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

Report | Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

Keeping Water in Our Rivers

Water levels in Texas’ rivers and streams are dropping. The 2011 drought was the worst in more than a century, and conditions improved little in 2012. Drought has reduced recreational opportunities, harmed wildlife, and threatened drinking water supplies. As Texas’ population and economy continue to grow, demand for water will increase, making it more important than ever to use water wisely.

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Advocates are pushing water conservation

They've taken their pleas to policymakers in the Texas Capitol, and now advocates of water conservation are seeking broad public support for measures to make smarter use of the fluid.

The Environment Texas Research and Policy Center said the savings could stem from improving irrigation practices, repairing leaky municipal water systems, using drought-resistant plants, requiring the use of brackish or recycled water in fracking, and other steps.

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Homeowner's cactuses, jagged stones run afoul of Dallas officials

Recent drought years have led Dallas to try to change its ways on water. City advertisements now target waste. An annual city-sponsored home tour promotes water-wise landscaping.

On Tuesday, a report by the Austin-based advocate group Environment Texas called drought-tolerant landscaping one of the best and cheapest options for saving water.

By 2020, the report said, replacing water-sucking traditional lawns native to wetter regions with drought-adapted species could save 14 billion gallons a year, enough to meet the demands of 240,000 Texans.

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Report: 500B gallons of water could be saved in Texas

Texans could save 500 billion gallons of water by 2020 if strategies to conserve water in agriculture, landscaping and energy production are implemented, according to a new report released by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.

The report recommends water savings by improving irrigation practices in agriculture, increasing use of drought-tolerant landscaping, requiring use of brackish or recycled water in fracking, repairing leaking municipal water mains, and increasing use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The report also claims to calculate the amount of water implementing those strategies would require.

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Report to discuss ways of saving water

A state environmental group is gearing up to announce the results of a report on the future of Texas's water supply.

The Environment Texas Research and Poliey Center will release a new report Tuesday which calculates the potential for water conservation to meet the state's growing water needs.

The report comes as the state legislature ponders the future of Texas's water needs and is considering implementing a bill that affects water usage for the next 50 years.

The report also comes on the heels of a federal court decision ordering the state to leave more water in the Guadalupe River to support endangered whooping cranes, a move that carries potential statewide implications.

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