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New project seeks ‘equitable adaptation’ of urban stormwater infrastructure, management


An award from the National Science Foundation’s Civic Innovation Challenge, CIVIC, will help a Texas A&M AgriLife Research team in Dallas build local capacities for climate change adaptation.

The project, Community-Science Partnership to Enhance Stormwater Management and Equity,” will seek opportunities for climate change adaptation through stormwater management in cities via “blue-green” infrastructure, BGI. Specifically, the Dallas-based group will address social equity challenges to the adaptation of the environmentally friendly infrastructure.

Wendy Jepson, Texas Water Resources Institute associate director and University Professor of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project.

The team includes the Urban Water Innovation and Sustainability Hub, Urban WISH, located at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, as well as collaborators from the University of North Texas.

Together they will develop innovative community partnerships and technical tools to support adaptive stormwater infrastructure and management. Their work will apply to urban areas at large.

Co-principal investigators from Texas A&M AgriLife are Fouad Jaber, who has a split appointment with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and AgriLife Research in Dallas and is a professor in the Texas A&M Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Becky Bowling, AgriLife Extension urban water specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

The University of North Texas Co-principal investigators include Lauren Fisher, assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration, and Alexandra Ponette-Gonzalez, professor in the Department of Geography.

The project will take place in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a rapidly growing region facing increased stormwater flooding due to climate change.

Blue-green infrastructure supports urban resilience through landscape-scale management of naturalized water-flows and localized stormwater flooding while offering an array of benefits like on-site pollutant and nutrient uptake from stormwater, biodiversity protection, urban heat island mitigation and air quality improvement.

Blue-green infrastructure includes ecological urban landscapes and engineered systems that span from urban forests to retention ponds, bioswales, blue-green roofs, and rain gardens. However, Jepson cited considerable barriers to implementation and maintenance.

Earlier this year, the Urban WISH group, with collaborators at the University of North Texas, hosted several workshops with government and community stakeholders to discuss opportunities to advance blue-green infrastructure across the Metroplex.

“Time and again, concerns about site selection, community acceptance, equity and management were expressed,” Jepson said. “More importantly, there was a clear gap between what municipalities could do and support and community interests and expectations.”

This project seeks to fill that gap, she said. It aims to support municipal efforts to reduce local stormwater flooding through innovative ways for communities to engage in collaborative governance.

Working with community partners, including The Nature Conservancy, Southwest Environmental Finance Center, City of Denton and AgriLife Extension volunteers, the team will establish a community-science working group. This group will design, execute and assess a pilot community-based green infrastructure asset management, C-GAM, tool. 

The C-GAM is modeled after other asset management frameworks. It opens new pathways for direct community participation in decision-making related to blue-green infrastructure adaptation.

“It is a missing piece in governance that provides a meaningful tool for communities to support and guide site development, implementation and maintenance in ways that can increase public acceptance of BGI and public investment,” Jepson said. “Our premise is that small institutional innovation can lead to big change.”

This project’s initial phase, from October through April, will pilot this work in the City of Denton.