Partnership leads to civic innovation planning grant award

The National Science Foundation recently announced project awards for its Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC) planning grant program, and the team led by Wendy Jepson, Ph.D., Texas Water Resources Institute associate director and University Professor of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, was selected as a recipient.

Jepson and the Urban Water Innovation and Sustainability Hub (Urban WISH) team at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas along with co-investigators at the University of North Texas will use this grant to enhance local capacities for climate change adaptation.

The project entitled, “Community-Science Partnership to Enhance Stormwater Management and Equity,” seeks to address the challenge of equitable adaptation through the development of innovative community partnerships and technical tools to support adaptive stormwater infrastructure and management, or what is also known as blue-green infrastructure or BGI. The project’s focus is on the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a rapidly growing region facing increased stormwater flooding due to climate change.

BGI supports urban resilience through landscape-scale management of naturalized water flows and localized stormwater flooding, while offering an array of co-benefits that include on-site pollutant and nutrient uptake from stormwater, biodiversity protection, urban heat island mitigation and air quality improvement, she said. BGI includes ecological urban landscapes and engineered systems that span from urban forests to retention ponds, bioswales, blue-green roofs, and rain gardens. However, as Jepson pointed out, there are considerable barriers to the implementation and maintenance of these installations.

Dallas Center bioretention area.
Dallas Center bioretention area.

Earlier this year, the Urban WISH group with collaborators at the University of North Texas hosted several workshops with government and community stakeholders to discuss opportunities to advance BGI across the Metroplex. “Time and again, concerns about site selection, community acceptance, equity, and management were expressed,” Jepson said. “More importantly, there was a clear gap between what municipalities could do and support and community interests and expectations.”

This project seeks to fill that gap. She said it aims to support municipal efforts to reduce local stormwater flooding by innovative ways for communities to engage in collaborative governance. Working with community partners, including The Nature Conservancy, Southwest Environmental Finance Center, City of Denton and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service volunteers, the team will establish a community-science working group. This group will design, execute and assess a pilot community-based green infrastructure asset management (C-GAM) tool. 

The C-GAM, modeled after other asset management frameworks, opens new pathways for communities to directly participate in decision-making related to BGI installations across municipalities.

“It is a missing piece in governance that provides meaningful tools for communities to support and guide site development, implementation and maintenance in ways that can increase not only public acceptance of BGI but public investment,” Jepson said. “Our premise is that small institutional innovation can lead to big change.”

This project’s initial phase, from October 2022 through April 2023, will pilot this work in the City of Denton.

Co-principal investigators include faculty from Texas A&M AgriLife, Fouad Jaber, Ph.D. professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Becky Bowling, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Science. The University of North Texas Co-principal investigators include Lauren Fisher, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration, and Alexandra Ponette-Gonalez, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Geography

The National Science Foundation’s CIVIC program, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Energy, launched a new cohort of community partners across the United States. This is a multi-agency, federal government research and action competition that aims to fund ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects that have the potential for scalable, sustainable and transferable impact on community-identified priorities — from large to small and from rural to urban — across the United States. Teams that have been selected for this first round are eligible to receive awards of up to $50,000 and will have 6-months to complete their work.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation through the Civic Innovation Challenge opportunity under award number 2228731.

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