U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



2nd World Sustainability Forum 1-30 November 2012


Decentralized approaches to urban stormwater management, whereby installations of green infrastructure (e.g., rain gardens, bioswales, constructed wetlands) are dispersed throughout a management area, are cost-effective solutions with co-benefits beyond just water abatement. Instead of investing in traditional approaches for managing stormwater, such as deep tunnels and high capacity treatment facilities (i.e., gray infrastructure), municipalities that invest in green approaches (i.e., natural capital) may reap multiple benefits from increased green space, ecosystem services, increased property values, and community engagement. To maximize the provision of these benefits, water managers should account for social and other human capitals in their management plans. In this presentation, we will highlight the role of human, social, and cultural capitals in the USEPA’s groundbreaking study in the Shepherd Creek watershed (Cincinnati OH USA). The study investigated whether market-based mechanisms can be used to engage citizens to participate in voluntary stormwater management on their private property and would this lead to a sufficient number of green infrastructure installations to reduce storm flow volume. We invested in the human capital of the neighborhood in order to educate the residents on the urban stormwater problem and their potential role as private stormwater managers. Further, we quantified the role of social capital and found that as residents engaged in the program, their neighbors were significantly more likely to engage. This finding highlights the role of social networks in building trust in novel programs, especially those proposed by external agents. When a member of a social network engages in a program and shares his/her positive experience with members of his/her social network in order to get them to enroll, that initial participant appropriates social capital to influence the actions of others. As more residents of a neighborhood engage, perhaps the neighborhood will shift to a culture of private stormwater managers. If so, we expect to see increased green infrastructure on private land over time, and that may spread to other communities. Such a cultural shift would have profound implications on urban stormwater management.