Surdna Foundation 2014 Annual Report
Programs > Sustainable Environments > Urban Water Management
Urban Water Management

Urban Water Management

Each year trillions of gallons of untreated stormwater from roads, roofs, parking lots, and other paved surfaces combine with sewage from homes to overburden our crumbling infrastructure in cities, flood our basements, and increase communities’ vulnerability to the impacts of stormwater.

Increasingly, cities are investing in open space, green roofs, rain gardens, permeable pavement and other cost-effective ways to capture and gradually release water into existing drains, pipes and sewers. They are designing green infrastructure not only to manage stormwater but also to generate a series of economic, social, and environmental returns for the community—including improved public health and new park space, all assets they have an inclusive and economic role in preserving and maintaining.

We are working to ensure that these and other water infrastructure investments are coordinated with other municipal investments to deliver multiple benefits to a community. When, for example, sewer department officials introduce low-impact technologies like bioswales and vegetative systems to reduce flow to pipes and drains, they are increasingly coordinating with other city agencies like transportation and parks that can integrate stormwater management solutions into their infrastructure projects.

By addressing water and the overburdened and obsolete systems that are designed to deliver and remove it, Surdna is also working to help our communities become healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable places to live and work.

Our grantee, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), is working with property owners in and around Chicago threatened by flooding to test and promote a community engaged plan for adopting best practices that address stormwater. CNT is using these findings to shape state and federal policy.

And in Milwaukee, in an effort to ensure that the city’s infrastructure choices are responsive to community needs, Surdna grantee Climate Interactive has developed an interactive software tool capable of presenting a series of possible solutions. The scenarios produced help local communities see the implications that green versus grey investments in stormwater management have on water quality, and community well-being.

Working with community groups like the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, the tool’s designers are accounting not only for concerns about flood and storm threats, but they are ensuring that local voices are the ones giving shape to investment decisions that will deliver benefits not often associated with infrastructure, like financial savings, good jobs, and beautiful neighborhoods.

Climate Interactive’s Beth Sawin describes the Green Infrastructure Decision Support Tool not so much as a technology, but as a process that offers an antidote to a feeling of powerlessness. She says the tool inspires hope in communities often excluded from discussions about the future of their own neighborhoods.

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