At its September meeting, the Strategic Planning and Policy Committee (SPPC) approved a scope of work pursuant to which the Exchange would assume management of a Great Lakes-based project known as Resilient Infrastructure for Sustainable Communities (RISC). Today, I want say how excited we are to welcome the members of RISC into the fold and elaborate on what this means for the Exchange.

  1. What is RISC?

RISC is a network of municipal, state, federal, nonprofit, and private sector climate resilience leaders whose mission has much in common with that of the Exchange, i.e., to leverage a common network and shared experiences of municipal, state, and federal climate resilience leaders to scale up GSI in the Great Lakes Region so as to improve water quality, climate resilience, and socio-economic impacts. Among RISC’s members there are six jurisdictions (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Southfield, Milwaukee, Detroit) that are current members of the Exchange. There are also 15 local government members from the Great Lakes Region who are not current Exchange members, along with the EPA’s Environmental Finance Advisory Board, and a handful of private sector and nonprofit entities.

With support from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, RISC was founded in February 2020 by Sanjiv K. Sinha, Ph.D., CEO of Corvias Infrastructure Solutions, LLC (CIS). Over the past three years, it has grown to nearly thirty active members across the Great Lakes states and is credited with many state-of-the-art reports, along with two initiatives resulting in well over $100 million in impact investments in the region.

  1. Why Does Our Affiliation Make Sense?

Forming a “network of networks” is a strategy employed by effective social innovation networks to bring innovations to scale and expand impact. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network, for example, has a number of affiliated networks throughout the country where its members can turn for local support and cooperation.  Beyond that, amidst increasing calls for regionalization of water systems and for watershed-scale planning to manage stormwater, it makes sense for the Exchange to develop a regional approach that will complement its national work.

  1. What Does This Mean for the Work of the Exchange?

With the support of the Great Lakes Protection Fund, the Exchange will open all of its Peer Learning Circles to RISC members, adding a new circle that will focus on the activities of RISC. While the details are yet to be determined, activities of the RISC Circle could include expanding the list of climate resiliency leaders in the Great Lakes Region who are interested in scaling up GSI; outreach/engagement to identify barriers and opportunities to scaling up GSI in the Great Lakes Region; and developing a strategic plan for RISC, including organizational development and programmatic strategies. RISC also has had its own, one-day annual meeting for the last several years and the Exchange will help to organize that going froward, in partnership with the Chicago-based Delta Institute. (I wrote about attending the 2023 Annual Meeting of RISC here).

  1. When Will the Transition Begin?

The Exchange will officially begin working with RISC on October 1. The first meeting of the RISC Peer Learning Circle will take place on December 6.


The word cloud above reflects the responses of 182 municipalities participating in an 8/30/2023 WaterNow webinar to the question, “What are the most significant challenges your agency faces regarding sewer overflows and stormwater management?” The results, particularly the challenge of funding, are no surprise to anyone who is a member of the Exchange. And funding, i.e., grant funding from EPA’s Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program (OSG), was the subject of the webinar. (Recording and slides should be available here, shortly).

The OSG program has its origins in the 2018 amendments to the Clean Water Act. That law prescribes a formula to give each state an allotted share of federally appropriated funds and gives states broad flexibility in administering the program. Municipalities then apply to the state to fund their eligible OSG projects.

Eligible projects include those that address combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, or stormwater. Green infrastructure is among the types of projects specified as eligible. Planning, design, and construction are eligible costs and, since, all OSG projects are eligible for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program (CWSRF), OSG can be used to supplement the cost of CWSRFP projects.

Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) some OSG applicants get priority over others, especially those who represent financially distressed communities, a phrase that is defined state-by-state.  In addition, there is a 20% Green Project Reserve (a phrase that specifically includes green infrastructure projects) requirement and a mandate that 25% of funds go to rural and/or financially distressed communities. In short, this program is very aligned with our mission of equitable GSI implementation.

One downside is that the federal appropriation for the program was just $50 million in FY 2023. Carved up 50+ ways, that will not go far. In addition, states must come up with a 20% cost share, something the State of Wisconsin, a participant in the webinar, manages through a grant program funded by state bond revenues. The cost share requirement is eliminated for applicants from rural and/or disadvantaged communities per the BIL amendments.

To learn more about the program, consult the EPA OSG program website at:

The results of our 2022 State of Public Sector GSI report were crystal clear about these two things: (1) At 10 percent, expenditures on GSI pale in comparison to other outlays to manage stormwater and; (2) most jurisdictions are challenged to fund GSI maintenance. This latter finding helps to explain why expenditures are relatively low and presents a barrier to the Exchange’s mission of fostering more equitable GSI implementation across North America.

But we also know from the report that a modest number of respondents have worked with their state governments successfully to be able to use Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) resources and even bonds to pay for maintenance for the three to five years it takes for plants to become established, thus easing the maintenance burden. This has been a significant lever for these jurisdictions in bringing GSI to scale.

This strategy was the subject of a webinar hosted by the WaterNow Alliance, where I discussed The State of Public Sector GSI, 2022 and Caroline Koch (WaterNow) and Stephanie Vo (EPIC) discussed a report they co-authored, entitled: Navigating Green Infrastructure Maintenance with Capitalized Establishment Costs. Exchange member Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District through its Senior Project Planner, Lisa Sasso, and Greenprint Partners, also participated, explaining how the strategy is playing out in Milwaukee.

Among the important recommendations that the report offers is that local governments should engage with SRF administrators about potential GSI projects. This is key to state administrators gaining an understanding of how maintenance costs can be capitalized and thus deemed eligible as SRF expenses.

I encourage you to review the webinar (1 hour) and read the report (20 pages). Thanks are owed to Lisa Sasso for being so willing to share her time and expertise on the topic.

From “Changing Rain: Climate Change Preparedness of Great Lakes Communities.”

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:

During the closing plenary session, Exchange Executive Director, Barbara Hopkins, provided a brief overview of the strategic plan, focusing on the priorities related to enhancing communications, especially draft versions of a new logo. Below are 3 takeaways and highlights from the audience discussion:

  • A strategic plan addresses internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats (SWOTs) that stand to impact an organization’s mission. It is tied to a budget and supported by both a theory of change (overarching goals to achieve the mission) and strategic priorities (the strategies that will address the SWOTs and implement the theory of change).
  • Among the strategic priorities in the current year is implementing a “Communications Roadmap” developed by a consulting firm, Rogue Water, in response to a communications audit that it conducted in Fall 2022.
  • The Communications Roadmap recommends development of a new logo and 3 designs were discussed for purposes of obtaining member feedback:


  • Option C appeared to be the least favored and evoked comments like “we don’t get it” and “feels dated.”
  • Options A and B require more work in the opinion of some. Option A evoked comments like “evokes what we do,” “I like the hidden message in it, and the fact that it resembles the urban fabric and feels modern,” and “can the inner shading be more reflective of a building or a river?”
  • Option B evoked comments like “I understand its symbolism with there being overlap and a sense of movement,” “the step before the final version feels more modern,” “it has a natural feel,” and “don’t like the big black dot in the middle.”


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