seeing green

City of Houston launches pilot program to promote stormwater infrastructure growth

The roof of Carnegie Vanguard High School features an example of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Photo courtesy of the City of Houston

The City of Houston has launched a pilot project that will speed up the permitting process for environmentally friendly stormwater projects.

The Green Stormwater Infrastructure Expedited Permitting Pilot Program, announced August 4, will approve at least 10 projects in the Houston area by August 2022. In conjunction with the Resilient Houston initiative, the city is targeting 100 green stormwater infrastructure projects by 2025.

The city is working on rules and regulations that will govern development of green stormwater infrastructure. Mayor Sylvester Turner rolled out a tax abatement program for green stormwater infrastructure projects last December.

According to a city news release, green stormwater infrastructure improves the performance of drainage systems and can make real estate projects more attractive to buyers, while delivering benefits such as heat reduction, improvement of air and water quality, and conservation of native habitats.

Green stormwater infrastructure helps reduce the downstream impact of development and mimics how rain behaves when it falls onto an undeveloped green landscape. Techniques that fit into this category include green roofs, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, permeable pavement, and urban forests.

"In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have taken critical steps to address our flooding and drainage challenges. As Houston has rapidly developed, we have relied on traditional gray infrastructure systems to keep us safe. However, as we build forward, we must consider new and innovative approaches for achieving greater flood resilience in Houston," the city says in a 2019 report about green stormwater infrastructure.

Traditional "gray" infrastructure, designed to move urban stormwater away from the built environment, includes curbs, gutters, drains, piping, and collection systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Generally, gray infrastructure collects and moves stormwater from impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots, and rooftops, and into a series of pipes that ultimately send untreated stormwater into local waterways.

In tandem with Houston's new permitting program, the city has created the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Awards and Recognition Program. The program salutes green development and redevelopment projects. It "is intended to recognize some of the most effective and exemplary of 'green' building in Houston and encourage more development projects to adopt resilient measures," according to the news release.

Projects considered for the awards program will be judged on factors such as:

  • Proximity to nearby communities.
  • Impact on nearby communities.
  • Efforts to conserve native plants.

Turner says the permitting and awards programs are part of an initiative aimed at "futureproofing our city" to ease harm caused by hurricanes and flooding.

"In Houston and in towns across the U.S., climate change is no longer knocking on our front door; it's broken into the house," Turner wrote in an opinion piece published in July by The Hill.

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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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