In February-March, 2023, you are invited to participate in one or more focus groups that will take place in the optional 30-minute discussion time immediately following scheduled Peer Learning Circle meetings. We know your time is very valuable and we hope you’ll be able to take the time to help shape the vision for a new Exchange Member resource: the Green Infrastructure Playbook that will establish the core conceptual frameworks and practices for the field and guide Exchange Members in their learning.

The Playbook contents are likely to mirror the topics of focus for Peer Learning Circles, offering a clear set of standards, best practices, and practical examples as illustrated in the graphic in the overview linked below. In order to support us, the consultant team needs to deepen their understanding of how the Exchange could successfully develop a Playbook that helps Members accelerate learning, refine and adopt shared national standards, surface best practices, and emulate examples of these best practices in action.

Please join us for one or more focus groups for the Learning Circle(s) topics during the date and time scheduled using the Zoom links below. All members are welcome to join these discussions, even if you are not currently a member of those learning circles. It’s important for us to incorporate as many voices and perspectives in this focus group process as possible. These 30-minute sessions will take place immediately following scheduled Learning Circle Meetings this February and March.

Please read the two-pager providing more background on the Playbook and how to prepare HERE.

Playbook Focus Groups
Asset Management Focus Group: February 28, 3-3:30 pm ET | Zoom Link
Innovations in Design Focus Group: March 1, 2-2:30 pm ET | Zoom Link
Placing Equity at the Center Focus Group: March 6, 1-1:30 pm ET | Zoom Link
Planning & Resilience Focus Group: March 7, 3-3:30 pm ET | Zoom Link
Innovations in Funding & Financing: March 13, 2-2:30 pm ET | Zoom Link
Maximizing GSI Performance: March 16, 1-1:30 pm ET | Zoom Link

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago partners with municipalities within its service area (generally, Cook County, Illinois) to fund green infrastructure installations. As part of their agreement to receive funding, municipalities must commit to perform regular maintenance. Municipalities that have participated in MWRD’s Green Infrastructure Partnership Program have reported difficulty in finding affordable options for performing the required maintenance on GI installations. In attempt to find a way to make green infrastructure maintenance more affordable and accessible, MWRD submitted a proposal to the Collaborative Grant Program that was accepted. 

The plan: Establish a program where neighboring municipalities with varying income levels pool funds to equitably share a green infrastructure maintenance crew, reducing costs for all. MWRD’s consultant will compile a list of GI installations in the municipalities and work with municipal staff to determine a budget based on the projects’ operations and maintenance plans. The communities will enter into intergovernmental agreements with each other to pool funds and put out a multi-year contract for maintenance. MWRD’s consultant will find a facilitator to manage the pooled funds, administer the contract and inspect maintenance when complete to ensure the contractor is performing the maintenance properly. The consortium will pay for the facilitator’s services through the shared fund.  

What actually happened: Unanticipated hurdles included the difficulty of working with a larger group of communities with different interest levels and available funding for maintenance. It turned out that the municipal leaders do not favor intergovernmental agreements as they thought it would take too long to get everyone to agree and sign.  The consultant did an excellent job of assembling information on all GI installations in the member communities and establishing a maintenance budget for each based on the installations’ operations and maintenance plans. The consultant also developed detailed specifications for three common permeable paver maintenance tasks. 

When we realized the municipalities did not want to establish intergovernmental agreements, we had to look for another way to accomplish our goal. We learned of another method to establish a shared services contract, a Municipal Partnering Initiative (MPI). There is an MPI consisting of a large group of communities in northern Cook County that take turns bidding out work such as street striping, asphalt repaving, etc., but includes the quantities from any/all of the communities that are interested in doing that type of work at the time of the bid. Once a contractor is selected, they sign a separate contract with each community and the work progresses from there. This seemed like an easier way to accomplish the goal, and a smaller group of communities is moving forward with establishing a GI maintenance contract using the same joint bidding technique as the MPI. They were unable to do so within the timelines of the grant but are excited to move forward in the coming months and potentially perform the GI maintenance in the Spring/Summer of 2023. MWRD is grateful for the experience of working with the GI Exchange Collaborative Grant Program and look forward to seeing how these communities achieve the goal of more affordable green infrastructure maintenance. 

Annie Wright, Public Affairs Specialist at Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; Holly Sauter, Principal Civil Engineer at Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; Moriah Gelder, Civil Engineer at Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Lack of access to capital remains a top reason that neighborhoods in historically marginalized communities are often excluded from equitable benefits of green infrastructure projects.  In 2022, the GI Leadership Exchange, through its Collaborative Grant Program, funded a project entitled, Overcoming Barriers to Equitable GSI Implementation.  The primary goal of this project was to overcome financial barriers associated with an existing reimbursement grant program by developing a financing structure model that can be applied to any similarly structured utility rebate program. 

