Green Infrastructure Policy Integration in Puget Sound Municipalities: An Ethnographic Perspective
Puget Sound Partnership Technical Report 2015-02
301 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2016
Date Written: August 24, 2015
Recovery of the Puget Sound is more than a scientific and technological endeavor. Sustainable solutions require attention to human factors that contributed to the current situation and that may slow or accelerate efforts to achieve a balanced and healthy ecosystem. Various behaviors, structures, processes, and practices in local governments, for example, may impede the implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda. Developed by the Puget Sound Partnership, a Washington state agency charged with coordinating Puget Sound recovery efforts, the Action Agenda sets priorities for Puget Sound recovery at local and regional levels.
This rapid ethnographic assessment uses a literature review, participant observation, interviews, focus groups, mapping exercises, public document analysis, and an online survey to reveal an insider’s view of barriers within municipal governments to the implementation of Action Agenda priorities related to green infrastructure in the twelve county Puget Sound region in Washington State. These mixed-methods have identified patterns in the perception of barriers in local governments to implementation of green infrastructure and their variability across jurisdictions of different sizes, between cities and counties, across programs (e.g. planning, permitting, public works, natural resources, etc.) and staff hierarchies within municipal governments.
This line of inquiry is intended to both improve the function of local government and to enhance regional capacity to implement the Puget Sound Action Agenda, specifically with regard to stormwater management, including water quality and flow; recovery of threatened and endangered species; habitat; low-impact development; and management of freshwater and marine shorelines. Its ultimate purpose is to inform and identify systemic actions that may be taken to improve our collective ability to solve complex societal problems.
Persistent barriers to the implementation of green infrastructure in the Puget Sound region emerged across all methods of analysis. Maintenance of green infrastructure, especially when public agencies need to ensure that maintenance is occurring on private property, appears as the most difficult challenge faced by municipal employees in this region. Uncertainties in cost and performance increase risk and liability and drive up project costs, posing another widely recognized barrier. The challenge of retrofitting legacy infrastructure appears persistently across all methods of analysis. Communication across municipal divisions, especially those dividing public works from planning and community development, can be challenging for many municipalities, especially larger ones who are Phase I permittees. Addressing maintenance issues, uncertainties in cost and performance, risk and liability, project costs, legacy infrastructure, and interdepartmental communication are major hurdles to overcome.
Widely proposed solutions to these and other problems appear across each different method of analysis. Reduction of risk and uncertainty with cost, benefit, and performance analyses and making developers responsible for environmental damage through better enforcement are widely desired actions. Municipal employees desire better internal and external communication and would like to see more grants and other financial assistance, especially for retrofitting legacy infrastructure but also for staff, training, and green infrastructure projects. They report that reducing risk and uncertainty, increasing accountability and grants, and site specific designs that consider stormwater at the outset of a project can help remove barriers. An ecosystems services approach to municipal and project accounting may help reduce perceptions of higher costs.
JEL Classification: A13, A14, D78, H1, H41, H7, H70, H73, K42, O38, Q15, Q25, Q28, Q2, Q20, Z10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation