Parks and GSI Partners Meet at the One Water Summit in November 2023

As we embark on the New Year, I want to highlight three projects where the expertise of our fabulous member practitioners has been tapped by partner organizations to advance the GSI field.  They include one project that has been in existence for several years, a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and One Water Econ known as the GSI Co-Benefits Project.  Two newer projects include the Parks and GSI initiative, a partnership with the City Parks Alliance and the U.S. Water Alliance, and the Urban Nature-Based Solutions Accelerator Initiative, a partnership with the Center for Regenerative Solutions and The Trust for Public Land. I’ll review each, in turn.

1. The GSI Co-Benefits Project

This initiative is producing a compendium of tools/reports for understanding and quantifying GSI co-benefits associated with job creation and economic development, urban heat stress mitigation, flood risk reduction, ecosystem and habitat improvement, and transportation. Exchange members who have lent their expertise to this project include Sarah Bloom (SFPUC, San Francisco), Stephanie Chiorean (PWD, Philadelphia), Dana de Leon (City of Tacoma), Chris Hartman (NEORSD, Cleveland), Matt Johnson (DOEE, Washington, DC), Irene Ogata (City of Tucson), Beatrice Ohene-Okae (DOEE, Washington, DC),  Kerry Rubin (City of Portland), Holly Sauter (MWRD, Chicago), Elizabeth Svekla (PWD, Philadelphia), and Tracy Tackett (City of Seattle). We are hopeful that the evaluation tool and guides will be published and available to the public by early spring.

 

2. Parks and GSI Initiative

Working with a cohort of parks and water agency leaders over the next 2 years, this project will be identifying and addressing the barriers to closer collaboration between these two sectors on implementing and maintaining green stormwater infrastructure on park lands that can increase green space, enhance climate resilience through stormwater management, and provide a host of other community benefits, as well as highlighting successful examples.  A series of kick-off activities took place at the One Water Summit during which Exchange members from Milwaukee (Lisa Sasso), Tucson (Blue Baldwin), and Raleigh (Wayne Miles) spoke to their respective efforts in siting GSI in parks, with Tucson and Raleigh giving great presentations in tandem with their parks department counterparts.  Other Exchange members include the City of Atlanta (Amanda Hallauer), City of Boston (Kate England), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (Beth Dutton), and the City of Seattle (Shanti Colwell). The group will meet next at the Greater & Greener conference on June 22-25, 2024 in Seattle. (Yes, some of us will be spending a lot of time in Seattle in the coming months).

3. Urban Nature-Based Solutions Accelerator Initiative

 

This project seeks to design an accelerator training to help more frontline communities get up to speed on GSI. An initial step is a two-day retreat slated for January 16-18 at Pocantico, the Rockefeller Brothers’ Estate in Tarreytown, NY.

 

The retreat will bring together a diverse group of leaders from organizations and places that are leading efforts to develop and expand green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) initiatives to frontline communities facing the greatest potential impacts from climate change. Exchange members who are involved include Blue Baldwin (City of Tucson), Kim Grove (City of Baltimore), Kristina Hausmanis (City of Toronto), Claire Mullhardt (CRW, Harrisburg), Irene Ogata (City of Tucson),  Andy Szatko (City of Omaha), and Alfred Walfall (PWD, Philadelphia).

 

While there will be much more to say about outcomes from each of these partnerships in coming months, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the members listed here for their efforts to support these partnerships and, in so doing, advance the field of green stormwater infrastructure and the mission of the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange.

Contributing Authors:  Robb Lukes (City of Vancouver, BC), Brandy Siedlaczek (City of Southfield, MI), Andy Szatko (City of Omaha, NE), Alfred Walfall (Philadelphia Water Dept.), and Nathan Williams (City of Grand Rapids, MI)

POSTCARD #1

Dear friends:

No one can say we were not an active delegation. We led tours, participated in the activities of many other delegations, attended sessions, went on tours, offered commitments to action, ate together, drank together, and explored the Sonoran Desert, which surrounds the hotel. (At least one of us even found time to play a round of free golf, a perk of staying at the resort). Now it is time to go swimming, before we have to go back home to winter! More later.

