Story at a glance
- Due to overdevelopment, stormwater is collecting in cities where the runoff can’t find its way back into the ground.
- While some cities charge stormwater fees, a new analysis finds that the money isn’t going toward climate change efforts.
- A new analysis underscores the importance of addressing climate change to improve water quality.
Going green takes green — and amid an ongoing global pandemic, there’s just not a lot of extra money to be found in many parts of the country. But climate change is costing cities both economically and environmentally, so they’re charging a premium for one major factor: stormwater.
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"Municipalities large and small are grappling with how to address enduring water quality challenges stemming from the impermeability of much of the built environment and how to address shifting precipitation patterns due to climate change. Finding ways to fund and finance the redesign, retrofit, and adaptation of the built environment, however, presents a major obstacle," said Joshua Cousins and Dustin Hill of the State University of New York, who authored a recent study on the subject.
Stormwater pollution and overflowing sewers are a byproduct of overdevelopment in many cities and localities, contaminating drinking water that disproportionately affects communities of color. The cost of advocating for and building green stormwater infrastructure is disproportionately falling on Black women, found a recent analysis of stormwater issues in Detroit, who are not being compensated for their labor.
Many cities charge fees for stormwater to fund stormwater infrastructure, but a majority of these cities don't use these funds to address the root cause — climate change. At the same time, the survey of 233 municipalities found that stormwater fee systems aren't even sufficient to cover the operation and maintenance costs needed to replace or repair urban water infrastructure while meeting regulatory mandates, forcing local governments to get creative with banking and bonds.
The system isn’t working, the authors conclude, and it won’t work until cities begin addressing climate change directly.
“With an estimated $298 billion in capital investments needed to improve the United States’ wastewater and stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years, much is at stake in terms of how, for whom, and where these improvements will take place,” the researchers said.
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