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


Water bank will go to voters in the fall

A bill, House Bill 4, that is providing $2 billion in loan money for Texas water projects got the governor's signature Tuesday, meaning that voters will decide in the fall whether to create the water project bank.

"The drought has underscored that we can't continue with business as usual, and HB 4 wisely makes a big increase in conservation as a strategy toward meeting Texas' water needs," a release from Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger states.

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Point of order kills water bill

Tea Party Republicans have raised concerns that dipping into the fund could possibly jeopardize the state's Triple-AAA bond rating. "I don't want to raid the Rainy Day Fund," said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Environmentalists expressed a preference for the Senate version, saying it devoted almost three times the amount targeted for conservation over the 2012 state water plan.
"It's a historic increase in funding for conservation and sets Texas on a more sustainable path for our water future," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas.

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Measures aim to raise fracturing recycling

In response to concerns about the volumes of of water used in hydraulic fracturing, two bills before the state Legislature would require water recycling at the state’s oil and gas wells.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, which supports the two bills, estimates that about 5 percent of flowback in the Barnett Shale of North Texas is recycled and reused. Even less recycling occurs in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas and in the East Texas portion of the Haynesville Shale, Metzger said.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post

Town Hall Meetings on Drought and Water Conservation | Luke Metzger

We're in one of the worst droughts ever, yet billions of gallons of water are still wasted each year through inefficient practices, leaving very little for recreation and wildlife. The good news is we can meet our water needs and keep our rivers flowing for recreation and wildlife if Texas makes water conservation a priority.

Over the next few days, Environment Texas Research and Policy Center will host town halls meeting in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Brownsville to discuss Texas’s water future. 

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Measure aims at wastewater from oil fields

As the summer of 2013 threatens to bring an intensifying drought, Texas legislators are looking for ways to conserve water.

One such proposal, HB 379, set to be debated in the House Energy Resources Committee on Wednesday, would impose a 1 cent-per-barrel fee on oil and gas wastewater disposed of in wells.

"The best way to encourage water recycling is to make waste injection more expensive," said Luke Metzger, founder and director of Environment Texas. "It is far cheaper to inject waste underground than to recycle it. In Pennsylvania, it is more expensive. They have to ship it to Ohio. As a result, the economics are more favorable to recycling than shipping it out of state."

> Keep Reading


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