Green infrastructure techniques are for properties big and small

A new report by the EPA highlights green infrastructure techniques applicable to large, public projects as well as backyard improvements. All landowners in a community have a role to play in improving water quality and building community resilience.

Installed green infrastructure. Photo credit: Chris Hamby

Installed green infrastructure. Photo credit: Chris Hamby

A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency – Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Technical Assistance Projects – highlights practical solutions for planners, engineers, and citizens to design their communities in ways that improve water quality and conserve water, strengthen the local economy, and enhance community and infrastructure resiliency.

Green infrastructure includes the natural landscapes in and around our communities that, if planned and connected appropriately, create a network of permeable open spaces that can store, absorb, and filter stormwater runoff. Some approaches to green infrastructure planning focus only on connecting forests, parks, river corridors, shorelines, and wetlands within and between urban areas. The new EPA report focuses more on ‘green’ treatments of actual infrastructure – rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, green streets and parking, etc. Some of these treatments might be referred to as low impact development techniques, instead of green infrastructure, but the goals of both approaches are the same – reduce the amount of stormwater flashing off paved surfaces and carrying contaminants into waterways or threating properties with flooding.

Taking a broader perspective on green infrastructure that also includes individual property redevelopment techniques suggests that all property owners in a community have a role to play in minimizing runoff and making the community more resilient in large rain events. Indeed, for communities in the MidwestExtreme rainfall events and flooding have increased during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality, and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health, and infrastructure.”

Since public lands make up a relatively small percentage of total property in most communities, private property is key for managing stormwater with green infrastructure. The new EPA report details that local governments have options to 1) require the incorporation of green infrastructure in redevelopment projects through local regulations, 2) incentivize the incorporation of such techniques, and 3) simply provide examples of best practices including sample designs and native plant lists for the region.

The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan requires that any single and two-family residential property owner that wishes to expand the amount of impervious surface by more than 200 square feet incorporate onsite stormwater treatments capable of storing the first inch of runoff during a storm event. There is also an incentive-based stormwater rate in place in the city in which the monthly rate is based on the amount of impermeable surface on site.

In the city of Detroit, an organization developed the Field Guide to Working with Lots consisting of more than 30 example designs for turning portions of one’s property or neighboring vacant lots into green infrastructure capable of improving the ecosystem services of undeveloped property in the city.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Technical Assistance Projects reveals that green infrastructure is not just for the engineers and planners to implement, but instead is something that all property owners in a community can and should incorporate into their own sites for improving water quality and building community resilience.

Michigan State University Extension resources and programs on public policy issues related to environmental stewardship help individuals and communities become better stewards of Michigan’s natural resource assets for future generations to come. 

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