An ICS-led team of scientists, policy analysts, and program managers from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) launched a plan to help restore the 927-square-mile Fountain Creek Watershed. Implementation—focused on collaborative stream management planning, forest health initiatives, and green-stormwater-infrastructure partnerships—begins with explorations of a new green infrastructure partnership between TNC and the City of Colorado Springs. The partnership would catalyze investment in nature-based stormwater management solutions and tap into the momentum of numerous coalitions working to improve conditions in and around the region’s waterways.

Green infrastructure (GI) is an approach to stormwater management that uses nature to protect, restore, or mimic the natural water cycle.* Low impact development (LID)—a subset of GI practice, which attempts to replicate the pre-development hydrology of sites by integrating natural water management features into, and retaining permeability within, the built environment—will be an important element of TNC’s green infrastructure work.

Gray infrastructure moves stormwater away from built environments, often exacerbating water management costs downstream due to flooding, erosion, and water contamination. GI/LID treats stormwater as close to the point of origin as possible, mitigating these problems onsite. Theoretically, if LID practices were perfectly deployed across every developed site, and natural drainage channels and floodplains were protected as essential pieces of GI, not one public dollar would ever need to be spent on additional stormwater management, the public cost of development would decrease, the value of developments would increase, and there would be “water equity” between communities (i.e., downstream communities would no longer bear the costs of insufficient upstream water management practices).

TNC aspires to work with the City of Colorado Springs to create new GI/LID practice guidelines and establish innovative stormwater financing mechanisms that help developers reduce stormwater management costs and spur urban renewal. The effort will be the first of its kind in the Fountain Creek Watershed, where communities do not mandate GI/LID practices; but there are several reasons communities like Colorado Springs want to implement these practices moving forward:

1. Stormwater-induced floods and significant hydrological alterations in Fountain Creek are damaging human life, health, and property.

2. Stormwater infrastructure neglect has contributed to lawsuits against the City of Colorado Springs and other local governments.

3. Colorado Springs is legally obligated to ensure flows in Fountain Creek do not increase, even as the city grows and impervious surface expands—something that will be difficult to achieve without GI/LID practices.

To learn more about the altered hydrology of Fountain Creek and TNC’s efforts to restore river flow and function, see: A Western River with too Much Water? Or, read the ICS report: Natural Solutions for a Communally Vibrant, Ecologically Resilient Fountain Creek.

* Definition from American Rivers.  Learn more about green infrastructure at American Rivers.