Equity Guide for Green Stormwater Infrastructure Practitioners

The Equity Guide for Green Stormwater Infrastructure Practitioners is a comprehensive guide to advancing and measuring equity within public sector stormwater management organizations’ green stormwater infrastructure policies, programs, and projects. It offers an action and evaluation roadmap that defines:

  1. the industry’s shared long-term equity goals,
  2. best practices that will move the needle, and
  3. sample metrics that help track progress toward those goals over time. It also offers a variety of tools to support practitioners in customizing community-informed Equity Work Plans and Evaluation Plans to local contexts.

Stormwater harvesting benefits city trees

Read the full story from Flinders University.

Reports of tree canopy coverage dwindling across city suburbs raise pressure on local government and other authorities’ efforts to improve the health of urban street trees. New research has found stormwater interception and infiltration that allows water to soak into tree root zones is proving effective for a shady tree canopy in concrete urban environments where extreme heat occurs regularly.

Green infrastructure helps cities with climate change. So why isn’t there more of it?

Read the full story from NPR.

Federal agencies are beginning to hand out billions of dollars in infrastructure spending, the largest investment ever made in the country’s water system. Much of it will go to improving pipes, drains and stormwater systems. But some scientists and urban planners are pushing to fund projects that are better adapted to the changing climate.

Instead of just gray infrastructure, supporters say the answer is green.

As sea levels rise, coastal megacities will need more than flood barriers

A new artificial wetland runs through the city of Ningbo, China. Wang961201 / shutterstock

by Faith Chan, University of Nottingham and Olalekan Adekola, York St John University

Many of the world’s poorest people live in regions most susceptible to flooding. In northeast India, some residents have been forced to rebuild their homes at least eight times in the past decade. In Africa, the continent’s largest city, Lagos in Nigeria, may become unliveable due to severe floods, while a recent flood caused by tropical storm Ana affected hundreds of thousands of people across the south of the continent.

The situation is expected to worsen in the next few decades, especially for many of the world’s largest cities in lower and middle income countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This century, their population is projected to increase substantially. Lagos, for example, could reach a population of 88 million by 2100 according to one academic estimate.

These cities are already improving their infrastructure. But most of the focus remains on big engineering solutions (like flood walls and embankments) rather than a more holistic plans that would involve every level of society. As we have recently argued in our research, these cities must instead become truly “resilient societies” – before it is too late.

Blue-green infrastructure

There have been some attempts to move beyond a simple focus on engineering. For instance, one approach is to put in place so-called blue-green infrastructure, which uses the planning system to integrate rivers, canals or wetlands (the blue) with trees, lawns, parks or forests (the green). This can involve anything from small-scale “rain gardens” that allow water to drain naturally through soil, through to much larger-scale artificial wetlands or ponds.

Sponge cities”, an approach first introduced in China in 2013, are a nice example of this in practice. The idea of a sponge city is that rather than using concrete to channel away rainwater, it is best to work with nature to absorb, clean and use the water. So, much like a sponge, the cities are designed to soak up the excess stormwater without becoming over-saturated.

For instance, the port city of Ningbo, where one of us is based, transformed a 3km strip of brownfield into an eco-corridor and public park.

Swampy land
Artificial wetland ‘eco corridor’ in Ningbo, a coastal city of several million people. Lei Li, Author provided

Shanghai has also turned its new “Land of Starry Sky” park (so named because it neighbours an astronomy museum) into a sponge facility, using permeable materials to absorb rainwater. The Chinese government recognised sponge cities can achieve more sustainability goals than solely relying on traditional engineering structures.

In contrast, there is a more worrying scenario in Lagos and other coastal cities which heavily rely on insufficient engineering systems to protect from flooding.

People walk past cars on flooded street
Flooding after a rainy week in Lagos. Mikayleigh Haarhoff / shutterstock

We need resilient cities

In our new research, we studied existing practices and identified a lack of adequate engagement with key stakeholders (such as local industry, small businesses and communities) as the main problem. Engagement with stakeholders such as these is key to improving outcomes of blue-green infrastructure, and such engagement is easier than ever thanks to the widespread use of mobile and digital technologies. Ideally, climate resilient infrastructures should be considered a co-production of all these various groups.

For example, sponge cities have successfully integrated nature-based solutions with traditional engineering. Yet these cities often struggle to get everyone involved in proactively thinking about the risk of floods. We argue that the key to resilient flood management lies in getting the whole society engaged in preventing floods where possible, in adapting to their worst impacts and in ensuring a timely return to the pre-disaster state.

The absence of this social engagement exacerbates flood impacts especially in poorer and more vulnerable parts of the world. Our research stresses that any truly resilient city must have a flood management plan that integrates natural, engineered and social systems.

Faith Chan, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences, University of Nottingham and Olalekan Adekola, Senior Lecturer in Geography, York St John University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Digging into soil data helps inform green infrastructure design

Read the full story from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.

