Best Bets for Texas Water

Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions proactively use nature’s forms and functions to address societal and environmental challenges, including water scarcity, pollution, and flooding. Many nature-based solutions help protect local water supplies by allowing communities to capture more water, whether through rainfall collection systems or landscaping techniques that replenish groundwater supplies and slow rain runoff for healthier river flows.

For example, landscapes that use solutions such as rain gardens or berms and swales (contoured ditches and small hills) mimic designs that already exist in nature, taking advantage of their proven water-capturing benefits.

In urban settings, these solutions frequently involve increasing the amount of greenspace or other surfaces that allow water to seep into the ground. Some examples include parks, urban meadows and forests, habitat restoration and permeable pavement. Other solutions involve capturing rainwater through strategies like rooftop catchment systems and rain barrels.

In rural settings, nature-based solutions typically aim to improve soil and land health so that agricultural processes consume less water (and allow more water to soak into the ground). This approach is sometimes also called “conservation agriculture,” and employs strategies like fully covering the land with vegetation and letting it “rest” and regrow for a time before it is grazed again.

Photo on right: With help from Van Dyck Earthworks & Design LLC, TerraPurezza Farm has restored the property's soil health and water retention by covering the barren landscape with vegetation, as well as building berms (pictured in center of photo) and swales along the top of the farm's hillside.
Before and after nature-based solutions

When rain falls in most urban and suburban communities, it falls on concrete, rooftops and other hard, impervious surfaces, where it quickly surges away as stormwater runoff. These surfaces make runoff increase in velocity, volume and destructive power, causing flooding and erosion.

When urban communities use nature-based solutions like rain gardens and increased green space, runoff is better able to seep into the ground and flow through the local watershed at a safer, healthier rate for people and wildlife habitat.

When it rains in most urban communities, stormwater runoff carries pollutants such as garden fertilizers, tire tread particles, street trash and oil into nearby rivers and streams, polluting them.

Urban communities that use nature-based solutions to help water seep into the ground have fewer water quality issues because healthy soil naturally filters and purifies water.

When rain falls in rural areas with poorly managed soil, it can flood the land as well as become standing water, which evaporates and may be lost to the local watershed. Flooding can also cause erosion and a loss of nutrient-rich topsoil.

When rural areas use nature-based land management techniques (such as rotational grazing and crop diversification) to restore landscapes and soil, the soil is more fertile and better able to absorb rainfall. This leads to healthier crops and vegetation, and conserves water by reducing the amount of additional water needed for irrigation.

Both urban and rural communities that lose poorly managed rainwater runoff deprive themselves of an important water source. Because of this, they must continue to divert more water from rivers, aquifers or other sources.

Communities that use stormwater capture strategies like bioretention ponds, cisterns and rain barrels are able to take advantage of concentrated rainwater runoff as a water supply instead of diverting more water from elsewhere; done carefully, this results in a net increase in fresh water in the rivers to sustain healthy fish and wildlife between rainfall events.

Nature-based solutions report card
Environment
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

By replicating water collection methods that exist in nature, these solutions work with the environment, rather than against it, to efficiently capture water supplies.

True costs
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

Nature-based solutions include strategies that capture water in retention facilities that mimic nature, which increases the amount of locally-available water. These onsite water supplies help communities become more self-reliant and resilient.

Long-term viability
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

Nature-based solutions include strategies that capture water in retention facilities that mimic nature, which increases the amount of locally-available water. These onsite water supplies help communities become more self-reliant and resilient.

Nature-based solutions grade breakdown
Environmental impacts
Positive
  • Many nature-based solutions help rainfall absorb into our artificially-altered local watersheds, which replenishes springs and rivers and helps maintain healthy levels of fresh water for downstream fish, wildlife and plants.
  • Nature-based solutions that capture and use concentrated rainwater runoff help reduce the demand for water diverted from sources like rivers, which helps protect healthy fresh water levels in rivers and bays in periods between rainfall events.
  • Many nature-based solutions increase green spaces and wildlife-friendly habitat, which give wildlife a better chance of thriving alongside humans.
  • In rural spaces, nature-based solutions that increase soil’s health and ability to hold rainwater can lead to more productive crops and grazing lands with diverse vegetation. These crops and fields need fewer pesticides and less water for irrigation.
  • Nature-based solutions that involve wetland restoration or improving riparian habitats naturally filter pollutants from water and slow rainwater runoff, which improves a watershed’s water quality and decreases flooding and erosion.
Negative
  • None.
The land-water connection, for me, is really about plants. ... The more green plants you have growing all over the land, the more drought-resilient your property is going to be.
True costs

1 Costs can vary widely depending on the nature-based solution(s) that a community implements. While some projects may have high construction and/or maintenance costs, the long-term economic and water supply benefits are numerous.

2 One way in which nature-based solutions pay off is in the form of avoided costs. Many nature-based solutions strengthen a community’s water supplies by introducing rainwater as a new supply. By using rainwater more effectively and creating healthier soil, communities also don’t need to use as much additional water to irrigate their landscapes, which is often a huge drain on water supply. These benefits lessen the need for expensive new infrastructure projects.

3 In addition to the financial water supply benefits that come with nature-based solutions, there are many “bonus” economic benefits:

  • Because many nature-based development solutions involve increasing greenspace or restoring existing landscapes, these solutions typically increase a property’s value and desirability. These spaces can also help reduce civic costs associated with parkland development because green infrastructure projects can double as community amenities.
  • Many of the environmental advantages from implementing nature-based development solutions are also social and economic advantages, such as mitigating flood devastation and the urban heat island effect, and increasing a community’s general quality of life.
  • When applied to agricultural lands, nature-based solutions reduce costs for fertilizers and lost crops. Financial benefits for landowners include higher crop yields, readily available livestock feed in the form of healthier vegetation, and an opportunity to diversify income streams through hunting leases or nature tourism based on healthy wildlife populations.

Long-term viability

1 By adopting solutions that continuously recharge local watersheds, communities can improve their water supply resiliency in the face of more frequent and intense dry periods, growing populations, and more of the accompanying manmade surfaces that don’t absorb water.

2 As rainfall and natural disasters become more powerful, nature-based development and restoration can help to mitigate storm impacts, especially flooding and erosion.

3 Creating on-site water sources lessens the need for communities to import water from far distances, and gives communities more control over their water.

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