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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Funding for a flood of water projects

The money that could be leveraged from Proposition 6 — the water improvements measure on the November ballot — would help fund big and small projects across the state, from irrigation systems in rural counties to water storage plans and the completion of a desalinization plant in southern Bexar County.

If approved, the proposition will use $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund to leverage $30 million in a revolving loan account for water projects.

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Environmental groups split on Proposition 6 water bonds

The proposed $2 billion water infrastructure fund that goes before Texas voters on Nov. 5 could provide an unprecedented opportunity by the state to invest in water conservation. Or it could be weak tea.

Those are the views of Texas environmental leaders, who differ over a provision in the water legislation that calls for 20 percent of the money to go toward water conservation projects, such as fixing leaky pipelines or installing infrastructure for the reuse of wastewater for irrigation.

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State could pay to open U.S. parks

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, a statewide advocate for parks and open spaces, said the federal option to reopen the parks offers a chance to promote the quality-of-life, recreational and economic benefits they offer.

He compared out-of-state visitors coming to the Lone Star State to visit national parks to the family in the 1983 comedy starring Chevy Chase, “National Lampoon's Vacation.”

“It's like the Griswolds driving across country to Walley World, only to find out that it's closed,” Metzger said.

The responsibility to restore park service lies primarily with Congress, he said.

“It would be great if Gov. Perry can identify some funding to re-open Big Bend and other parks, but ultimately this is the responsibility of Congress and the federal government,” Metzger said. “The best thing he can do is to call on Congress to pass a budget that restores funding to our parks.”

Metzger predicted a possible national decline in recreational tourism if the shutdown continues.

“People will decide to go to another country,” he said.

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News Release | Environment Texas

Bolstered by new scientific findings, Obama Administration to Move Forward on Clean Water Rule

Today the Obama administration has taken a significant step forward in clarifying the science connecting America’s waterways and the drinking water for millions across the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board released a report today, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence,which reviews the scientific literature outlining the impact that small waterways have on larger bodies of water downstream.

At the same time, the Obama administration is expected to move forward with a rule to clarify protections for America’s waterways.

“From the Colorado River to Galveston Bay, and all the smaller waterways in between, Texans care deeply about protecting our most beloved waterways, but we can’t protect these bodies of water unless we protect the smaller streams and wetlands that feed into and protect them,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “We are thrilled to see EPA moving forward with this sound scientific process and encourage the Obama administration to continue on this track to protect America’s waterways.”

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Win one for the dripper

Environment Texas, an environmental advocacy group, published a report earlier this year about water use in the state. ET said increasing the use of drought-tolerant plants in landscaping instead of traditional lawns could reduce withdrawals by 14 billion gallons by 2020, or as much as 260,000 Texans would use in a year. The group also said landscaping designed to reduce the need for water can reduce water use by 30 percent.

Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger told The Dallas Morning News, “Many Texans want to do their part to conserve water and it’s outrageous some busybodies in HOAs would stand in the way. This legislation protects the rights of Texans to respond to the drought through smarter use of our limited water supply.”

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