City of Houston launches pilot program to promote stormwater infrastructure growth
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.