Infrastructure Week 2019
It’s Infrastructure Week again! This week-long campaign to highlight the need to repair and modernize America’s roads, bridges, mass transit, and high-speed communications links, comes on the heels of an announcement that federal lawmakers are going to work on a bipartisan plan to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure.
At Willamette Partnership, we want to take this opportunity to remind our lawmakers that infrastructure is not just concrete and steel. Many communities have embraced green infrastructure – think constructed bioswales and detention basins that capture stormwater – in their planning processes. And we want these communities to have access to an even larger suite of tools that help them achieve community, economic, and environmental goals: what we’ve come to call natural infrastructure.
Natural infrastructure is the strategic use of natural areas and working lands to achieve community benefits. It’s the streamside areas with trees and grasses that keep pollution out of rivers and reduce drinking water treatment costs. It’s treatment wetlands that filter nutrients and sediment while keeping rates affordable in rural communities. It’s the farms that sometimes flood, protecting downstream homes and highways.
And we’re not the only ones who are looking at Mother Nature to provide the benefits of built infrastructure. Earth Economics has worked for years to change the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) rules to allow infrastructure providers to treat natural infrastructure the same way as steel and concrete: as a capital asset. If state and local governments can capitalize their investment in conservation practices as infrastructure, it makes it easier to use bonding authority and other innovative public-private partnerships to meet their infrastructure needs. The persistence of Earth Economics and their partners, including Ed Harrington and WaterNow Alliance, is beginning to pay off: GASB’s 2018 Implementation Guide includes a clarification that green and distributed infrastructure can indeed be bond-financed using the Regulated Operations approach in GASB 62.
One of the most exciting opportunities to invest infrastructure dollars in restoration and conservation practices is through ag-municipal partnerships. Municipalities are teaming up with partners throughout the watersheds they serve to invest water treatment infrastructure dollars in conservation on farms that reduce pollutants in our waterways by bringing new sources of funding, building a supportive peer community, and saving money. The projects that result from these partnerships simultaneously improve water quality, provide additional recreational access, improve air quality, reduce energy use, and reduce rates to attract new business.
We’d like to see the forthcoming infrastructure plan not only support but incentivize these kinds of innovative projects and partnerships. Farmers and cities working together can achieve water quality outcomes and multiple community benefits together that neither can achieve alone.