Green Infrastructure Surges Across the U.S. – Illinois Reaching for Policy Lead
Recent actions by both Congress and the State of Illinois are bringing Green Infrastructure (GI) closer to becoming the preferred stormwater strategy to control runoff by sustainable, cost- and ecologically effective methods.
The U.S. Senate now is considering national Green Infrastructure policy, with introduction of the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act. CNT and a broad national coalition worked vigorously for development of the “GI for Clean Water Act”, which is now introduced in both chambers.
The Act would fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finance federal cost-share grants for planning and implementation of community Green Infrastructure, and would establish “centers of excellence” for GI training and research. The Act would also financially support states that develop Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standards—incremental targets for stormwater management that would increase the use of green infrastructure over time, similar to renewable energy portfolio standards that most states have adopted to reach renewable energy targets.
“It’s time for Congress to move Green Infrastructure to center stage in our national water strategy,” said Jacky Grimshaw, Vice President for Policy at CNT. “Green Infrastructure creates healthier, more vital communities, protects clean water, saves money and energy, and helps to create green jobs. The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act will extend EPA’s partnership toward sustainable communities by expanding cost- and ecologically effective green infrastructure.”
S. 3561, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, follows the introduction of similar legislation, H.R. 4202, in the U.S. House late last year. The House bill now has 40 sponsors from 20 states. CNT’s work with a coalition of conservation groups—National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), American Rivers, the American Public Works Association (APWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), Clean Water Action, and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA)—has helped garner strong support from members of the House—from California to Kentucky; Texas to Ohio. We urge you to contact your Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor and support the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act today!
Call to Sustainable Stormwater Action in Illinois
While Congress considers the federal role in expanding green infrastructure nationally, Illinois is making a strong run at developing its own Green Infrastructure performance standards.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Director Doug Scott announced a broad commitment to GI policy, funding, and long-term statewide action. In a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and the General Assembly, Scott set out his agency’s blueprint for making Green Infrastructure a mainstay of stormwater management programs across the state in the coming year.
Scott said Illinois’ commitment has 5 key elements, including plans to:
- Develop statewide performance standards for stormwater management within 12 months,
- Initiate a grant program to financially support communities’ implementation of GI projects,
- Devise a GI portfolio standard that would set incremental, multi-year implementation targets for watersheds or counties,
- Revise state revolving loan criteria to prioritize GI projects within water infrastructure financing, and
- Work aggressively with communities and counties to educate officials and developers on the effective use of GI practices.
A recent study reviewed GI’s effectiveness and outlined how the state can develop gradually increasing targets to implement Green Infrastructure—both by watershed and by region. The study, “Using Green Infrastructure to Manage Urban Stormwater Quality: A Review of Selected Practices and State Programs” was developed by University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, CNT and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program, under requirements of the Illinois Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act.
Responding to the recommendations contained in that report, IEPA Director Scott wrote that, “IEPA is receptive to setting performance standards to retain stormwater runoff that would be applicable in urban and urbanizing areas statewide.”
“With Illinois and other states struggling financially, this is a critical time to capitalize on GI’s cost-saving, ecologically effective solutions,” said CNT Natural Resources Director, Steve Wise. “CNT is looking forward to working with IEPA to ensure that GI’s many benefits flow sooner and faster to Illinois communities, while water flows more slowly and cleanly to waterways through raingardens, bioswales, green roofs, native plants, green streets, trees, rainbarrels and cisterns, and permeable pavement. Completing the study on statewide GI policy is a big step, but turning the state’s pledges into action will be a bigger one.”
The combination of federal, state and local actions is key to successful GI expansion because states implement and regulate the federal Clean Water Act, and stormwater management happens at the municipal and local level. “When federal and state agencies are looking at performance based standards and establishing regional portfolio standard goals through which we can keep track of our progress in reducing runoff over time, the combined energy and momentum ensures that widespread implementation of Green Infrastructure will be successful,” Wise added.
Both state and federal programs would ultimately make more financial resources available for community Green Infrastructure projects. CNT encourages Illinois communities to prepare GI project plans for upcoming grant and loan opportunities, and to request that IEPA develop its GI priorities and programs as soon as possible.
(Photo courtesy of Morris K. Udall Foundation’s Flickr page)