Managing stormwater has become more challenging as urban development increases, storms get bigger and sewer systems can’t keep up. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant funded a University of Illinois project to help communities add green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to their strategies to prevent local flooding.

The research and outreach team set out to incorporate information about local soils as well as other factors in planning and designing GSI sites.

Mary Pat McGuire in the U of I Department of Landscape Architecture led this multidisciplinary research project, adding to her knowledge and skills with those of geologists, water resources engineers, and a community outreach specialist. With this range of expertise, and students contributing throughout, the project encompassed research, modeling, design and engagement.

National Science Foundation funds project to improve weather forecasts for cities

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

Scientists at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) have begun a new project that will ultimately improve weather forecasting of severe storms and heatwaves in cities across the US.

In the three-year project with a budget of over $850,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), ISWS will focus on improving weather forecasts for the Chicago, New York, and Denver metro areas using observations from space and from the ground combined with numerical model development. The goal is to study the chemistry, atmosphere, and human adaptive choices that influence storms and heatwaves over cities.

“We’ve long realized there is a gap in the fundamental knowledge of urban weather and climate processes, as well as our inability to accurately capture the magnitude, intensity, and locations where severe storms and heatwaves occur,” said research climatologist and principal investigator Ashish Sharma. “Weather forecasts can see where storms will occur, but we need to use improved models to understand storms in a better way.”

These gaps can be addressed by developing integrated weather and chemistry models for urban areas through new model development activities and using a suite of observations from the ground and satellites.

“We are thrilled that NSF has supported ISWS to lead cutting-edge fundamental and applied research in urban climate modeling,” said Kevin OBrien, director of ISWS. “This is a great example of how ISWS is taking a deeper dive into how we can make cities more resilient to climate change impacts.”

For this study, the Integrated Urban Climate Research group, led by Sharma, will analyze the contribution of urban surface heat emissions and pollutants to storms and heatwaves, examine the effects of the interaction between the atmosphere and complex urban land surface characteristics, and study the impacts of future urban development and green infrastructure interventions. Strengthening our capabilities and advancing our knowledge in integrated urban modeling will likely improve weather forecasting capabilities for cities.

“This will be the first model development effort to include chemistry-weather interactions in urban climate models. The more realistic that models are, the more accurate they are in simulating extreme weather,” said Sharma.

The project will help city managers and stakeholders to assess environmental risks and vulnerabilities and identify where and which infrastructure choices, such as green, cool, or photovoltaic roofs, are best suited to reduce environmental, social, and health inequities in cities.  

“Outputs from the project will help urban planners and practitioners make decisions that can protect vulnerable communities and restore environmental justice in the Chicago metro area,” said Edith Makra, director of environmental initiatives and the project collaborator at the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. “Urban solutions require money and manpower, so it takes a coordinated effort from scientists and community representatives from different disciplines to solve these types of problems.”

The project team will coordinate with the Chicago National Weather Service to determine how the model enhancements and new developments can help improve weather forecasting and climate change projections for urban communities. At the end of the study, the team will be able to recommend resilient environmental mitigation solutions to the three metro areas. They will also continue to partner with municipalities, agencies, and institutions in the Chicago, Denver, and New York metro areas to share study findings.

The project includes co-principal investigators at the University of Illinois and University of Notre Dame and collaborators at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and NASA.

Media contact: Ashish Sharma, 217-300-8423, sharmaa@illinois.edu

This story originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute News Blog. Read the original story.

Toward a more inclusive definition of green infrastructure

Read the full story at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

A new nationwide analysis of 122 plans from 20 US cities found that many plans fail to explicitly define green infrastructure. When they do, they tend to focus on stormwater management, favoring engineered facilities over parks and larger urban green spaces. The study is the first systematic review of the use and definition of the green infrastructure concept in US city plans.

Will new wetlands help address Fort Worth’s water needs? Tarrant Regional Water District says yes

Read the full story at Fort Worth Report.

Northeast Texas residents want the district to explore more reuse projects before building reservoirs.

Cities are murky on how they define ‘green infrastructure’: analysis

Read the full story at Smart Cities Dive.

Cities are increasingly incorporating ideas for “green infrastructure” into their planning, but what they mean by that can be unclear and inconsistent within and across cities, according to recently published findings from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

The analysis of 122 plans from 20 U.S. cities found that 39% of plans — be they climate, sustainability, watershed restoration, or comprehensive or strategic plans — do not explicitly define green infrastructure, and of the ones that do, over half offer several different definitions. 

Gaining a more consistent understanding of green infrastructure matters because it’s become the main term used in urban planning for a variety of environmental interventions, and the pandemic has further spotlighted the importance of safe and healthy outdoor spaces, said socio-ecologist and lead author Zbigniew Grabowski. Researchers believe that clarirty will allow cities to better learn from one another.

Smaller cities, poorer regions could be infrastructure losers

Read the full story in Governing.

Over a third of the new money for transit and other infrastructure needs will be awarded in the form of competitive grants. That means cities with the capacity to draft eye-catching proposals will get the most attention.