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The Worth of Water


A new report shows the importance of real estate development investments in stormwater management and green infrastructure. 

The growing involvement of the real estate industry in helping municipalities manage stormwater runoff with systems using natural resources is explored in a new Urban Land Institute (ULI) publication, Harvesting the Value of Water: Stormwater, Green Infrastructure and Real Estate.

The report looks at how water management mechanisms using green infrastructure can create value for real estate projects by improving operational efficiency, as well as serving as an attractive amenity. Green infrastructure, explains the report, includes pipes-and-pumps alternatives such as rain gardens, bioswales and green roofs, which are often accompanied by water storage and recycling tools such as cisterns. These types of sustainable stormwater management practices can provide health benefits for building users as well as benefits for the environment in general. 

“The development community is addressing the challenge of stormwater management with creative solutions that are not only conserving water, but also adding value and appeal to real estate projects across the nation,” says ULI’s Urban Resilience Program Director Katharine Burgess, who directed the research.   

Harvesting the Value of Water points out that while using green infrastructure to capture stormwater is not new, what is new is that a rising number of local governments are creating coordinated citywide green infrastructure networks including both public and private properties. Many real estate developers are responding to new regulations by incorporating the requirements into their business models. “Whether by increasing potential development yield, introducing tangible amenities for residents, reducing operating costs, or building on a broader placemaking strategy, innovative stormwater management strategies can create value and contribute to the quality of life and resilience in cities,” the report says. 

While the EPA oversees federal standards for water quality and management, local approaches to stormwater management vary widely due to different market conditions, annual rainfalls and climate challenges, notes the report. However, despite the differences in how stormwater is managed, several common themes are emerging from green infrastructure approaches that involve the real estate community. These include:

  • Green infrastructure offers cities opportunities to enhance environmental performance and save money, compared to costly gray infrastructure projects that do not offer other community benefits.
  • Green infrastructure can offer real estate developers opportunities for cost savings by freeing up more developable land than traditional water management solutions.
  • Green infrastructure can enhance the attractiveness and value of a property and reduce operating costs.
  • The emerging range of green infrastructure policies and strategies works in different markets and contexts.
  • Green infrastructure may require an initial learning curve, but the payoff can be worth the effort, in terms of improved amenities, aesthetics and marketing appeal.
  • Real estate owners and operators value green infrastructure’s performance during peak weather events and the added security it brings to their investments.

Harvesting the Value of Water was published with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, which is providing generous support for ULI’s work in promoting sustainable, resilient and healthy communities.

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