Thursday, November 25, 2021

American Rivers: New Report: Funding The Future Of Green Infrastructure In Pennsylvania

A twist on a familiar adage amongst water managers is “when it rains, it drains.” While not unique to Pennsylvania, in suburban and urban municipalities, centuries of strong growth, including recent decades of sprawl, have transformed much of the state’s natural land cover into extensive impervious surface. 

As a result, instead of soaking into soils and groundwater, stormwater drains directly into rivers and streams contributing to — and often exacerbating — flooding and pollution.

The ideal approach to resolving the adverse impacts of stormwater would be to return the landscape to its natural cover. 

A highly cost-effective, efficient, and viable solution is to adopt “green” infrastructure practices that protect, restore, and replicate nature’s treatment of stormwater. 

Green infrastructure includes low-impact development practices at new and re-developing sites, and the incorporation of features such as rain barrels, green roofs, and permeable pavement on already-developed sites. 

Green infrastructure is becoming widely understood and accepted, and is being implemented on the ground in cities across the nation, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The challenge to broader implementation in smaller municipalities throughout the Commonwealth is ensuring that regulatory, management, and funding institutions work in concert to promote the use of green infrastructure. 

To begin with, Pennsylvania is challenged by historical patterns of funding water management that have prioritized wastewater treatment and drinking water delivery over stormwater management. 

Traditionally, funding also has favored hard structural solutions to management (known as “gray” infrastructure) rather than nonstructural or “green” practices that address the problems associated with runoff at its source. 

Further, regulation of stormwater management has failed to sufficiently integrate greener solutions and to promote nonstructural practices in the management of Pennsylvania’s water resources.

The unfortunate result is that Pennsylvania has received a failing grade for its management of stormwater.

In 2009, the Chesapeake Stormwater Network ranked Pennsylvania last of five Chesapeake Bay states on its Baywide Stormwater  scorecard. 

With an overall grade of “D” for implementing a stormwater program that meaningfully protects and restores the Bay, Pennsylvania received an “F” with regard to its funding of stormwater management needs to address the 21st century challenges posed by aging and deteriorating infrastructure, increasing demands on water use, and impacts of a changing climate.

Incorporate Green Approaches To Stormwater

Today, Pennsylvania has an unprecedented and timely opportunity to transform its water infrastructure. 

Following federal guidance, state regulations are being revised to incorporate greener approaches to stormwater management. 

Also, suggestions to adopt innovative management practices, including green infrastructure and conservation measures, are evolving from stakeholder discussions. 

New Federal, Other Funding Opportunities

Finally, funding institutions are quickly adapting to finance green infrastructure, catalyzed in part by the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which includes investments in green infrastructure and water efficiency advocated for by American Rivers. 

In 2009, $44.6 million in federal stimulus funds directed toward Pennsylvania for water infrastructure has leveraged more than $66 million in spending the state describes as “green.”

It is imperative to seize this chance to make progressive and institutional “green” investments to avert “pouring money down the drain.” 

Pennsylvania’s rivers and communities depend upon clean water and require a swift remedy to current infrastructure woes. 

“Green” solutions have the added benefit of facilitating the resilience rooted in nature that communities need to adapt to the impacts of climate change on vital freshwater resources.

Report Findings

Towards those ends, American Rivers has investigated the capacity of Pennsylvania’s funding institutions to support efficient and cost-effective green infrastructure practices to enhance sustainable water management over the long term. [Read the report]

Our findings highlight several recommendations for formalizing funding for green infrastructure that will help Pennsylvania municipalities achieve clean and abundant supplies of fresh water for healthy communities and future generations.

These recommendations will facilitate efficient and cost-effective green practices to address Pennsylvania’s stormwater management challenges. 

The results will yield benefits in the form of reduced tertiary treatment costs, decreased flood damages, and healthier ecosystems and communities throughout Pennsylvania that are also better prepared to adapt to a changing climate.

Recommendations for formalizing funding for green infrastructure that will help Pennsylvania municipalities achieve clean and abundant supplies of fresh water for healthy communities and future generations include:

1. Foster a collaborative relationship and consistent approach amongst stormwater management planning, regulation, and funding institutions to promote and advance the adoption and implementation of green practices;

2. Establish principles for investment in green solutions for stormwater management that will guide funders and applicants toward natural infrastructure alternatives;

3. Diversify funding sources for Pennsylvania’s water infrastructure needs to maximize the benefits of green practices instead of, or in conjunction with, traditional hard infrastructure; and

4. Improve outreach so that those responsible for local implementation of stormwater management practices know where to find technical and financial resources that support sustainable green practices.

Click Here for a copy of the report.

For more information on programs, initiatives and activities in Pennsylvania, visit the American Rivers website.

Related Articles:

-- Senate Committee Reports Out Bipartisan Bill Allocating $500 Million In American Rescue Fund Monies For Local Environmental Improvement, Recreation Projects

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation Applauds Senate Action On Bill To Allocate $500 Million To Fund Local Growing Greener Projects, Establish Clean Streams Fund

-- The Future Of Pennsylvania’s Parks and Forests Is in Our Hands; New Online StoryMap Describes Critical State Park, Forest Funding Needs

-- Guest Essay: Communities Should Invest Federal American Rescue Plan Funds In Conservation

-- Growing Greener Coalition: American Rescue Plan For Water & Green Infrastructure

-- Gov. Wolf Calls On U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture To Implement $737 Million Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative

[Posted November 25, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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