Since 2014, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) Green Infrastructure Grants (GIG) Program has awarded $13M to fund 62 GSI projects that have resulted in an estimated annual reduction of 36 million gallons of stormwater runoff to the combined sewer system.  Despite the program’s success and popularity, its current reimbursement payment structure is a significant obstacle for many potential applicants that cannot incur design & construction costs in advance of a grant award.   

Recognizing that community development corporations  (CDCs) could play a key role in resolving this issue, NEORSD collaborated with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), the only local community development funding intermediary in the region, who has thirty years of experience investing in community revitalization work in Greater Cleveland.  CNP’s strategic focus areas include CDC advancement and resilience, equitable neighborhood revitalization, and access to capital, the latter of which is made available by Village Capital Corporation (VCC), a Community Development Financial Institution, who served as the consultant on this project.   

In keeping with their objective of providing financing for catalytic real estate projects that strengthen and revitalize communities, VCC was tasked with facilitating the development of an innovative financing approach (i.e., loan product), that will be made available to non-profit organizations and the local CDCs representing private property owners.  The new loan product will allow targeted organizations within historically disinvested neighborhoods to acquire the initial capital they need to design and construct GSI projects via the GIG Program.    

Upon development of the new loan product, the project partners initiated a three-part Green Infrastructure Capacity Building Workshop series (scheduled to be completed in Spring 2023) specifically targeted towards CDCs. Overall, these workshops are designed to increase access to NEORSD’s reimbursable GI Grants Program.  The topics to be covered include, 1) an introduction to the grant program and the new bridge loan; 2) how to develop a successful grant application; and 3) a deeper dive into the eligibility, operation and maintenance of a bridge loan.

Upon researching funding opportunities that would help to advance the project team’s primary goal of identifying the ways and means to bridge the funding gap for potential grant applicants, the GI Leadership Exchange’s Collaborative Grants Program was a perfect fit.  By eliminating the financial barrier caused by the reimbursement payment structure of the grant, a larger pool of applicants from historically disinvested neighborhoods can now invest in GSI by using this innovative funding mechanism.  Furthermore, any similarly structured utility rebate program or reimbursement grant can replicate this initiative.  In turn this can help serve to address historic injustices, thereby ensuring a more equitable distribution of GSI investments. 

Upon completion of the capacity-building workshops and the finalization of the new loan product’s terms and conditions, the project team will continue to seek additional means by which the financial burden of making a grant application; another identified barrier to overcome.  Furthermore, the project team is gearing up to embark upon a more significant neighborhood GI investment planning.   Strategic and coordinated investments in green infrastructure help make vulnerable communities more equitable, livable, and resilient to the effects of climate change.  However, to be truly impactful, investments must be made on a scale that encompasses entire neighborhoods.  The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities Program is a tool designed to partner with community leaders and residents to design, fund, and build climate-smart green spaces where they will have the most impact.   Our plan is to deliver this tool to multiple strategically identified neighborhoods.  Intense stakeholder involvement and purposeful coordination with applicable community development corporations will result in the identification of priority areas for green infrastructure investments, landowners with the capability of participating, and sources of funding to implement real change. 

Chris Hartman, Stormwater Technical Specialist at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

 

Yesterday, Exchange members attended the second of four members-only community engagement workshops. Facilitated by Katherine Baer and April Ingle of the River Network, the workshop set out to teach participants how to support the growth of authentic and equitable relationships between community organizations and water utilities. Trusting, authentic relationships between water utilities and communities are more important than ever to ensure equitable, affordable access to clean, reliable water and stormwater services. Examples exist in communities across the country, and offer crucial lessons about centering communities to leverage mutual benefits and build trust. The session explored best practices for leadership to create trust-based utility-community partnerships outlined in River Network and WaterNow Alliance’s report, Building Blocks of Trust: Creating Authentic and Equitable Relationships Between Community Organizations and Water Utilities, and discussion of strategies for putting these building blocks of trust into practice to advance green infrastructure, sustainability, and community-centered engagement.

A number of exercises were shared to get participants involved and thinking about how to build trust and the River Network highlighted the building blocks they’ve used in successful approaches. For the sake of time, they did a deeper dive into (a) Prioritize Transparency and Accountability, (b) Include the Community as Part of Utility Decision Making, and (c) Highlight Shared Goals to Leverage Mutual Benefits.

