Breaking News Drops at Green Infrastructure Stakeholder Summit

HalAll seemed fairly routine when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hosted a meeting at their offices to provide an update on the study of green infrastructure practices and regulations the Agency is required to conduct under P.A. 96-0026, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act. But it was not expected that during the meeting, Marcia Willhite, Chief of the IEPA Water Bureau, informed the 100 or so people in attendance that the IEPA Water Bureau “needs to rethink some things, part of which is how to promote green infrastructure and innovative environmental projects” through the funding of projects with State Clean Water Revolving Fund money. Willhite said she intends to establish an advisory committee to revise revolving fund criteria to ensure that green infrastructure projects receive greater priority.

Given the heavy focus of the 2009 State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan program on conventional wastewater infrastructure, this news from Ms. Willhite was a welcome change. Many municipalities in Illinois were not able to take advantage of the funds made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Act) because IEPA only provided 25% grant funding, and did not encourage green infrastructure projects. There is now hope that in 2010 IEPA will take a fresh look at these projects and provide enough outright grant funding to enable municipalities to go forward with them. As a result, we recommend that municipalities and counties consider applying for funding in 2010 for stormwater projects that infiltrate, evapotranspire or harvest rainwater for reuse, such as green roofs, porous alleys, streets and parking lots, tree plantings, rain gardens, vegetated swales, downspout disconnections, and rain barrels and cisterns, for example.

Hal Sprague, Senior Policy Associate in CNT’s Natural Resources Program, spoke to the room of over 100 very diverse stakeholders, on the advantages of using green infrastructure strategies and techniques to address storm water problems. Martin Jaffe, Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the lead researcher for the IEPA study, identified the study participants and their respective research responsibilities. At IEPA’s invitation, several attendees presented questions, comments and suggestions to the researchers and agency representatives.

The study is about 40% complete, according to Jaffe, and a draft report will be submitted to the IEPA at the end of May 2010. IEPA is then to submit a completed report to the Governor and General Assembly by the end of June 2010. IEPA set a deadline of February 23, 2010 for anyone to submit formal written comments to ensure that they are considered by the research team. Once the study is completed, IEPA will be considering the adoption of statewide stormwater regulations to further promote the use of green infrastructure as a primary means of managing stormwater.