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Building the Future: Innovative Water Infrastructure

Across the United States, cities are making innovative, cost-effective investments in infrastructure that create jobs and build a stronger, healthier future for our communities.

Today, more than 80 percent of Americans live, work, and raise their families in urban areas.  At the same time, much of our infrastructure, including our water infrastructure, is decades old and in need of costly repairs.  As former city officials, we appreciate how important it is for the Federal government to be a good partner, and that means making it easier for cities and towns to pursue the policies that make sense for their communities.

This Administration has made smart infrastructure investment a priority, both to create jobs and to build a strong future for our cities. A lot of important work is also done at the local level, where decisions are made about building codes, local transportation options, and whether to invest in sustainable infrastructure.  Communities value clean water, and a safe, healthy environment. So today, many cities are looking for more innovative, cost-effective approaches to managing their polluted storm water. Replacing concrete with porous pavement, employing green roofs and rain barrels, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities absorb rain water rather than funnel it to sewer systems. This kind of green infrastructure can also help beautify communities, make them more attractive to businesses and investors, and help them better withstand extreme weather.  These projects are often much less expensive and less disruptive than building bigger or newer concrete storm water systems – something everyone can appreciate in a time of constrained resources. 

Cities of all sizes offer living proof.  Green infrastructure is helping to manage polluted stormwater and sewer overflows and providing a range of benefits in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Syracuse, Seattle and Lancaster, PA.  We’ve gathered input from city managers, mayors, and policy experts about how the Administration can be helpful in this effort, including at a White House Conference on Green Stormwater Infrastructure in September.  Now, we’re bringing federal agencies together to align their resources to make it easier for municipalities to build and invest in green infrastructure.  

Federal agencies have a range of programs that are providing support to projects across the country.  We’re going to start by encouraging and facilitating greater use of existing programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We’re also going to support efforts to leverage federal funding programs, green infrastructure set-asides, and other resources to mobilize private financing.  At the same time, EPA is making updates that will allow cities greater flexibility to take advantage of creative financing options for storm water infrastructure, including private funding. 

Private organizations also are seeing the potential of green infrastructure.  For example, today the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will provide seed money for a new RE.invest initiative, a public-private partnership that will help selected cities to leverage private financing for sustainable storm water and sewer systems.  This program will provide local governments an innovative model for working with the private sector to broaden green infrastructure options.  These kinds of partnerships are an encouraging step to support clean and healthy cities, and save taxpayer dollars. 

We understand the challenges cities face in meeting the needs of their residents day in and day out.  The Administration is committed to working across federal agencies, with states, cities, counties, towns and private sector and non-profit partners, to promote healthy and prosperous communities and help make sustainable, resilient green infrastructure options more accessible across the Nation.

Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
David Agnew is Director of Intergovernmental Affairs