AUSTIN — The Austin City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that calls for the development of an integrated green infrastructure plan. The resolution specifically endorses the use of Green Stormwater Infrastructure features such as rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain harvesting systems in order to address the problems created by urban runoff.
Council Member Ann Kitchen (District 5) sponsored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Leslie Pool (District 7), and Council Member Alison Alter (District 10). Many community organizations and leaders supported the resolution, including Environment Texas, Save Barton Creek Association, and Clean Water Action.
“We congratulate the Council on taking this step,” said Brian Zabcik, the Clean Water Advocate at Environment Texas. “As Austin grows, we cover more land with buildings and roads. That creates more runoff, which creates more water pollution, more flooding, and more erosion. Because Green Stormwater Infrastructure cuts runoff, it can help us solve these problems.”
Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) refers to building and landscape features that catch rain where it falls, letting the water soak into the ground, evaporate into the air, or be stored for later re-use. The Council’s resolution directs the City Manager to identify gaps in the City’s existing GSI policies, and to recommend solutions to address these gaps. The measure also instructs the City Manager to evaluate several GSI provisions in the CodeNEXT revision of the Land Development Code.
“By including Green Stormwater Infrastructure in the Code, we will ensure the Code’s effectiveness in making Austin the green and livable City we want,” said Angela Richter, Executive Director of Save Barton Creek Association. “GSI must be incorporated into the Code in multiple ways, including into denser residential zoning categories, into the Street Design Guide so that our public rights of ways can manage stormwater, and into landscaping guidelines for residential and commercial properties, as well as parking lots.”
GSI features can be found across Austin, including the rain gardens in the parking lot at HEB’s Mueller store, the rain harvesting cistern at Austin Public Library’s Twin Oaks branch, and the green roof at UT’s Dell Medical School.
“I’m very excited to see our Mayor and Council support Green Stormwater Infrastructure,” said landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, who designed the green roof at Austin City Hall and who is also a member of the City’s Code Advisory Group. McKinney added, “Landscape architects understand the innate connection that people feel with nature, and we understand that integrating nature into our built environment can create vibrant places. I regularly seek ways to accomplish this through my professional training and practice.”
Richter agreed, saying, “In addition to helping with water quality, flood severity, and water conservation, green infrastructure has been shown to benefit residents’ physical and mental health. For example, green elements in street design could be used both for stormwater management and for improving the quality of pedestrian and bicycle transit by creating barriers, lowering air temperature, and reducing noise pollution.”
Stormwater runoff has become a top cause of water pollution. Nationally, 40% of assessed streams fail to meet water quality standards, and urban streams have tended to fare worse than the national averages. Local testing has shown that Lady Bird Lake and ten Austin creeks have low water quality due to runoff pollution.
“Green Stormwater Infrastructure is being used because it works,” said David Foster, Texas Director for Clean Water Action. “Studies have shown that GSI features can sharply reduce runoff and filter out pollutants.” Foster added, “By allowing rainwater to be slowly absorbed into the soil instead of quickly running off, these features can also provide for higher moisture levels in the soil, which in turn supports our urban trees, creeks, and springs.”
“Building green is about building for the long haul,” Zabcik said. “It’s about recognizing that even in the city, our land and our water are precious resources that we have to protect. Green stormwater infrastructure is one way that Austin can achieve this goal.”
For additional information, please see:
Save Barton Creek Association, CodeNEXT Community Viewpoints Paper:
Environment Texas, “Catching The Rain” GSI report:
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