Austin, Texas — Hurricane Harvey has demonstrated the need for better stormwater solutions in Texas, and one of the most important is green infrastructure. But while these natural drainage features are already being used across the state, official support for green infrastructure varies from city to city. According to a new study released by Environment Texas, Fort Worth ranks third among the state’s five biggest cities for green infrastructure policies, while Dallas ranks last.
“Green infrastructure isn’t a term that most Texans know, but they should,” said Brian Zabcik, the Clean Water Advocate at Environment Texas, a statewide member-based nonprofit. Zabcik added, “These features use plants, soil, and natural drainage to capture and cleanse rain where it falls.”
Some green infrastructure features, including rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain cisterns, are also known as Low Impact Development (LID). Larger features can be built on a neighborhood or regional basis, such as detention basins landscaped to do double-duty as parks and recreation spaces.
“Green infrastructure is like the Swiss army knife of stormwater management — it can do many different things,” Zabcik said. “By cutting runoff, these features can cut flooding severity and water pollution. By letting more rain soak into the ground, they can boost water levels in aquifers and streams. By storing rain in cisterns for later re-use, they can reduce demand on water utilities. And by adding greenery to new construction, they can beautify the urban environment and reduce the heat island effect produced by bare roofs and pavement.” Fort Worth scored 65% on the “Texas Stormwater Scorecard,” which was produced by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. Austin scored 90%; San Antonio, 65%; Houston, 50%; and Dallas, 40%.
Each city’s score represents the percentage of recommended green infrastructure policies that the city has implemented. The “Scorecard” measured cities against a checklist of 10 key policies: flood detention requirements; water quality requirements; LID regulatory credits; stormwater retention requirements; regulatory incentives; financial incentives; stormwater fee discounts; capital project construction; street construction; and education.
The Environment Texas study found that Fort Worth already has some good policies in place for water quality and LID regulatory credit. But these policies have limited effect, since they’re optional and only apply to some developments. The city could benefit by expanding these policies to cover more developments. And while Fort Worth has begun to incorporate Green Infrastructure into its own construction projects, the city should offer more regulatory and financial incentives to encourage private developers to do the same.
Dallas has included green infrastructure features in several recent street projects, including Elm Street, South Lamar Street, and Riverside Drive. But the city has few official policies to increase LID use by private developers. That may be remedied if Dallas adopts planned revisions to its drainage and paving manuals (last updated in 1993 and 1998, respectively). The city could also benefit by officially adopting the water quality standards in the Integrated Stormwater Manual (iSWM) created by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The full version of “The Texas Stormwater Scorecard” is available at http://environmenttexascenter.org/reports/txe/texas-stormwater-scorecard.