Investing in Natural and Nature-Based Infrastructure: Building Better Along Our Coasts

Sutton-Grier, A. E. et al. | Sustainability | 2018 | Peer Reviewed | Perspective |


Much of the United States’ critical infrastructure is either aging or requires significant repair, leaving U.S. communities and the economy vulnerable. Outdated and dilapidated infrastructure places coastal communities, in particular, at risk from the increasingly frequent and intense coastal storm events and rising sea levels. Therefore, investments in coastal infrastructure are urgently needed to ensure community safety and prosperity; however, these investments should not jeopardize the ecosystems and natural resources that underlie economic wealth and human well-being. Over the past 50 years, efforts have been made to integrate built infrastructure with natural landscape features, often termed “green” infrastructure, in order to sustain and restore valuable ecosystem functions and services. For example, significant advances have been made in implementing green infrastructure approaches for stormwater management, wastewater treatment, and drinking water conservation and delivery. However, the implementation of natural and nature-based infrastructure (NNBI) aimed at flood prevention and coastal erosion protection is lagging. There is an opportunity now, as the U.S. government reacts to the recent, unprecedented flooding and hurricane damage and considers greater infrastructure investments, to incorporate NNBI into coastal infrastructure projects. Doing so will increase resilience and provide critical services to local communities in a cost-effective manner and thereby help to sustain a growing economy.