Millions of people lack access to clean drinking water. Millions more are affected by the impacts of drought and flooding every year. By 2050 it is projected that 1.3 billion people will live in flood-prone areas. Green infrastructure is considered by many to be one of the best approaches to combating water shortages, pollution, drought and flooding brought on by urban development, deforestation, and climate change.

What Green Infrastructure Is

Green infrastructure encompasses a variety of approaches to restoring or recreating natural hydrological processes. Examples of green infrastructure include:

  • Green spaces, such as parks and wetlands
  • Community gardens
  • Green roofs
  • Urban forests
  • Bioswales
  • Vine canopies
  • Permeable pavements

Environmental Benefits of Green Infrastructure

The different types of green infrastructure have different benefits. Collectively, these projects can help retain water in the soil and filter out pollutants from runoff, maintain groundwater levels, support wildlife habitats, raise awareness of conservation issues, purify air, support pollinators, reduce flooding severity, improve food production, reduce runoff and the water contamination that results from it and reduce factors that contribute to climate change, such as air temperatures, energy consumption and carbon dioxide levels.

Economic Benefits of Green Infrastructure

The primary goal of green infrastructure is to help the environment, but green infrastructure projects often have economic benefits as well. An EPA case study of Lancaster, PA found savings of $120 million in implementation and $661,000 in annual operation costs in wastewater management. They also estimated an annual savings of $2.3 million in reduced energy use, air quality benefits totaling over $1 million a year in value, and $786,000 worth of annual reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Green infrastructure projects also can create new jobs, increase tourism and attract new businesses.

Green Infrastructure Research Projects

Research to discover and quantify the benefits of green infrastructure as well as promoting and innovating green infrastructure projects continues to be done by a variety of organizations. Some of the top research projects include:

  • The EPA Green Infrastructure Research Program focuses on stormwater runoff.
  • The U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Stations: The Urban and Community Forestry research community trees and forests.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey Wisconsin Water Science Center Non-Point Evaluation Studies examines water quality issues caused by runoff and contamination.
  • Stormwater Management: Structural Soils in Urban Forestry researches stormwater management.
  • The North Carolina State University Stormwater Engineering Group records the impacts of green infrastructure practices.
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has a green roof project.
  • The Temple University Center for Sustainable Communities works on improving the quality of life through sustainable development.
  • The University of Florida Program for Resource Efficient Communities promotes the adoption of the best design, construction, and management practices for the reduction of energy use and water consumption.
  • Drexel University’s Water and Sustainable Land Use Program evaluates green infrastructure applications.
  • The University of Minnesota Stormwater Research Program studies the impact of stormwater runoff and develops treatment plans to reduce it.
  • The University of Maryland Bioretention Laboratory studies the performance of rain gardens and swales.
  • The University of New Hampshire’s Stormwater Center researches swales, porous pavements, tree boxes, and pocket wetlands.
  • The University of Washington Green Futures Lab works on innovation in ecological planning and design of public space.
  • Villanova University’s Urban Stormwater Partnership works with stormwater management practices.

Green Infrastructure Projects

Climate change and other environmental concerns have spawned many green infrastructure projects in the last few decades. The Cadiz Water Project is one such initiative. This project is a public-private partnership between Southern California water agencies and desert agriculture business, Cadiz Inc. Their goal is to create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year by reducing the recurrent loss of groundwater to evaporation in California’s Mojave Desert.

The project hopes to create 5,900 new jobs and contribute $878 million to the local economy. They project conservation of 500 billion gallons of fresh water over the 50-year lifespan of the project. Additionally, they claim the project will generate $400 million in savings to regional ratepayers, due to the higher quality of the water. The project aims to reduce energy use and lower costs by reducing the distance water will need to be transported in the region.

Other ongoing green infrastructure projects include:

  • The Campus Rainworks challenge is a green infrastructure design competition for American colleges and universities.
  • The Green Infrastructure Collaborative is a network-based learning alliance that was created to help communities implement green infrastructure.
  • Soak Up the Rain is a stormwater public outreach campaign that has the goal of raising awareness about the problem of polluted stormwater runoff.

Green infrastructure projects can help beautify communities, reduce the impacts of drought and flood, increase access to clean drinking water and mitigate the impacts of pollution on air and water, while also creating jobs and providing a variety of economic benefits. These benefits make green projects attractive to governments, environmentalists and entrepreneurs alike.