On June 7, I was fortunate to attend the in-person meeting of Resilient Infrastructure for Sustainable Communities (RISC) at the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago. RISC is a cluster of public and private sector professionals focused on climate resiliency via delivery and finance of market-based green stormwater infrastructure across the Great Lakes Region. The meeting was managed by the Delta Institute, whom I would like to thank for the invitation to attend and for its excellent facilitation.
Here are a handful of key takeaways:
- Cameron Davis, a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Chicago (an Exchange member), spoke about Space to Grow, Chicago’s efforts to green schoolyards. The program is funded 1/3 by MWRD, 1/3 by the public school system, and 1/3 from other city funds, a true example of the cross-departmental cooperation that was highlighted as an important lever in the recently-released State of Public Sector GSI Report. Even more impressive, MWRD is working to expand the program to the suburbs, although that effort has significant funding hurdles.
- Julia McCarthy, Deputy Director of FEMA’s Mitigation Division, mentioned a shift in planning focus at FEMA from disaster recovery, mitigation, and resilience to climate adaptation and equity. The agency has more than quadrupled the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program in the last 3 years and is prioritizing assistance that benefits disadvantaged communities. Its annual grant programs also include a new Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund Program, which can be used as a source of nonfederal matching funds. Julia also spoke about BRIC’s Direct Technical Assistance Program, which provides 36 months of support to communities that may not have the resources to begin climate resilience planning and project solution design on their own.
- Jen McGraw from the Center for Neighborhood Technology spoke on “Realizing the Value Added Benefits of GSI: Equitable Scaling & Meeting Community Needs.” She encouraged practitioners to look beyond “co-benefits” to make community needs the primary focus so as to expand available sources of funding, increase GSI’s acceptance, and speed up adoption.
- Paul Herman and Amir Khaleghi spoke about keys to successful Green Job Creation in Green Stormwater Programs. Among these are: (1) Strong Partnerships; (2) Job Mentorship and Training Programs; and (3) Development of Local & Underserved Communities. They provided examples of how these factors influenced the success of green jobs programs in Prince George’s County, MD (Clean Water Partnership), Philadelphia & Buffalo (Power Corps), and Milwaukee (Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership), all of whom are Exchange members.
- Tom Price of ECT and Sri Vedachalam of Corvias Infrastructure Solutions spoke about Climate Change Preparedness of Great Lakes Communities. Tom highlighted data on rainfall showing states in the Great Lakes Region had a 40-percentage-point or greater increase in precipitation between 1958 and 2016 and that this increase was associated with a variety of hazards. He then highlighted a GIS map showing the most climate-threatened, socially vulnerable, worforce agile, and financially capable counties for green stormwater infrastructure projects. Sri provided estimates of future precipitation events, focusing on what is happening in Chicago, where a 100-year event will produce a 20% increase in storm volume by the end of the 21st Century. He then looked at MWRD’s efforts to combat the challenge, concluding that it had focused its Space to Grow Program (mentioned above) in high EJ-need neighborhoods, while the same was not universally true for projects funded under its Green Infrastructure Partnership Opportunity Program, citing, as challenges, politics and neighborhood awareness of the program.
- Steve Marquardt of EPA Region 5 highlighted funding for GSI under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), noting that it includes $50 billion for EPA to strengthen the nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems – “the single largest investment in water that the federal government has ever made – you are never going to see this level of funding again!” Most of what is available for GSI comes under the Clean Water State Revolving Funds Program, which includes, as priorities, increasing investment in disadvantaged communities and resilience, climate, and One Water innovation. He acknowledged that the challenge for most communities is coming up with matching funds, along with the fact that maintenance is not funded.
I encourage you to learn more about the excellent work of RISC by visiting: https://www.risc.solutions/.