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Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Green Infrastructure

In the latest edition of the Center for Watershed Protection's Runoff Rundown, Hye Yeong Kwon contributed a thought-provoking article. In "Runoff Ramblings: Before You Join the Green Infrastructure Bandwagon", Kwon analyzes the more-recent popularity of green infrastructure for stormwater management. Frequently cited as the most cost-effective approach for development and redevelopment, Kwon calls for more research to be done to assess the costs and benefits of green instructure. One of the most interesting points Kwon makes in the is that green infrastructure "is just one piece of the puzzle and is certainly not a "magic bullet" solution for municipalities on a limited budget."

I hope there's much more follow up and discussion on these ideas! The Center for Watershed Protection is calling for readers to send in their own cost data to rambler@cwp.org.

Have any of you done more extensive research on this topic that you can share? I think it's important for a variety of management methods to be considered. And on StormwaterPA we do our best to present a range of case studies. What has your experience been with the costs and benefits of different stormwater management methods?

Comments (4)

  1. Stacey Detwiler:
    Mar 02, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    American Rivers, along with partners ASLA and WEF, will be releasing a report at the end of the month on the economic benefits of green infrastructure practices. We examine the current understanding of the cost-effectiveness of these practices and look at how they can also increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs, reduce localized flooding, and protect public health.

    Not only can the green infrastructure option cost less, these practices can also provide cost savings from reduced costs of treating large amounts of polluted runoff. Treating less water can also translate into energy savings. Green infrastructure can help reduce current and projected energy costs by keeping heating and cooling costs low. Reducing runoff volumes by infiltrating rainwater where it falls can also mitigate localized flooding. Green infrastructure practices reduce bacteria and pollutant loads in surface waters which can lower healthcare costs from gastrointestinal illnesses from recreational contact or contaminated drinking water. Improving local water quality can minimize the economic impacts of beach and shellfish fishery closures. These solutions can also improve air quality which helps reduce asthma rates, mitigate the urban heat island effect to lower heat stress related fatalities, and improve and increase green space for recreation.

    There is no 'silver bullet' solution to polluted runoff, but green infrastructure practices offer a 21st century tool to address our current water management challenges that also provide multiple benefits to communities.

    Stay tuned for more!

  2. Hye Yeong Kwon:
    Feb 04, 2015 at 03:43 PM - Unapproved

    Stacy sorry I'm just seeing this comment. Good to hear from you.

    I agree that green infrastructure practices can be beneficial in many ways. The article comments on the definition of green infrastructure which has changed over the years from a broad brush of practices to what seems to be a very specific list of structural BMPs. This articles discusses the benefits of other green practices beyond ones like green roofs and bioretention. While these practices should be in the toolbox, they are not the only ones. For example, if one looks at the pollutant removal rates of other practices like eliminating dry weather discharges and stream restoration, the costs of bioretention and green roofs are orders of magnitude higher.

    That is not to suggest we should choose one from the other. Simply that we should add these in the mix of practices to green infrastructure.

    Lastly, I wanted to point out a little know statistic- about 75% of communities in the US are on separated systems and the cost/ benefit ratio of using these structural practices (bioretention, green roofs, etc.) to reduce pollution is significantly much better in combined sewer communities. Most of the cost studies I've seen make an economic case based in combined sewer communities for just this reason.

    Anyway, thank you stormwaterPA Blog for posting and Stacy for responding.

  3. Reid Christianson:
    Feb 09, 2015 at 08:50 AM - Unapproved

    I love the idea of tying water quality benefits to green infrastructure efforts not initially focusing on stormwater. An obvious one is connecting areas of high quality habitat using green corridors.

    This type of land use change - through the development of stream buffers or urban tree canopy development - can have a significant impact on water quality, but is rarely quantified. Putting some numbers to show benefits beyond the original goal might garner a bit more support, but it would also help with the tracking component of our broader water quality efforts.

  4. Charleszek:
    Jan 14, 2017 at 07:20 AM - Unapproved

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