Tapping the Potential of (and Funding for) Nature-Based Solutions  

By Laura Adams, Communities & Ecosystems Solutions Lead, Black & Veatch

Co-authored by Alejandro Escobar, Strategic Funding Lead, and Francesca Lauterman, Ecosystems and Nature-Based Solutions Scientist

What Are Nature-Based Solutions (NbS)? 

Nature provides a blueprint for promoting adaptability, resilience, and sustainability in the built environment, particularly water infrastructure. Nature also elevates social resilience with places that benefit communities, supporting physical and mental health and improving children’s academic and social-emotional learning outcomes (Cities Connecting Children to Nature). Although harnessing nature’s powers is not a new idea, interest in nature-based solutions (NbS), such as green stormwater infrastructure and ecosystem restoration, is growing among communities that face water demand, supply, cost, and quality challenges in the face of climate change. 

Using, managing, protecting, and restoring natural features and processes, the NbS approach promotes adaptation and resilience in engineered projects. It capitalizes on the interconnectedness of ecosystems, realizing multiple benefits. For example, restoring the natural channel of a stream can increase flood protection for communities plus protect fish habitat. It also opens a multitude of funding opportunities to adopt NbS in projects and as standalone projects.  

Funding Opportunities Abound for NbS  

Nature-based solutions offer significant benefits, potentially at a lower cost than more traditional infrastructure, leading federal and state government agencies to offer myriad funding opportunities for communities. Hundreds of federal and state grants, loans, rebates, tax credits, and other programs are designed for or can be used to fund NbS projects. Based on our review of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Guidebooks, BV estimates that 70-80 programs in these initiatives were created, enhanced, or received funding for NbS. 

Because these funding opportunities are myriad, varying in origin, size, scope, requirements, and timeframes, it can be advantageous to create a proactive strategic plan with a partner such as Black & Veatch to align terms, timing, and budgets, address requirements, administrative considerations, and applicability ahead of time. By taking this proactive approach, communities can even layer multiple funding sources to realize an array of benefits.  

Designing NbS Projects to Unlock More Funding Opportunities, Benefits 

A holistic understanding of available funding programs can help communities proactively design projects that qualify for layered funding opportunities. To access the diverse support, the project was designed to include flood hazard mitigation, improved water quality, sediment management, fisheries development, enhanced biodiversity, expanded recreational opportunities, infrastructure protection, and economic stimulus. Designing the project to achieve multiple programmatic benefits made the project eligible for more dollars while delivering a more significant positive impact on the community and ecosystem.   

A Sampling of Programs Prioritizing NbS 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 

Opportunities include the:

Housing and Urban Development

HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) mitigation program prioritizes nature-based solutions in overall mitigation strategies to reduce risk to community lifelines.  

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 

NOAA’s Climate Ready Coasts Initiative invests in high-impact natural infrastructure projects that build coastal resilience, create jobs, store carbon, and restore habitat.  

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)  

FDEP Innovative Technology Grants are available for projects intended to prevent, mitigate, or clean up harmful algal blooms, restore and preserve waterbodies, and reduce nutrients via treatment technologies. 

Bureau of Land Management

BLM has been allocated $161 million for projects that support wildlife habitat and watershed restoration across 11 states in the western U.S.  

Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) 

The WaterSMART Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program provides financial support for projects that are collaboratively developed, have widespread regional benefits, and result in the improvement of the health of fisheries, wildlife, and aquatic habitats.  

Making NbS Work for You 

Black & Veatch has conducted strategic funding evaluations for projects totaling more than $10 billion since 2020. Our community planning, ecosystem restoration, and funding teams collaborate to help clients realize investment-worthy projects by combining multiple funding sources and recommending risk-based strategies.  

Contact us to discuss your community’s specific needs. 

About the Authors