Natural Cities, Healthy Waters

Runoff on our streets, pollution in our waters

Credit: Kushal Bose/Shutterstock

Our waterways are special here in Texas, but unfortunately, they face increasing threats from flooding, drought and water pollution. A full two thirds of freshwater sites and nearly half of all our beaches were too polluted to safely swim in on at least one testing day in 2017. We deserve better, and luckily, nature-based infrastructure can help.  Here in Texas, we are advocating for the increased use of rain gardens, green roofs, wetlands and other nature-based infrastructure features which can prevent water pollution, mitigate flooding, ease drought, reduce urban heat and make our communities more beautiful. Learn more about our work below.

Credit: Ilona Koeleman/Shutterstock

As Texas grows, so does runoff pollution

Our State’s waterways, from Barton Creek to Galveston Bay, are the pride of Texas communities. They provide the water we drink, the rivers where we kayak, and the banks along which we play.

Unfortunately, runoff pollution threatens our water. The concrete jungle of development prevents rainwater from soaking into the ground, forcing it to run over roofs and roads, picking up oil, toxic chemicals, litter and animal waste. When this polluted water reaches our waterways it makes us sick and threatens the habitat of our wildlife.

The solution to runoff pollution is nature-based infrastructure, including rain gardens, green roofs, and the conservation of natural spaces. These techniques allow rainwater to soak into the ground, filtering out pollution, slowing floods, reducing erosion, and restoring our aquifers. Texas can use these features to protect our waterways. That’s why we’re calling on Texan communities to increase the use of nature-based infrastructure statewide: through innovative municipal policy, statewide research, and private development leadership. To protect our clean water, let’s use the best tools we have.

Credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin

The Solution: Nature-based infrastructure

Nature-based Infrastructure imitates nature by allowing rainwater to slow down, and soak in to local soil. This prevents water pollution while mitigating floods, combating drought, and reducing urban heat. Common examples include rain gardens, green roofs, permeable surfaces and rainwater harvesting.

The benefits of nature based systems include:

  • Improving water quality. Stormwater systems can trap between 45 and 99 percent of solid pollutants.
  • Mitigating flooding. Nature-based systems can absorb between 50 and 90 percent of rainfall and have the potential to fully prevent flooding from less severe storms.
  • Preventing drought. Allowing rainfall to soak into local soils replenishes aquifers easing droughts later on.
  • Reducing urban heat. Green areas of cities absorb more heat reducing summer temperatures by 10-15 degrees.
  • Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Trees and green roofs can capture hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes.
  • Preventing toxic algae blooms. Filtering out pollutants decreases the amount of nutrient laden runoff that enters local waterways reducing the risk of toxic algae blooms.
  • Beautifying the landscape. Projects add greenspace to our communities, improving the quality of life.

Building support for the right policies, right now

By demonstrating to elected officials that the public wants nature-based infrastructure—and by working with green builders and suppliers, environmental engineers and landscape architects—we can get the right policies in place.

We have to act now, because we know that Texas’ cities are going to keep growing. That means that even more land will be covered with buildings and roads, even more rain will turn into runoff, and even more pollution will flow into our rivers, lakes and bays. But if we start using nature-based infrastructure across the state now, we can reduce the increase in runoff, and reduce the increase in runoff pollution. 

Credit: US Environmental Protection Agency via Government Works

What can you do?

Communities can use green methods in new public buildings and roads. They can also make it easier for businesses and residents to install green features by removing permitting barriers and providing financial incentives.

Call your city council member today and tell them that you want nature-based flood solutions in your community - by harnessing the power of nature-based infrastructure we can prevent flooding, reduce urban heat, midigate climate change, and so much more.

 

Issue updates

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How Prop 6 Passed, and What’s Up Next for Water Projects in Texas

Texans passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday to jump-start financing for water projects in the state: Proposition 6, which would take $2 billion in surplus state money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to start a water infrastructure loan program. The measure had widespread support from both sides of the aisle as well as business and environmental groups. With over half of precincts reporting, the measure is passing with 75 percent of the vote and has been called by the Associated Press.

“It really underscored how precarious our future is when it comes to water, and how crucial it is that we shift towards a more moderate, water-efficient future,” says Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. Roughly a third of the funding in the programs are set to go towards conservation projects, an aspect of the plan that helped win support from many environmental groups.

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Water proposal makes opposites attract

In Texas politics, water makes for strange bedfellows.

Gov. Rick Perry has campaigned for Proposition 6, standing side by side with some of his Democratic critics in the Texas Legislature.

The measure also has been endorsed by some of the state's most prominent environmental groups, including Environment Texas and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club; while some of the state's biggest water users have made large contributions to Water Texas PAC, the main campaign for Proposition 6's passage.

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Better management key to future water supply

From thousands of dead trees in Memorial Park to significant strain to the freshwater-dependent Galveston Bay, the drought has taken a real toll on Houston's environment and underscores how critical it is that we move toward a sustainable water future - and soon.

Proposition 6, the fate of which voters will decide Tuesday, is one important step toward that future.

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Oil Water Wildcatters

...the alternatives to recycling remain cheaper: Shipping in freshwater or drilling water wells on a lease, then getting rid of the water that comes out of the well by trucking it away and burying it under rock in a disposal well.  In the Permian Basin, that’s about 9 billion barrels of water a year.  In Texas there are about 50,000 disposal wells, according to the Railroad Commission. And most of those are in the Permian Basin, Nicot said, making it cheaper to get rid of waste water than other the other major oil and gas regions in Texas.

Incentives to oil and gas companies that would offset the added costs of recycling water failed to gain legislative approval in the most recent legislative session and others before it. Environmental groups including Environment Texas have argued that the Railroad Commission should require recycling of waste water and track where it’s stored.

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Water Debate: Nine statewide propositions up for November vote

After provoking a contentious debate in the state Legislature earlier this year, an initiative to help drought-ridden Texas meet its water needs for the next half-century will now go to the voters with a strong push from Gov. Rick Perry and broad support among Metroplex business leaders.
Proposition 6 is one of nine constitutional amendments facing a final decision by Texas voters in the Nov. 5 election. Early voting is slated to begin Monday, Oct. 22 and will extend through Nov. 1.

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