WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation to help address the nation’s water challenges by encouraging research, development, and promotion of new green infrastructure technologies and designs that use natural processes to combat polluted stormwater runoff. Companion legislation also was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).
The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act would promote green infrastructure to conserve water by helping to recharge groundwater acquifers. Other parts of the nation are suffering from extreme flooding, and green designs of water infrastructure also work to reduce flooding by limiting stormwater runoff.
"Water quality is an issue facing states across the country, but it is particularly urgent in the arid Southwest and my home state of New Mexico, where extreme droughts are becoming the norm," Udall said. "By promoting greener design of stormwater infrastructure, we can create jobs, save on construction costs and increase groundwater re-charge that will enhance our water resources."
"From the devastating floods last year, to the health-based beach closures we face in Rhode Island after heavy rains, it’s clear that we need improved techniques to handle stormwater runoff. When developers in our state incorporate green infrastructure into their projects, it results in infrastructure jobs, cleaner water, and higher revenues from beach tourism. This bill builds on the progress made by Rhode Island and other states working to encourage green infrastructure," Whitehouse said.
"Stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, negatively impacting the plants, animals, and people that depend on it," said Cardin. "Promoting these new green infrastructure techniques is another critical way we can protect our nation’s waterways and engage our communities in the effort."
"Green infrastructure can reduce our energy consumption, create good jobs, and promote environmental stewardship and long-term economic development. But more must be done to learn the best practices and incentivize future projects," Edwards said. "The regional centers established in this legislation will work with our communities to ensure that projects effectively manage stormwater flow and improve water quality, bringing us closer to a clean-energy economy and improving our outdated water infrastructure. "
The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act defines ‘‘green infrastructure” to mean stormwater management techniques that preserve, restore, enhance, or mimic natural hydrology, such as green roofs, porous pavements and ground cover, or vegetated channels and detention areas that reduce the burden of stormwater on wastewater infrastructure and the environment.
The legislation would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water to promote and coordinate the use of green infrastructure for stormwater management and accept these natural stormwater designs in its permitting and enforcement activities. EPA’s regional offices would complete similar efforts tailored to the water quality conditions in different parts of the country.
The proposal introduced by the senators, who are all members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, further authorizes technical assistance and project grants to local wastewater utilities for green infrastructure projects that take advantage of these alternative techniques to stormwater management.
The legislation also would establish as many as five regional centers of excellence that would spearhead research and development of new stormwater management techniques that use soil and plant life to filter stormwater polluted by sediments and chemicals on the surface before it reaches nearby bodies of water. The legislation does not create new regulatory requirements, but rather seeks to expand the options for communities to achieve clean water standards.
The bill is supported by a wide variety of organizations, including the National Association of Clean Water Agencies; Natural Resources Defense Council; American Rivers; American Public Works Association; Water Environment Federation; Center for Neighborhood Technology; Clean Water Action; and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.
"Green infrastructure incorporates natural systems that can help supply clean water, reduce polluted runoff and sewer overflows, minimize flooding and enhance community health and safety. Proven solutions like planting trees and installing green roofs, rather than enlarging sewers, will also save communities money. This bill helps move our water management into the 21st century and gives communities the reliability and predictability they need in an uncertain future," said Andrew Fahlund, Senior Vice President of Conservation at American Rivers.
In New Mexico, supporting organizations include Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Albuquerque-Bernalillo Water Utility Authority, and Upper Gila Watershed Alliance.
"As impacts from storm events increase with climate change, good stormwater management becomes the single most important factor in maintaining the health of New Mexico’s rivers, and the communities that depend on them," said Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos. "Amigos Bravos applauds Senators Udall and Whitehouse for their leadership and vision in promoting the use of natural low-impact solutions to control the widespread damage caused by severe storm events, including polluted run-off."
In Rhode Island, the legislation is supported by the Narragansett Bay Commission.
"We applaud Senator Whitehouse and Senator Udall for their leadership on this important issue," said NBC Executive Director Ray Marshall. "We look forward to working with them in increasing the federal resources available for implementation of green infrastructure projects and in raising the profile of the many benefits these investments provide."