Hundreds of U.S. cities operate outdated sewer systems that overflow during rainstorms, sending vast quantities of untreated human waste and harmful chemicals into nearby waterways. Large-scale treatment plant upgrades could go a long way toward fixing the problem—but they’re expensive. Some cash-strapped municipalities instead plan to limit the amount of storm water to reach their sewers in the first place. New York City and New York State, for example, will invest roughly $2.4 billion during the next 18 years on projects that capture or absorb water, including porous parking lots, manmade wetlands, eco-friendly roofs, and streetside swales. Thanks to a decades-long lobbying campaign by Audubon and its staunch labor union and construction industry allies, the Long Island Sound—part of which is an Important Bird Area home to eight priority species including the American oystercatcher—has improved. Advocates praise the city-state “green infrastructure” plan as a model for the country. “You put people to work and you get environmental benefits,” said Sean Mahar, Audubon New York’s director of government relations. “It’s a real win-win.” Despite Washington’s budgetary woes, Audubon is also pressing for reauthorization of a bill that would funnel up to $65 million annually toward improving the Sound’s water quality and protecting coastal habitat. “This natural treasure needs to be protected,” says U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the bill’s sponsor, via e-mail. “I intend to see that it gets the federal resources it needs to thrive.”
Investment in green infrastructure proves to be a boon for the waterway.