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BECC, NADB host Border Green Infrastructure Forum

Posted on October 01, 2014

BECC, NADB host Border Green Infrastructure Forum

On September 18-19, in Juarez, Chihuahua, the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American Development Bank (NADB), two binational organizations created under the North American Free Trade Agreement, jointly hosted the Border Green Infrastructure Forum: Resilience and Competitiveness for Cities of the U.S.-Mexico Border.

BECC's General Manager, Maria Elena Giner, said at the opening ceremony that the purpose of this meeting of experts was to provide training to officials from the three levels of government, consultants, scholars and professionals related to the field, about green infrastructure strategies and approaches, in order to gradually incorporate these concepts into public and private urban infrastructure projects. She thanked the US Environmental Protection Agency for their support and help fund the event.

The event, which was held as part of the events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the creation of the BECC and NADB, convened about 200 professionals involved in the areas of sustainability, environment, and urban development. Experts hailed from Juarez, Oakland, Tucson, New York, Mexicali, Tecate, Tijuana, Ensenada, Ascensión, Chihuahua, Delicias, Ojinaga, Acuña, Saltillo, Mexico City, Washington, D.C., El Paso, Anáhuac, Monterrey, Las Cruces, Hermosillo, Nogales, San Luis Río Colorado, Ciudad Victoria, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa. Interestingly, representatives from most of the border Municipal Planning Institutes were in attendance at the meeting.

These concepts are new in their implementation and they essentially mean that the green industry, by incorporating key vegetation components to the cities and including environmentally-friendly elements, proves to be cost effective and beneficial not only to the surrounding environment and the health of local residents, but also contributes to enhance economic development and community building. Assistance for the design of the forum and the selection of highly recognized international speakers was provided by Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) researcher, Ana Cordova, who defined green infrastructure as "a wide range of techniques and strategies using vegetation and soil to address a public service interest and simultaneously provide a number of additional social, economic and environmental benefits. The term seeks to highlight and communicate that urban vegetation is infrastructure and provides benefits such as other investments in conventional infrastructure.

During the day-and-a-half-long forum, attendees broke into three major discussion panels: Stormwater Management, Air Quality, and Economic Development. There were also three plenary sessions and a closing discussion panel.

The forum featured speakers such as Brad Lancaster, from Tucson, one of the most recognized experts on the issue of stormwater management,; Samuel Brier and Irene Ogata, who gave a presentation on the exercise developed in La Paz, BCS and the implementation of stormwater and green infrastructure related regulations in Tucson; David Nowak, from the U.S. Forest Service, an internationally renowned expert on the topic of urban forests; Mexican scientist Margarita Collazo, who spoke about heavy metal and hydrocarbon capture and removal using green roofs, based on her research efforts in Mexico City; Phil McNelly, who presented his experience on green infrastructure, air quality, and urban forests in Phoenix, Arizona; Janet Clements, of the consulting firm Stratus Consulting, an expert in grey and green infrastructure; and Lucila Guerra of the Mexico's Secretaría de Gobernación [Department of the Interior], who talked about the Green Line initiative in Aguascalientes, an example of a community building effort to improve security and boost economic development as a result of the creation of a large scale linear park. Also during this panel was the presentation by Sergio Sanchez, Executive Director of the Clean Air Institute who presented the example of the “Cinturón Verde del Valle de Aburrá”in Colombia, a long-term project supporting urban interventions.

The moderators for the four discussion panels were Mario Lopez of CONAGUA; Cesar Murillo of SEMARNAT; Alex Hinojosa of the NADB, and Mario Vazquez on behalf of BECC.

Aaron Spencer, Relationship Manager for the 100 Resilient Cities Program pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation and keynote speaker at the September 18 reception, said a resilient city is one that demonstrates to have features that enable it to maintain its essential functions to address acute risks and chronic threats. Other plenary lectures included a joint presentation by Claudia Hosh and Doug Liden (both of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) on the benefits of green infrastructure, and Nancy Wells of Cornell University, on green infrastructure and public and community health.

The event was attended by various personalities in the field, including Alejandro Gloria, Ciudad Juarez Ecology Director; Eglantina Canales, Secretary of the Environment for the State of Coahuila; Guillermo Marquez, Urban Development and Ecology for the State of Chihuahua; Armando Yañez, Deputy General Director of Border Issues SEMARNAT; and Lisa Almodovar, head of EPA's border program.

Finally, conclusions and policy recommendations were presented at the closing discussion panel #4. Panel members included Jorge Cergueda of the Secretariat of Agriculture, Land, and Urban Development; Hugo Venzor, President of CANADAVI; Vicente Lopez, Director of IMIP in Juarez, and Fernando Reyna of the National Association of Water and Wastewater Treatment Companies (ANEAS).  

For the final discussion, Mario Vázquez, Director of Environmental Programs Development at the BECC and panel moderator, summarized the most relevant concepts presented at the Forum, including:
- Living space in border areas is limited and Green Infrastructure (GI) provides solutions to this problem.
- Water harvesting system provide water to local residents, reduce runoff levels, and also reduce soil erosion and sediment transport.
- GI contributes to resilience.
- It is possible to change the traditional water use paradigm to a more sustainable one to harness "waste" rainwater.
- Water harvesting requires the use of native plants.
- GI involves simple strategies that everyone can implement.
- GI strategies, such as rainwater harvesting, can result in economic benefits if used for crop production of regional species such as mesquite.  
- There is great interest from the community in adopting GI.
- Governments are open to listen and adopt GI.
- Collaboration between the community and the government is essential. The challenge is irregular settlements exist even in aquifer recharge areas.
- There is a change of paradigm in the creation of public policies; it is the public now who is calling for the creation of new rules.
- There is greater collaboration and integration regarding GI between the government and the community; all users are called together into a transparent and participatory process. 
- Rain water management must be comprehensive, and green infrastructure elements must be introduced.
- A cost-benefit analysis must be developed to further support rain water harvesting.
- The relationship between climate change, heat islands, and human health must be considered.
- There are currently no regulations applicable to rain water harvesting; however, the topic is mentioned for the first time in the General Water Law.
- Rain water harvesting has implications for third parties and therefore, on the law itself. The latter is mitigated by the concept of integrated watershed management.
- It is feasible to use federal funds for rain water harvesting projects.
- There must be a process to provide training to public officials on the new green infrastructure strategies.
- Trees improve air quality in cities.
- A reality that can be changed by GI is the transformation of grey buildings and houses –which are void of vegetation, reflect heat, increase the temperature and create heat islands–, by implementing green elements to modify the environment.  
- GI is an actual solution, as it provides environmental and human health benefits.
- The adoption and adaptation of GI involves a long process to change the prevailing culture.

The proceedings were formally closed by BECC's Deputy General Manager, Jose Mario Sanchez-Soledad, who highlighted the importance of having contributed to rethink urban development by incorporating these green components considered at the Forum. The proposed paradigm shift will be reviewed by the BECC and NADB in order to ensure that these elements are considered in future border environmental infrastructure projects, the binational official said. 

To view the powerpoint presentations please use the following link: Border Green Infrastructure Forum Presentations

For video of the event, please use the following link:Border Green Infrastructure Forum Video




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