date, cities such as Durham, NH, Seattle and Milwaukee have or plan on incorporating an integrated plan in such a manner to meet their CWA goals.

NLC is currently pursuing a project to reach out to cities and towns interested in or currently utilizing the Framework. In working with cities and towns to document successes, challenges, and experiences they face when implementing the Framework, NLC aims to collect best practices and help inform cities that want to take a similar approach.

Recently, Council Member Michael Sesma from Gaithersburg, MD, chair of the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, participated in a conference hosted by the Council on Environmental Quality and EPA on the benefits of green infrastructure practices, identifying implementation barriers, evaluating options and opportunities for funding, financing and valuing green infrastructure, and developing practical actions that government, communities and others can take to promote greater implementation of green infrastructure.

"Green infrastructure practices can improve the quality of life in any municipality, but elected officials and the public need to be educated about the advantages and positive impacts," said Sesma.

"Green infrastructure approaches can be scaled to communities of different sizes and even the smallest cities can begin to make the necessary investments towards building sustainable and green practices in the management of stormwater and the protection of water resources. Green infrastructure can start with things as simple as rain gardens and green streets and scale up to larger stormwater projects," continued Sesma.

EPA and CEQ will share the meeting outcomes and a conference report later this fall.

The NLC Congress of Cities in Boston, November 28 to December 1, will feature a workshop on "Integrating Green Infrastructure in Your Community." The workshop, scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30 at 1:30 p.m., will identify successful green infrastructure technologies and strategies, such as low-impact development and green roofs, and highlight communities that are integrating green infrastructure techniques into their community-wide transportation and watershed planning frameworks.

The session will be moderated by Council Member Jan Marcason from Kansas City, MO. Speakers will include Kevin Shafer, Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District,and Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and President Elect for the American Society of Landscape Architects. Shafer will not only give an overview of how the regional sewer district is implementing green infrastructure techniques, but how they are doing so in the context of the integrated planning framework. And Focht, using his experience with the City of Philadelphia and with the American Society of Landscape Architects, will describe the range of cost-effective green infrastructure strategies that cities can adopt.

Details: For more information on the EPA Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework, visit the EPA website. EPA will provide practical examples, as they become available, of how municipalities are implementing this integrated approach on its website. If your city has or wishes to pursue and integrated planning approach, contact David DeVaughn, NLC National Urban Fellow.