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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Environment Texas Research and Policy Center and speakers called on the state to set aside at least half of any water funding for conservation, reuse, repairs to leaking water mains, and to purchase water rights to protect flows in our rivers for wildlife and recreation.

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The Sierra Club and Environment Texas, a grassroots group, all welcomed the bill's passage.

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The Railroad Commission said it did not have an estimate on how much of the water currently used in fracking is recycled. But Environment Texas, an advocacy group, estimates in the Barnett Shale that between 5 percent and 10 percent of wastewater gets reused.

"It's good they're helping to clarify that recycling is allowed and removed some of the administrative hurdles, but it's a far cry from what's needed," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas.

"The economics are such that it's far cheaper to inject the waste into [wells] than recycle it."

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