Forgotten swales: Maintenance mediates benefit distribution in green stormwater infrastructure

Authors: Erin Rivers*, Utah State University, Marissa Matsler, University of Maryland, Dillon Mahmoudi, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Environmental Justice, Urban Geography
Keywords: green stormwater infrastructure, ecosystem services, sociodemographics, environmental justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


To improve urban water quality, cities are increasingly incorporating green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) into urban stormwater management plans to mitigate adverse impacts of urban hydrology on developed sites and provide additional ecosystem services. Due to the numerous ecosystem services provided by GSI, they are generally perceived as environmental assets that increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods, leading to emergent environmental justice questions regarding who receives these benefits and whether GSI are equitably distributed across the urban landscape. However, an inherent assumption in evaluations of the spatial distribution of GSI is the consistent provision of ecosystem services and benefits. While the benefit of GSI may extend across the watershed, potential disservices (such as pests, flooding, or trash buildup) that arise as an unintended result of maintenance routines may cause individual GSI to in an uneven distribution of benefits.

This study pairs on-the-ground assessments of ecosystem services in GSI with sociodemographic characteristics in two cities utilizing different approaches to maintaining GSI installations. Thirty GSI facilities were surveyed in Portland, OR and Baltimore, MD to determine the distribution of ecosystem services. At the time of sampling, we observed significant differences in GSI ecosystem services between cities, a greater disparity in social ecosystem services that showed disproportionately higher disservices in marginalized neighborhoods. We hypothesize that maintenance plans may affect the quality of GSI and play a role in determining equitable distribution of benefits derived from GSI.

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