January 18, 2013

Building 'Green Infrastructure' in a Watershed

Watershed, ecosystem services, green infrastructure, agriculture, water, WRINatural ecosystems provide the many essential services people depend on, such as clean drinking water, protection from floods and droughts, and habitat for fisheries. Wednesday’s blog post focused on the importance of ecosystem services in Africa, while a recent post from Landscape Initiative Co-organizer World Resources Institute’s (WRI) blog explores the topic in the context of the United States. Authors Todd Gartner (World Resources Institute) and James Mulligan (Green Community Ventures) use the term “green infrastructure” to distinguish between natural systems and human-engineered solutions. When ecosystems are degraded, and the associated benefits threatened, this ‘gray infrastructure’ often ends up as the answer. But while that generally addresses the primary concern, it is costly and does not secure the multiple benefits that healthy landscapes provide. In the United States, the authors point out a growing recognition of the value of green infrastructure.

Gartner and Mulligan’s post focuses specifically on watershed services, which have considerable relevance to agriculture and whole landscape management. Water quality is very much tied to land uses, and so restoring and enhancing ‘green infrastructure’ has implications for agricultural production areas. For example, investing in restoring riparian vegetation, which could be along field and pasture edges, not only regulates water temperature for aquatic wildlife, but offers other habitat, sequesters carbon, and filters water running off the land. And because water is such a mobile resource, upstream land uses affect downstream users of water and habitat, necessitating a trans-boundary approach to management. This also means reconciling the interests of different groups or people within the landscape, and thinking up creative incentive mechanisms for upstream land users to manage their land for nature’s benefit.

According to Gartner and Mulligan, “we’re in a critical moment—natural ecosystems continue to degrade, existing gray infrastructure continues to age, and costs continue to rise. Even if just a portion of upcoming water infrastructure investment is directed toward green infrastructure, the opportunities for cost savings and water-related benefits are immense.”

For more, read the full post on WRI’s blog. Also take a look at Innovations in Market-Based Watershed Conservation in the United States. 

Photo credit: Mamgalika Pereira (WRI)
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