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Hurricane Harvey shows need to use more green infrastructure

Hurricane Harvey shows need to use more green infrastructure

San Antonio, Texas — Hurricane Harvey has shown the need for better stormwater strategies in Texas, and one of the most promising is green infrastructure. Environment Texas and Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance released a new report, Texas Stormwater Scorecard, that ranks the state’s five biggest cities on their support for green infrastructure. While San Antonio placed second, its score of 65 percent shows that the city can improve its policies.

“Green infrastructure can help produce cleaner water and reduced flooding,” said Brian Zabcik, the Clean Water Advocate at Environment Texas, a statewide, member-based nonprofit group. Zabcik added: “San Antonio already has some good policies for green infrastructure in specific areas, but it can do even better by creating new policies for the whole city.”

The report, which was produced by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, is available at https://environmenttexascenter.org.

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), also known as low impact development (LID), refers to features in buildings and landscapes that reduce runoff by keeping rain on-site where it falls. Common features include rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain cisterns.

Many San Antonio buildings are already using green infrastructure. The Mission Branch Library incorporates rain cisterns, permeable pavement, and bioswales in its design. The Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building has a green roof, as do buildings at Trinity University and the University Health System. A section of Ray Ellison Road was recently rebuilt to include green infrastructure. Other GSI/LID features can be found at the offices of the San Antonio River Authority and the city’s Development Services Department.

“The City of San Antonio has been playing catch-up in projects to mitigate frequent flooding for as long as I can recall,” said Annalisa Peace, Executive Director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. Peace added, “In the most recent bond package, we couldn’t address all the needed projects.  It would be great if the city did more to encourage and require green infrastructure in new projects and to retrofit old projects that are contributing to flooding.”

No stormwater strategy can prevent flooding from a monster like Harvey, which dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some locations. But green infrastructure can be very effective against the smaller and much more frequent storms that cause localized flooding and water pollution. Like all Texas cities, San Antonio has been producing more runoff as more land is covered with buildings, roads, and parking lots that block rain from soaking into the ground where it falls.

“Urban runoff doesn’t just make flooding worse — it also causes water pollution,” said Kern Williams, a campaign organizer with Environment Texas. “That’s because runoff picks up chemicals, oils, litter, and animal waste when it flows over roofs, roads, and yards, and then carries these pollutants into our creeks, rivers, and lakes.”

For the “Texas Stormwater Scorecard,” Environment Texas used a modified version of a policy checklist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate GSI/LID policies in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. The checklist highlights ten important stormwater policies: flood detention requirements; water quality requirements; GSI/LID regulatory credits; stormwater retention requirement; regulatory incentives; financial incentives; stormwater fee discounts; capital project construction; street construction; and education.