Investment into our natural assets is a theme that will take on more importance in the future, though many policy makers still view infrastructure assets through a traditional lens. What if the definition of water infrastructure were expanded beyond treatment plants?
Green infrastructure (GI) is an approach to water management that protects, restores,
or mimics the natural water cycle according to American Rivers, a national non-profit dedicated to preserving our rivers and waterways.
Globally cities such as Singapore and Stockholm have come up with dynamic solutions,
such as making its roofs and surfaces more permeable and able to capture precipitation and distribute it back into the system cleanly.
Forested watersheds and well stewarded open space can also be considered green infrastructure as they provide pollutant filtration and carbon capture attributes. It is crucial to preserving one of our finite resources, fresh water.
Freshwater problems have resulted from water pollution and excessive demands on watersheds. A 2010 study estimated that globally, 283 cubic kilometers of under-ground aquifers are being depleted annually, demonstrating currently unsustainable practices. (1)
California considers watersheds to be critical infrastructure assets to be maintained and improved to sustain a healthy living system. Watersheds also provide and protect our wetlands.
Wetlands are highly productive and biologically diverse systems that enhance water quality, control erosion, maintain stream flows, sequester carbon, and provide a home to at least one third of all threatened and endangered species.
The economic cost and benefit analysis of man-made green roofs or well stewarded wetlands is in the early stages but should not be an impediment to deliberation and implementation. According to the World Resources Institute, Green infrastructure, such as forest and ecosystem restoration in source watersheds, can save water suppliers a lot of money by reducing water treatment costs, regulating the timing of water flows, avoiding the need to install new infrastructure components, and reducing wear and tear on existing infrastructure. Additionally, jobs are created to maintain the vast array of green infrastructure assets.
Ideally, our municipal planners incorporate the highly functional value of green infrastructure into their decision-making process to promote a healthier environment and economy.