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Wanted: A More Proactive Approach to Stormwater Investment

As hurricane seasons get more destructive, a less reactionary approach to stormwater infrastructure investment may be needed.
January 12, 2019, 5am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Rail Trail rendering
A rendering of improvements to the MARTA stormwater retention pond in Chamblee included in the Rail Trail project.

"Disasters like Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael only represent a small taste of the expected rise in daily flooding and other chronic environmental threats we're going to face in years to come," Joseph Kane writes. And "reactive" approaches to maintaining current legacy systems will only take us so far.

Kane argues that a more proactive approach to resilience investments is needed, one that incorporates greener, longer-term fixes and accounts for the full economic and social benefits those projects could confer. "Green infrastructure projects like rain gardens can be smaller, more distributed, and efficient over time," he writes. "The immediate returns of these projects may be less clear, relative to the upfront costs, but the reduced runoff, treatment needs, and pollution loads can lead to greater savings."

Current approaches, Kane says, are both reactionary and isolated from other potential positive factors. "We do not adequately account for the costs of inaction that we face from failing stormwater infrastructure, nor do we account for the broader social benefits of more proactive repairs. Workforce development, for instance, can be a central element in this approach."

Capturing the costs of inaction and the full scope of benefits, he says, could lead to more opportunities to utilize ESG investments and social impact bonds, for instance.

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Published on Thursday, December 20, 2018 in Brookings
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