CNT’s Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS) Included in Proposed Federal Stormwater Legislation

Flickr photo by Sky Island

Flickr photo by Sky Island

Have you ever been caught in a sudden rainstorm? Unprepared and umbrella-less, blinking through the blinding torrent? It’s happened to all of us. Coats pulled atop heads. Soggy feet performing a desperate ballet around the puddles. Muddy water, stagnant atop the grass. Every dip in the sidewalk filled to form a patchy moat.

While brimming with poetic potential, rainstorms like this can also deluge homes and streets with a blanket of dirty water. But what can be done to fix it?

Municipalities trying to keep their cities dry in the face of more frequent and intense rainstorms may soon get a new slew of resources from the federal government.  Introduced by Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act of 2013 would set aside money to create a grant program for municipal, state, tribal, and private stormwater projects. Instead of funding stormwater drains and underground tunnels, however, the bill encourages green and “innovative stormwater infrastructure.”

Kids GI II

Kids help CNT install a rain garden in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood

Green infrastructure uses plants and other natural systems to mimic the way rainwater is naturally absorbed or collected in places that aren’t paved over by asphalt and concrete. Green infrastructure helps prevent urban flooding, and it also keeps stormwater runoff, polluted by its run through the streets, from eventually ending up in rivers, lakes, and other waterways.

The grant funds made available through this bill would be used for planning and implementing green infrastructure projects (such as changing zoning standards that currently restrict the placement of green infrastructure), establishing fee programs to help pay for otherwise unfunded stormwater projects, and installing green infrastructure on public and private land.  The Act would also establish three to five Green Infrastructure Centers of Excellence at research institutions across the country to research, develop, and disseminate best practices for stormwater control.

Upgrade-infrastructure-coverOne of CNT’s principal stormwater innovations is also included in the bill. Our Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS), written into the bill as the “innovative stormwater infrastructure portfolio standard,” offers city officials a way to steadily but cost-effectively increase the amount of green infrastructure present in their communities. GIPS is modelled off of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards that currently exist in many states, which require that energy suppliers increase the portion of energy from renewable sources sold to consumers by a certain percentage (usually about 1%) each year. GIPS applies this idea to stormwater management by slowly increasing the percentage of stormwater managed by green infrastructure elements like bioinfiltration, permeable pavement, and green roofs.

CNT applauds Representative Edwards and Senator Udall for their leadership in promoting the implementation of green infrastructure. The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act of 2013 is an important step in rethinking how we manage stormwater to reduce urban flooding and keep our waterways clear of polluted stormwater runoff. This will become especially crucial in the coming years, as it’s predicted that major rainstorms will become increasingly frequent and severe. By implementing innovative stormwater control measures now, we can make our cities resilient in the face of future downpours.