Stormwater Infrastructure: No Longer a Stepchild in the Water Sector

By Seth Brown
Posted October 2, 2012

Looking out over 17th Street in downtown Washington, D.C. from the fourth floor window of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which is part of the White House campus), it occurred to me just how impressive it was that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was sponsoring an event on green infrastructure.  Not too long ago, the term “green infrastructure” would likely conjure up images of fire hydrants and light posts painted green for many White House officials – this meeting really indicates just how far we’ve come on this topic. 

This event, officially titled Municipal Stormwater Infrastructure: Going from Grey to Green, was co-sponsored by EPA and CEQ recently with the ultimate goal of the “wider adoption of green infrastructure to manage municipal stormwater."  The participants list read like a Who’s Who in the world of water infrastructure – from George Hawkins to Howard Neukrug to WEF’s own Jeff Eger, who moderated a great panel on barriers and success on green infrastructure.  Also, a number of WEF members attended the event, such as WEF Stormwater Committee Chair, Mike Beezhold.  The unusual format of the event, which relied on table-top exercises to glean information from the all-star line-up of attendees, helped to elevate the energy in the room. 

Opening remarks by Nancy Sutley, who chairs the CEQ (which effectively means she’s the top science advisor to the President), illustrated just how well-versed top officials in this Administration are on green infrastructure.  Other remarks by thoughtful professionals resonated with the group, such as Alex Dunn’s statements on how green infrastructure is a “galvanizing” topic that brings together many different groups and how this topic goes beyond the CSO community and into the suburban and separate sewer landscape as well.  Some interesting information on innovative financing was presented, such as “Environmental Impact Bonds,” which borrow from the growing use of Social Impact Bonds, and the potential to group green infrastructure projects to more effectively compete for SRF awards. 

Of all the presentations made, the closing remarks made by Nancy Stoner (Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Water at EPA) captured the spirit of the day.  Nancy participated in the entire event, including the table-top exercises, and she observed that the commonly-hear barrier of, “it won’t work here” was not raised once.  This is a significant point to highlight, as it illustrates a change in the way we are starting to view green infrastructure – less as the “other option that might work here”, and more as the “first option that should work here.”  Secondly, Nancy pointed out how much progress is being made outside of the Federal government sphere.  She was referring to implementation of green infrastructure at the local level when she made the statement that, “I think you folks have the answers,” and emphasized EPA’s role to provide support on moving the ball forward on green infrastructure. 

I’m not naïve enough to think that progress on a topic as complex and nascent as green infrastructure hinges on the results of one meeting.  However, if there was one meeting that would help to show that stormwater infrastructure is no longer the step-child in the water sector, this meeting was it. 

Note:  A summary report on the event is due out by the end of the year.  WEF will send this report out and post it on wef.org when it is made available.
 10/02/2012Permanent link

Stormwater Infrastructure: No Longer a Stepchild in the Water Sector  ()
 

Posted October 2, 2012
 

Looking out over 17th Street in downtown Washington, D.C. from the fourth floor window of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which is part of the White House campus), it occurred to me just how impressive it was that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was sponsoring an event on green infrastructure. 

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Stormwater Infrastructure: No Longer a Stepchild in the Water Sector

 Permanent link

Stormwater Infrastructure: No Longer a Stepchild in the Water Sector

By Seth Brown
Posted October 2, 2012

Looking out over 17th Street in downtown Washington, D.C. from the fourth floor window of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which is part of the White House campus), it occurred to me just how impressive it was that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was sponsoring an event on green infrastructure.  Not too long ago, the term “green infrastructure” would likely conjure up images of fire hydrants and light posts painted green for many White House officials – this meeting really indicates just how far we’ve come on this topic. 

This event, officially titled Municipal Stormwater Infrastructure: Going from Grey to Green, was co-sponsored by EPA and CEQ recently with the ultimate goal of the “wider adoption of green infrastructure to manage municipal stormwater."  The participants list read like a Who’s Who in the world of water infrastructure – from George Hawkins to Howard Neukrug to WEF’s own Jeff Eger, who moderated a great panel on barriers and success on green infrastructure.  Also, a number of WEF members attended the event, such as WEF Stormwater Committee Chair, Mike Beezhold.  The unusual format of the event, which relied on table-top exercises to glean information from the all-star line-up of attendees, helped to elevate the energy in the room. 

Opening remarks by Nancy Sutley, who chairs the CEQ (which effectively means she’s the top science advisor to the President), illustrated just how well-versed top officials in this Administration are on green infrastructure.  Other remarks by thoughtful professionals resonated with the group, such as Alex Dunn’s statements on how green infrastructure is a “galvanizing” topic that brings together many different groups and how this topic goes beyond the CSO community and into the suburban and separate sewer landscape as well.  Some interesting information on innovative financing was presented, such as “Environmental Impact Bonds,” which borrow from the growing use of Social Impact Bonds, and the potential to group green infrastructure projects to more effectively compete for SRF awards. 

Of all the presentations made, the closing remarks made by Nancy Stoner (Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Water at EPA) captured the spirit of the day.  Nancy participated in the entire event, including the table-top exercises, and she observed that the commonly-hear barrier of, “it won’t work here” was not raised once.  This is a significant point to highlight, as it illustrates a change in the way we are starting to view green infrastructure – less as the “other option that might work here”, and more as the “first option that should work here.”  Secondly, Nancy pointed out how much progress is being made outside of the Federal government sphere.  She was referring to implementation of green infrastructure at the local level when she made the statement that, “I think you folks have the answers,” and emphasized EPA’s role to provide support on moving the ball forward on green infrastructure. 

I’m not naïve enough to think that progress on a topic as complex and nascent as green infrastructure hinges on the results of one meeting.  However, if there was one meeting that would help to show that stormwater infrastructure is no longer the step-child in the water sector, this meeting was it. 

Note:  A summary report on the event is due out by the end of the year.  WEF will send this report out and post it on wef.org when it is made available.

Posted by Stephanie Barringer at 10/02/2012 03:00:20 PM | 


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Posted by:
Seth Brown, Stormwater Program and Policy Manager, Water Environment Federation  

Seth Brown is the Stormwater Program and Policy Director at the Water Environment Federation (WEF). In this capacity, Seth leads WEF's stormwater program by working with WEF members and others in the stormwater community to identify technical needs in the field and work to develop programming and products to meet these needs. He engages in partnerships with outside groups on collaborative efforts to further the stormwater profession and topic. This position also involves tracking upcoming Federal legislative and potential regulation changes relevant to the stormwater and wet weather community as well as providing general policy support on water sector issues.

Seth has a B.S. and an M.S. in civil engineering, is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Maryland and is currently pursuing a PhD in civil engineering at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.