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #2

Dear friend:

Through participating in the Kresge CREWS, Spring Point Delta, and other sessions, we learned a lot about equitable approaches to advancing GSI. If we want the sector to start to look more like the communities it serves, we need to remove barriers, like, e.g., requiring a driver’s license, that keep people out of entry-level jobs. Providing public transit passes, van rides, and assistance with applying for a driver’s license to trainees are helpful accommodations. You’ve probably heard about hydroponics but what about “indigeponics” (how the tomato on the front was grown)? The term, coined by a member of the Navajo nation, describes growing plants that are indigenous to the community and important to its culture. Finally, we all know how challenging it can be to center community and do effective outreach. A speaker from Jackson, MS noted that community’s continuing struggle in this area. Another speaker from New York suggested that one solution is partnering with artists who are often better at reaching community members when conventional solutions fail.

Off to the evening Tequila toast at Salud!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #3

Dear friend:

Most of our delegation is from places like Vancouver, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Omaha, Southfield, & Grand Rapids, where GSI is typically a solution for too much water. Not so here. In 2019, a 13 cents/cubic ft drinking water fee was added to the water bill for Tucson. The funding provides $3M/yr for capital & maintenance for the Storm to Shade Program. As a result, the Dunbar-Springs Neighborhood, shown on the front, now has a lot of GSI to curb its urban heat island challenges. The City is also discharging its water re-use effluent into the once dried up Santa Cruz River. Some sections of the river are experiencing regrowth of native plant and tree species and aquatic life.  You really have to see it to believe it! Very cool – well, it’s actually still pretty warm for November, in my book!

Off for a hike to see the Saguaros!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #4

Dear friend:

You may know that the Exchange is engaged in a partnership with the City Parks Alliance & the U.S. Water Alliance to get more GSI into parks. Exchange member Raleigh, NC, noted in its presentation, that GSI and parks go together like “peanut butter and jelly.” There are lots of challenges, including getting municipal leaders on board, which requires communicating the financial benefits of GSI over other measures and recruiting the community in both fundraising and volunteering to make the resulting places a focus of community pride.  In addition, maintenance cannot be an afterthought, something mentioned by Exchange member, City of Tucson, AZ, in its presentation. Maintenance staff should be involved in design and a database of life cycle maintenance costs should be developed, along with maintenance standards appropriate to local conditions – Tucson got a grant to fund the University of Arizona to develop its standards.

Off to bed. This time change is rough!

XOXO!

 

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POSTCARD #5

Dear friend:

It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot fun to come together as a delegation. As you can see from the photo, we picked up a few old friends along the way. We’re a little tired, which triggers some thoughts on what we learned about GSI and health. Someone from Tucson was asked about how the City addresses public complaints around the idea that planting trees to address the unrelenting heat may attract the unhoused. The panelist (an Exchange member – YEA!) did not hesitate to say, unequivocally, that everyone deserves shade and that is what drives City policy. Another presenter noted that an investment in green stormwater infrastructure is an investment in public health, a connection that can be seen in the support of the GSI in parks initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Thank you RWJF, Kresge Foundation, and Spring Point Partners for your support of our  work and our attendance at the Summit – we could not do this without you!

Now for the jet lag!

XOXO!

  1. Background

In a 2021 strategic planning meeting, Exchange members cited communications as an internal weakness. In response to this finding, Rogue Water, a communications consultant, was hired to conduct a communications audit in 2022. Among many other conclusions, it found that, in a very crowded field of water organizations vying for attention, the Exchange’s logo did not help to differentiate the organization from competitors. The firm then worked to design a new logo. Following consideration of alternatives and discussion with members, Exchange leaders approved the new logo in the summer of 2023.

  1. What Does It Represent?

The Exchange is the only social innovation network and community of practice focused solely on helping stormwater management organizations across North America bring the equitable implementation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to scale. At the Exchange, innovation happens primarily through member involvement in monthly peer learning circles. The new logo attempts to convey this, with a set of overlapping circles arranged around a spiral, an ancient and powerful symbol of evolution and growth.

  1. Learn More About Peer Learning

You can learn more about the Exchange’s Peer Learning Circles here. Exchange Education Manager, Dr. Veronica Hotton, writes a monthly blog article on what the circles are learning, which is available in our e-newsletter and on the News Page of our website.

 

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 to 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: https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf/sewer-overflow-and-stormwater-reuse-municipal-grants-program

CONTACT

P.O. Box 6783

Towson, MD 21285

410-657-2657

barbara@giexchange.org

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