Big Opportunities Lie Ahead for Green Infrastructure in Texas
By Danielle Goshen, Water Policy and Outreach Specialist, Galveston Bay Foundation
Green infrastructure and nature-based solutions are essential to creating flood resilient communities in Texas. Traditional gray infrastructure techniques such as dams, levees, and channels, capture water and push it downstream. On the other hand, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions are effective flood mitigation tools that capture water at the source, and allow the water to infiltrate into the ground. This reduces runoff and strain on traditional flood infrastructure during flooding events.
Examples of green and nature-based flood mitigation solutions include: open space preservation, bank stabilization and natural erosion control, wetland restoration, permeable pavement, and bioswales, and others. Importantly, when not serving flooding mitigation purposes, green and nature-based solutions provide multiple-benefits to communities (such as park space, improved air and water quality, and habitat for wildlife). While we recognize that traditional flood infrastructure projects are necessary, we believe that it is essential to take a hybrid approach to flood mitigation, which integrates the green and the gray to protect communities and provide year-round benefits.
Luckily, a new fund in Texas, called the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), has created an exciting opportunity for communities to protect themselves against future flooding. This new fund, administered by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will provide $793 million in grants and loans to eligible political entities for structural and nonstructural (including green and nature-based) projects.
Texas Living Waters project staff have been closely tracking the roll out of FIF at the TWDB – advocating for adequate public participation opportunities, opportunities for green and nature-based flood mitigation projects, and greater access to funds for vulnerable communities.
On March 16, 2020 the TWDB released the final rules and the Flood Intended Use Plan (FIUP) governing the allocation of FIF dollars. This means that the abridged application period is now open for eligible entities to apply for grants and loans for structural and nonstructural flood projects. For now, the application, eligibility, and prioritization criteria will be governed by the Flood Intended Use Plan (FIUP). The FIUP for State Fiscal Year 2020 can be found here. The FIUP will continue to guide the process, and may be amended or updated periodically, until the State Flood Plan is adopted in 2024. After the adoption of the State Flood Plan, all FIF-funded projects must be included in the State and Regional Flood Plans. For more information on the State and Regional Flood Planning process and potential opportunities to participate, see our blog on the topic.
Now that the FIUP has been adopted by the Board, and the abridged application period has opened, we wanted to share some key information:
FIF Process and Timeline
Things are moving fast at the TWDB! The first step for eligible applicants is to submit an abridged application. Abridged applications for financing are due June 15, 2020. After abridged applications are submitted, the TWDB will rank projects based on the prioritization criteria described in the Flood Intended Use Plan and will notify top projects in June to submit a full application. Full applications will be due in July, and financial assistance commitments from the TWDB will go out in Fall, 2020.
Who Can Apply for Financing Under FIF?
FIF financing is eligible for the following political entities:
● Certain river authorities, drainage districts and other districts or authorities
● Certain conservation and reclamation districts
While non-profits such as land trusts are not eligible to apply for projects themselves, they can participate by working cooperatively with entities that can apply for FIF financing. We encourage such cooperation, especially when such non-eligible groups already have identified flood mitigation projects (such as land acquisitions, riparian restorations, or living shorelines)! Further, any political subdivision of the state, any interstate compact commission to which the state is a party, and any nonprofit water supply corporation created under Chapter 67 of the Texas Constitution can also apply for Category 1 projects only (discussed below).
What Projects Are Eligible for Financing Under FIF?
Both structural and nonstructural flood projects are eligible for grants and loans under FIF. There are 4 different project categories, which include:
● Category 1: Flood protection planning for watersheds
● Category 2: Planning, acquisition, design, construction and rehabilitation (ex. sustainable infrastructure; nonstructural flood mitigation; permeable pavement; natural erosion and runoff control)
● Category 3: Federal award matching funds (ex. to match FEMA or HUD funds)
● Category 4: Projects immediately effective in protecting life and property (ex. warning systems; crossing barriers; and public education and outreach)
FIF Incentives for Nonstructural, including Nature-Based Projects
The TWDB recognizes that nonstructural, including nature-based flood mitigation projects are an important part of the solution. In addition to funding these projects, the TWDB has included incentives for green and nature-based projects! The TWDB will provide 5% additional grant allocation to certain projects that have at least 30% of costs come from green or nature-based elements! Further, the TWDB will provide prioritization points for projects finished quickly and have groundwater recharge benefits. We believe that both of these prioritization criteria will make it easier for nonstructural including nature-based flood mitigation projects to get funded under FIF than traditional gray infrastructure projects.
Craving more, check out these resources on all things FIF:
● The Flood Intended Use Plan for State Fiscal Year 2020 can be found here
● The rules implementing Senate Bill 7 can be found here
● For updates to the program and to find the abridged application visit the TWDB website here