Can we govern large-scale green infrastructure for multiple water advantages?
by Lidia Cano Pecharroman, Christopher Williams, Nell Green Nylen, and Michael Kiparsky
Green infrastructure is increasingly emphasized instead, novel path for water infrastructure. The chances are intriguing: Can we transition from a landscape dominated by siloed grey infrastructure (think concrete and steel, constructed for one or a number of key outcomes like water supply or flood control) to 1 that centers natural processes in water infrastructure to realize multiple goals?
In a recently published paper, we explore the emerging possibilities of green infrastructure through a governance lens, specializing in large scale implementation. We discover that one in every of the chief opportunities around such infrastructure projects lies, in concept, in joint funding and financing. Other ingredients comparable to stakeholder buy-in and effective performance monitoring systems also should be added to the combo to realize success.
We examined 4 case studies of what we term Large Scale Green Infrastructure (LSGI). We define LSGI as planned natural or hybrid (green and gray) systems that materially impact water security on the watershed scale. For instance, urban green infrastructure is becoming increasingly familiar – curbs that funnel water through cities are actually augmented by vegetated swales that absorb runoff and reduce stormwater impacts to ecosystems, while providing aesthetic and other advantages as well. LSGI projects, operating at larger scale, use natural processes like floodplain connections, infiltration to groundwater, and the advantages of vegetation to route, slow, and clean water on its approach to creeks, streams and rivers, reducing flood risk, improving water quality, and augmenting habitat.
The natural processes embedded in LSGI can take many forms depending on the relevant water management objectives. Our cases consider distinct approaches to LSGI, a few of which capitalize on natural processes alone, while others mix them
with built infrastructure. The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is a large restored wetland habitat. The wetland contributes to flood control in the world, while coexisting with agricultural practices and providing an area for nature exploration, hunting and academic programs. Wetlands underpin the Tres Rios wetlands project in Arizona, but on this case they’re designed to enhance water quality, in lieu of high-priced upgrades to a conventional wastewater treatment plant, and restore wildlife habitat. Within the Forest to Faucets program in Colorado, forest restoration in key areas is proving to be pivotal for reducing forest fires, protecting against post-fire sedimentation within the riverbeds and creeks that feed the water supply, and improving ecosystem health. Similarly, within the DC Clean Rivers Project, a coordinated collection of green infrastructure installations reduces stormwater runoff, protecting the health of water bodies and concurrently reducing heat island effects.
Considering the promise of LSGI, why are projects like these notable outliers relatively than common practice?
Our findings suggest that LSGI projects face intertwined governance challenges that flow from their core strength: LSGI’s multi-benefit nature. These challenges—and their solutions—relate to cost sharing, performance monitoring, and legitimization. Many alternative stakeholders inside government, civil society, and the private sector may stand to profit from LSGI, creating the potential for collaborative funding and management. Nonetheless, there may be a gulf between the conceptual promise of cost sharing amongst diverse interests with access to different resources and operationalizing it in practice. Within the cases we studied, cost sharing amongst stakeholders was ad hoc and limited. Stakeholders may lack familiarity or comfort with green infrastructure generally and continuously lack a strong understanding of the range and level of advantages related to a specific project. Notably, our research suggests that expanding LSGI performance monitoring to encompass key secondary advantages, along with the first advantages sought by the foremost project proponent, could help make clear the character and extent of the advantages actually achieved and the way those advantages and burdens are distributed amongst stakeholders. This information could enable formal cost sharing that eases funding challenges. A clearer understanding of the performance and advantages of LSGI could also enhance its legitimacy, a pervasive challenge across our case studies. When stakeholders perceive LSGI as an appropriate alternative to or complement for grey infrastructure, there will probably be more buy-in for using LSGI as a tool to handle water security challenges. We depict the interplay of those dynamics within the figure below.
More broadly, this research illustrates a recurring theme in our work at CLEE: improving and demonstrating technical feasibility is barely step one towards developing recent, simpler paradigms for water and environmental management. The road to innovation invariably runs straight through institutions and governance.
Our recent journal article on this topic is available open access here:
Cano Pecharroman L., Williams C., Green Nylen N. & Kiparsky M. How can we govern large-scale green infrastructure for multiple water security advantages? Blue-Green Systems (2021) 3 (1): 62–80 https://doi.org/10.2166/bgs.2021.015
And for further related work from our team see: Green Nylen N. & Kiparsky M. 2015 Accelerating Cost-Effective Green Stormwater Infrastructure: Learning From Local Implementation. Wheeler Institute for Water Law & Policy, University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Berkeley, CA, p. 35.