By Michele Deery
Making the needed investment in our nation’s water infrastructure will yield significant job creation, better competitive position for U.S. businesses, and resilient economic growth. President Joe Biden and several members of Congress recognize the need to stimulate the economy with an infrastructure investment bill. Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) should be included in their priorities for investment because of its ability to foster public health and resilience. Communities and businesses across Delaware will benefit by getting on board.
GSI seeks to reduce or divert stormwater from sewer systems and direct it to areas where it can infiltrate, absorb to plants, or get reused. Soil and vegetation are utilized instead of, or in conjunction with, traditional drains, gutters, pipes and treatment plants.
Investing in GSI will protect our local businesses by reducing flooding and economically disruptive water pollution. As climate change brings increased rainfall and extreme weather, floods are worsening and storms frequently overload combined wastewater systems, especially as aging ‘gray’ infrastructure begins to fail.
Over the past decade, GSI has gained momentum in Delaware. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) updated the Sediment and Stormwater Regulations in 2013. The revision stimulated statewide action to reduce stormwater runoff. For example, DNREC compiled a Green Infrastructure Primer, outlining the applications of GSI in urban, rural, and coastal settings. New Castle County created GreeNCC, a program focused on watershed protection. Even individual municipalities took action, as the city of Newark established a stormwater utility to create funding mechanisms for stormwater projects.
Because of new state policies and, in Newark’s case, economic incentives arising, many organizations have introduced GSI on their sites. In particular, green roofs have become popular. The University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College built green roofs in the early 2010s for educational, experimental and asset benefits. The Lang Development Group installed a green roof on an apartment building in Newark. Stormwater detention on the roof gives developers more land to build upon, thereby increasing amenity opportunities and the overall value of the property.
Green roofs have also graced the rooftops of municipal buildings such as the Delaware Courthouse in Wilmington. Just this past year, an extensive green roof was added to the Chesapeake Utilities Building in Dover. Now in 2021, another green roof is planned for the Delaware Solid Waste Authority Administration Building in Dover.
More businesses are becoming proud green roof owners like the Westin Hotel and Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware, but this list should be longer. Governments need to put the appropriate policies and incentives in place to encourage wider adoption of green roofs. Other cities – such as Washington, D.C., and Hoboken, N.J. – have implemented green roof rebates to encourage GSI development.
Even if a green roof is not feasible, businesses can do their part by implementing other types of GSI (e.g., rain gardens, vegetated swales, or riparian buffers) and eliminating pavement from their property where possible.
The federal government, for its part, needs to significantly increase investment in GSI and other water infrastructure to address pollution and flooding issues across the country. The federal share of investment in water infrastructure has dropped significantly over the last several decades; thus, local governments have raised rates on water users to try to fill the gap. This burden on local business and homeowners is only going to increase as water infrastructure continues to deteriorate and COVID-19 has depleted the funds of many local governments. That’s why I’m calling on Congress and the White House to make the necessary investments to repair and improve our nation’s failing water infrastructure. Other business leaders should follow suit.
With Congress planning to identify economic stimulus opportunities in the next few months, now is the perfect time.
Michele Deery is the regional sales manager for Riverbend Green Roofs and serves on the “Clean Water is Good for Business” campaign steering committee of the American Sustainable Business Council.