Report: Austin and San Antonio best in Texas for fighting water pollution with nature-based infrastructure
AUSTIN – Amid ongoing problems with water pollution and flooding, cities across Texas are turning to nature-based infrastructure. San Antonio and Austin lead the way, followed closely by Harris County, according to a new report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, which ranks local governments across Texas on how well their stormwater policy incorporates nature-based infrastructure, like rain gardens and green roofs.
“Nature-based infrastructure, from rain gardens to constructed wetlands, helps keep Texans safe,” said Anna Farrell-Sherman, Clean Water Associate with Environment Texas Research and Policy Center and author of the report. “It is about time that Texas governments recognized how important these features are to mitigating flooding and reducing water pollution.”
With two thirds of Texas freshwater sites and half of all beaches too polluted to safely swim in on at least one testing day in 2017, it is clear Texas has a water pollution problem. When stormwater runs off our roofs, roads, commercial centers, farms, and parking lots, it picks up toxic chemicals, excess nutrients, and other forms of pollution. This pollution not only threatens to make us sick when we swim at our local beaches, but also can contaminate our drinking water and endanger the habitat of our state’s wildlife.
Traditional concrete channel infrastructure compounds the problem: it concentrates pollutants and directs the dirty water directly into local streams. To address the issue Texas municipalities are turning to nature-based infrastructure. Rain gardens, green roofs, the conservation of natural spaces, and other techniques can reduce runoff pollution by up to 90%.
The Texas Stormwater Scorecard evaluates the stormwater management policies of local governments across Texas to see how well they support the use of nature-based infrastructure. The results show nature-based infrastructure is growing across the state. Austin, which received the highest score on the 2017 publication of the scorecard, is now tied with San Antonio in first place, with Harris County close behind. All three leading local governments have impressive public initiatives, from San Antonio’s citywide watershed modeling and LID planning to Austin’s exemplary education program complete with workshops and manuals, and Harris County’s drone-based monitoring program. San Antonio is also the only local government with a mandate for nature-based infrastructure in some areas of the city. Cities including Dallas and El Paso are considering their own nature-based infrastructure mandates, which could land them first place on the scorecard unless Austin passes its own proposed nature-based requirements in their Land Development Code rewrite. Even in places where nature-based infrastructure was non-existent three years ago, local governments have incorporated incentives for private developers, begun public education campaigns, installed nature-based technologies on public projects, or set up projects to evaluate how to best use nature-based solutions in their communities.
No local government scored above a 69% on the scorecard, which Farrell-Sherman says is indicative of the room Texas has to grow. “This year’s scorecard was much more rigorous than the one we published in 2017,” she explained. “Nature-based infrastructure is booming, but if we want to be on par with global leaders like Seattle and Singapore, we still have room to grow.”
“I am excited that Texas is looking to the future” Farrell-Sherman said. “Every local government we surveyed expressed their excitement to continue expanding nature-based features in their jurisdiction.”
She noted that “whether it's to fight flooding, ease drought, protect clean water, prevent erosion, or reduce urban heat, nature-based infrastructure represents the next step to protect our communities here in Texas.”
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmenttexascenter.org.