Mr. Green Goes to Washington

Oct. 4, 2016

Washington DC will be getting its first taste of green infrastructure soon—at least, its first such project installed by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority—and it’s going to be a big one. The plan is to transform 20 acres of impervious surface to make it more permeable and, in the process, help reduce combined sewer overflows.

Despite the emphasis on green infrastructure in many other parts of the country, DC Water has not previously invested in such projects. The funding for the project is another first—DC Water has issued the country’s first so-called environmental impact bond. The EIB was sold to the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and the Calvert Foundation, raising $25 million. As DC Water explained in a press release, “By financing this project through the EIB, DC Water seeks to create a model funding mechanism that other municipalities can leverage to advance the use of green infrastructure to address stormwater management in their communities.”

The two groups that funded the project have strong incentive to hope for its success: The better it performs, the higher return they will get on their investment. Payments on the bond will vary depending on the environmental impact of the green infrastructure. DC Water’s chief financial officer, Mark Kim, stated in the press release, “This environmental impact bond represents the first time that DC Water has explicitly tied financial payments to environmental outcomes, in this case reducing stormwater runoff which causes the CSOs that pollute the District’s waterways.”

In addition to improving water quality and reducing CSOs, the project is intended to provide new jobs in the District, not only during construction but also for its ongoing maintenance and inspection. If the project succeeds, others—and the jobs they will create—are expected to follow.

The project is part of DC Water’s larger Clean Rivers effort, a $2.6 billion stormwater management and water-quality improvement program.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines. 

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