When asked, “What interesting insights or revelations came to you in these discussions?” towards the end of the workshop, participants answered:

  • “Level of community engagement pursued needs to reflect what we can offer.”
  • “Determining the best way to offer child care for evening meetings.”
  • “Confirming that community-centered outreach is vital to successful projects.”
  • “Strategic Partners are irreplaceable.”
  • “Identify community ambassadors and work with our outreach consultants to think about how to bring them to the table effectively.”

You can view the full slide deck from the Community Engagement Workshop: Trust Building designed by the River Network here.

This work would not be possible without the generous support of the Kresge Foundation that has enabled us to deepen our commitment to building the leadership skills of current and future local government leaders. If you’re an Exchange member, please be sure that you’re subscribed to our members-only newsletter so that you don’t miss out on future workshops.

Reach out to Jasmine Harrison, jasmine@giexchange.org, with any questions.

 

Resilience – “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” as defined in the Merriam-Webster. This term can apply to almost any topic, which makes it really handy, but in thinking how a system, like green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), for example, can be re-designed to be resilient to the impacts of climate change, it’s not a simple endeavor. 

Figure 1. Projected change (increase or decrease) for selected climatic impact drivers in six regions in North America.

In 2022, the GI Leadership Exchange through its Collaborative Grant Program funded the Climate Resilience Resources Guide (CRRG): Part 1. The overarching goal of this project was to support the GI Exchange Members from coast to coast and north to south across the U.S. and including Canada with advancing (or even just approaching) the topic of integrating climate change adaptation and resilience into local GSI programs.  

But why the GI Exchange? Why not just have municipalities and other agencies doing this work just take on their own efforts locally? 

Though it may seem counterintuitive to leverage the network to support this pressing issue for almost anyone working in the field, especially given the breadth of geographic space and the extreme variability in climate change trends as well as regional strategies and policies in place for addressing climate change related to stormwater and GSI, in hindsight it makes a lot of sense why this worked so well, and why the GI Exchange and the Collaborative Grant Program is so important for local program development and on-the-ground impact. 

  1. Leveraging expertise – The CRRG project team comprised representatives from the five agencies below, representing significantly different geographies, climate regimes, and programs involved in the work.
  •  City/County Association of Governments, San Mateo County
  • City of Baltimore
  • Philadelphia Water Department
  • City of Portland
  • San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
  • Water Front TorontoWithout the GI Exchange network and without the Collaborative Grant Program, it would be next to impossible to convene this diverse group and range of expertise, including planners, program managers, GSI design staff/engineers. This incredible group also brought important considerations of the impacts of, adaptive response strategies to and overall perspective on the challenge of integrating climate resilience into GSI programs.
  1. Taking a “broad brush” – The project team intentionally envisioned the created the CRRG as a “table-setting” type resource of agencies to advance local efforts on integrating GSI and climate resilience. Recognizing the many potential areas to drill into and the nuances of regional climate trends and local policies and practices, the team found there would be significant value in summarizing at a high level how climate trends are showing up in the data from region to region, across different hazards, and then focusing in on how, generally, GSI policy, planning, design and operations, and maintenance can be reconceptualized to account for future change and better responsiveness properly. In this fashion, the CRRG is accessible and applicable to any GI Member and yet provides tangible context and consideration to take local work to the next level. It also includes an appendix of tools to get started on the technical work. Again, there’s no other place that this really makes sense to do other than via the GI Exchange, and this grant was the path forward to produce the outputs and advance the industry. It’s also unlikely that one might find a funding program, other than through other philanthropic foundations, perhaps, that have a broad enough mission to support a comprehensive, but 30-thousand-foot view on how to overcome institutional and technical barriers on a far-reaching and uncertain topic such as climate change with respect to GSI. The Collaborative Grant Program is the perfect venue.
  1. Phasing – The CRRG was also intentionally proposed to be developed in parts or phases, to allow for further resource advancement and innovation as the work evolves. Part 2 of the CRRG, which was just awarded for the 2023 Collaborative Grant Program cycle (Yay!), will take the next step of evaluating and generating decision support tools to identify and overcome the institutional and programmatic pinch-points in effectively integrating GSI and climate resilience. We were able to bring back the same project team and consultant leads to advance the next leg of work and through the increased funding will be able to combine both parts into a fantastic-looking and highly usable digital or printable resource that really will be a one-stop shop for building or starting out on any climate adaptation-based GSI program.

We look forward to the final product! 

Reid Bogert, Senior Stormwater Program Specialist at City/County Association of Governments, San Mateo

CONTACT

P.O. Box 6783

Towson, MD 21285

410-657-2657

barbara@giexchange.org

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