By Elisa Speranza, CH2M HILL Operations & Maintenance Business Group President and Enterprise Executive Sponsor for Sustainability
“I learned this 20 years ago, when I started driving a taxi: if you don’t maintain the car, if you don’t keep it up, it will leave you.”
My taxi driver, an Iranian immigrant named John, could not have known that I co-authored a Journal AWWA article with my dear departed friend John Cromwell in 2007 called “Asset Management Too Complicated? Just think of your car.” The taxi driver, having learned I worked in the water business, spoke quite eloquently and accurately about the need for investment in water infrastructure, and compared it to his car. It seemed especially relevant since I had spent the day (September 20, 2012) at the White House Conference on Municipal Stormwater Infrastructure: Going from Grey to Green. The gathering, hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, brought together key stakeholders from the federal, state, local, private and non-profit sectors to examine the benefits of wider implementation of “green” infrastructure to address municipal stormwater management needs, to identify barriers and evaluate options for practical action.
I spoke as part of the panel “Municipal Green Infrastructure Success Stories: Defining Benefits and Barriers,” and shared stories about the great efforts our clients are undertaking with help from CH2M HILL around the world, highlighting projects like ABC Waters in Singapore (contact email@example.com). It was a bit of a blast from the past for me, as I had spent many years working on wet weather issues during my time at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and Boston Water & Sewer Commission in the 1980s and ‘90s. I also couldn’t help mentioning the needs of my adopted second home, New Orleans, where the need for green infrastructure to help with resilience and climate change adaptation is all too real.
My co-panelist, client and old friend Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner, talked about his Green City, Clean Waters program, a 20-year stormwater management plan based on green infrastructure principles. The program is addressing the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) challenges while transforming it into an oasis of rain gardens, green roofs, treescapes, and porous pavement. I had a chance to work with Howard in the early days of the Philadelphia program, back when such approaches were looked upon a little skeptically as “hippie infrastructure.” It certainly was gratifying for me to see that we’ve come so far that green infrastructure is practically mainstream now. And of course it always makes me proud to know that Brian Marengo and our folks in the Philadelphia office and elsewhere have played a critical role in Philly’s success.
Many other CH2M HILL clients were also on-hand for the conference, including:
– Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Director of Public Works for Lancaster, PA. Lancaster’s Green Infrastructure Plan, which CH2M HILL helped to develop, is already beginning to provide environmental, economic and social benefits for the city. Through the program, the Lancaster is working to reduce the approximately 750 million gallons of polluted water (stormwater runoff) flowing into the Conestoga River and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
– Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of the Milwaukee, WI, Metropolitan Sewage District, facilitated the panel “Funding, Financing and Valuing Green Infrastructure: Opportunities and Options.” One of his recommendations was to offer a federal income tax credit to private property owners doing big green things at homes and business, such as rooftop gardens or using permeable pavement in parking lots. CH2M HILL is currently working with MMSD to develop its green infrastructure plan. (contact: email@example.com)
– Tony Parrott, Executive Director, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. CH2M HILL is involved in a wide array of projects in Cincinnati, including development of MSD’s Sustainable Watershed Evaluation and Planning Process (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
Client Matt Millea, Onondaga County, NY, Deputy County Executive spoke on the “Funding, Financing and Valuing Green Infrastructure: Opportunities and Options” panel. The County’s Save the Rain and the overall CSO implementation strategy, which CH2M HILL helped Onondaga develop implement, have become a leading example of green infrastructure approaches to managing wet weather impacts. (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
On that panel, many potential funding options were discussed, including expansion of local stormwater utilities, public-private partnership and leveraging private capital, and building green incentives into existing federal and state funding programs.
Other CH2M HILL clients in attendance hailed from Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, Cleveland (NEORSD), New York City DEP, Chicago MWRD, DC Water, San Francisco PUC and the Greater Cincinnati MSD.
It was clear from the dialogue at the working session that there is a growing awareness that green approaches are not just “nice to do” but actually are more effective, more comprehensive, and save money in the long run. Clear themes emerged from the working session around the virtues of an integrated, comprehensive approach, the value of sharing innovations bubbling up from the local level, looking for creative financing alternatives, and calculating/making visible the multi-faced benefits of a green infrastructure approach. There was a real sense of urgency in the room, and recognition that the cost of inaction is high. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe talked about the “cumulative impact of a lot of little actions,” and the need to capture the momentum inherent in the constant change in our cities to work in new and more integrated ways. The benefits of this approach are many, varied, and connected. I’m proud that our company is right in the middle of the action, helping build a more sustainable and livable world from the streets up.CH2M HILL Access Water, combined sewer overflows, green infrastructure, water blog, watershed, wet weather