Everyone who knows what nature-based infrastructure is wants more of it. I mean, who wouldn’t? Rain gardens are beautiful, managed wetlands create places to explore, green roofs cool our buildings in hot Texas summers, and perhaps most importantly, nature-based infrastructure reduces water pollution and protects us from raging flood waters in storms.
In my conversations with engineers, however, they get hesitant: the state’s usual funders of water infrastructure projects rarely fund nature-based features, and without the funding, nature-based projects are impossible. Stormwater managers want to bring the benefits of nature-based infrastructure to their communities, but in the past two years, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB)’s Clean Water fund, the biggest funder in the state, has not financed a single nature-based project.
So how do we solve this problem? In stark contrast to here in Texas, Iowa has financed 90 projects in over 72 communities and a state park since 2018 using a program they call the “sponsored project program.” In this letter to the Texas House Natural Resources Committee, Environment Texas advocates for a program like the one in Iowa to help protect our state’s groundwater and drinking water supply. The program allows communities to get two projects for the price of one, financing a nature-based project at the same time as a larger wastewater management project -- all for the same cost as the wastewater management project would have been on its own. It would be a win-win-win for our state, our waterways, and our communities.
I imagine a future ten years from now where our bus stops are surrounded by waving native grasses, where wildflowers bloom from our medians, and where our cities see less flooding and toxic water pollution because we are letting nature do the work. This future isn’t far away, but to get there, we need to put funding behind the ideals. We need to let stormwater managers do their work. We need to invest in nature-based infrastructure solutions.