Making Stormwater Markets: How Cities Can Spur Voluntary Green Stormwater Management on Private Land

Sourced from the Living Architecture Monitor

The twin challenges of modern-day stormwater management and climate resilience require cities to depart from traditional approaches to a new view on water infrastructure. To address these challenges, many cities are incorporating decentralized “green infrastructure (GI)” approaches, into their water infrastructure planning.  As U.S. cities plan to spend tens of billions on green infrastructure in the coming years, it will be crucial for them to invest in projects that provide the maximum social benefit per dollar spent. In many cases, managing stormwater on private land can provide a vast and largely untapped opportunity for these lower-cost multi-benefit projects.  However, capturing those opportunities will require cities to implement new policies and programs to motivate private property owners to act.

Of the cities that have large-scale GI commitments, most are currently relying heavily on building green infrastructure on publicly-owned land and in the public right-of-way. However, public space is limited: over 50 per cent or more of impervious area in any given city may be privately owned. Cities are finding that very low-cost green stormwater management opportunities exist on private land. For example, in 2013 the City of Philadelphia was paying approximately $250,000 per acre to capture stormwater from one impervious acre in the public right-of-way. By creating incentive programs that offer $100,000 toward the cost of a “greened acre” on private property, the City has managed to spur private property owners to green their own parcels, and thereby greatly reduce the City’s overall costs. 

Private property GI incentive programs are important beyond providing water quality benefits. They can also be targeted to motivate greening in the areas of a city that would stand to benefit most from GI’s advantages such as temperature regulation, improved air quality, green jobs, or beautification. 

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