TX Tax Incentive Promotes Green Infrastructure
Last month, Houston City Council announced the approval of a new green stormwater infrastructure tax abatement program to encourage the implementation of green stormwater infrastructure in private development.
In addition to the program, Mayor Sylvester Turner also announced updates to the existing LEED tax abatement program in a combined effort to build climate resilience and sustainability within the city.
“Storms are coming at greater frequency, intensity and cost,” said Turner. “This is an economic issue. The new Green Stormwater Infrastructure Tax Abatement program is a good start, and in alignment with many of our priorities, including Resilient Houston, Harvey Recovery, and our Climate Action Plan.”
Green Stormwater Tax
According to a press release issued by the Mayor’s Office, the program was originally recommended in a Houston Endowment-funded August 2019 Incentives for Green Development study and report. The study was conducted over one year and was used to identify and recommend incentives to encourage the use of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in private land development, leading to economic, social and environmental benefits as well as resilience.
Broken down after interviews with other cities with existing GSI programs, external stakeholders and city leadership, and analysis of costs and benefits, the program outlines:
Due to limiting factors such as costs, maintenance, lack of city support, and misaligned rules and regulations, the city hopes that the tax abatement program will inspire a more widespread adoption of green stormwater infrastructure.
The Green Stormwater Infrastructure Incentive Program is providing property tax incentives for implementing "Green...Posted by West Houston Association on Monday, January 25, 2021
Specifically, it will offer direct tax abatements to qualifying projects through an application process, which further the goals outlined in Resilient Houston, the city’s resilience strategy released last February.
The strategy outline outlines a target of at least 100 new green stormwater infrastructure projects by 2025.
As an example of how the program would work, if a new facility’s project valuation is reasonably expected to be at least $3 million, with a minimum project valuation of $200,000 specifically for the green stormwater infrastructure, it would be eligible for the tax abatement. Furthermore, the abatement could be 100% of the project’s valuation for the green stormwater infrastructure, for up to 10 years. In this example, the project could save $20,000 a year.
“This is an important step toward a resilient and sustainable Houston," said District Councilmember Abbie Kamin. "It represents a more holistic approach to the issues of flooding and climate change that we are tackling with the support of our private sector. Green stormwater infrastructure needs to become the new normal in Houston, and I’m glad we’re making progress toward that goal.”
As stated, the GSI program plans to provide public benefits, including flood, urban heat island, and air and water quality mitigation as well as beautification and quality of life improvements. However, Kamin hopes that the program will eventually expand to incorporate residential properties as well, incentivizing residents to have items such as rain barrels.
“I know we’re very focused on flooding, and that’s our top priority, but less than a decade ago we had a horrible drought here. We’re predicted to have far worse weather patterns, both with rain and with drought,” said Kamin. “So, encouraging and providing relief for residents, not just in flood mitigation, but actually incorporating these types of programs for residents so that everyone can do their part and take a tax abatement from that, I think is critical.”
Although the GSI program centers its focus on climate hazard mitigation and adaptation, it is slated to complement the LEED program, which focuses on making buildings more efficient and sustainable.
“Houston is leading the way in the energy transition. We put forth groundbreaking plans, from the Climate Action Plan to Resilient Houston, to partnering with the private sector,” said Kamin. “But we certainly have a lot more we must do. This is just the beginning.”
Other Stormwater Incentives
Earlier this month, New York City officials recently introduced what has been titled the Unified StormWater Rule (USWR), which if approved, will apply to construction within the city’s Gowanus area as part of its rezoning plan, as well as citywide.
Specifically, the USWR would apply to projects on lots sized 20,000 square feet of more and would require developers to install a detention tank capable of capturing more than the 10-year rainfall. The rule also requires the tank to have a one-inch maximum diameter for the tank’s orifice, where water would exit.
Ideally, the rule would help achieve greater water retention in the area and promote a slower release of stormwater into the Gowanus canal.
At the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, associate professor Lisa Reyes Mason recently issued a report on drains, pipes and other stormwater infrastructure, stating that they could be a critical defense against extreme rainfall and storms experienced in a changing climate.
“The U.S. has a failing stormwater infrastructure system,” Reyes Mason said, noting on the report. “You have these changing precipitation patterns and you have urbanization, as we see here in Denver, with continued development and continued paving over of land. These trends of urban development are taking away green space that would historically soak up some of the rain.”
In attempt to improve the water systems without replacing existing infrastructure or building new systems, the University of Denver reports that Reyes Mason has partnered with a cross-disciplinary team of researchers to develop a smart stormwater system. The partnership is funded through grants from both the National Science Foundation and the University of Tennessee.
Through their combined efforts, Reyes Mason, alongside civil engineers and urban planners, intends to incorporate sensors to monitor how much water is flowing through the infrastructure and, by communicating with valves and gates, divert water from areas prone to flooding.
At the end of February, Buffalo, New York Mayor Byron W. Brown, announced during his 14th State of the City address that the city would be launching an Environmental Impact Bond. At the time, the EIB was reported to be the largest of its kind in the United Sates—totaling $30 million—and allows the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Sewer Authority to capitalize on the Rain Check Buffalo program.
According to the city’s website, the endeavor will be the first time a city used the EIB to capitalize on a green infrastructure incentive program which targets the deployment of green infrastructure on private properties with large amounts of impervious surfaces.
In using the program to its advantage, the Buffalo Sewer Authority intends to implement green infrastructure to manage over 500 acres of impervious surface area to help eliminate the effects of combined sewer overflows in the city’s waterways.
Prior to the announcement, the city and the sewer authority were selected as winners of the Great Lakes Environmental Impact Bond Challenge through the P3GreatLakes Initiative by Quantified Ventures and Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. As a result, the city has created a public- private, and philanthropic partnership to tackle our stormwater challenge, ensure that our city’s waterways, are protected, and guarantee a more resilient Buffalo.
In October 2019, Villanova University’s College of Engineering professor Bridget Wadzuk issued a study on how green infrastructure could help decrease flooding in urban areas.
According to Wadzuk, green infrastructure that keeps rain where it falls verses moving it to a storm sewer capable of experiencing overflow and flooding onto roadways, can positively impact the university and the surrounding community. Research showed in numbers that from July 2018 to June 2019, the United States received an average of 7.9 additional inches of rain per month than when compared to the long-term average.
To further show the university’s commitment to the green infrastructure, Villanova decided to build an environmentally friendly residential, living and learning community known as “The Commons.” Made up of six buildings (Arch Hall, Canon Hall, Chapter Hall, Cupola Hall, Friar Hall and Trinity Hall), the project took up 425,000 square feet and previously served as a roughly 10-acre parking lot of impermeable asphalt.
Construction on the $225 million campus development began in November 2015 and officially opened in August 2019.
According to U.S. News, in a collaboration between the Facilities Management Department and the College of Engineering, the project was able to incorporate a highly innovative stormwater design to manage more than 2 inches of rainfall per storm.
In total, the new site is reported to have four rain gardens, three bioswales, three infiltration trenches and two underground cisterns. Located on the ground, the gardens, bioswales and trenches allow for water runoff to filter out pollutants and recharge the groundwater while seeping into the ground. Additionally, plants within the system also provide ecosystem services.
Moving forward, Villanova plans to use the findings to help demonstrate how green infrastructure can effectively meet municipal requirements. Wadzuk reports that the research team shares best practices with organizations, municipalities and township officials, and other community groups through the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership and hopes to inspire other cities across the country.