Remaking stormwater as a resource: Technology, law,
Joshua J. Cousins
Department of Geography and Environmental
Studies Program, Dartmouth College, Hanover,
Department of Environmental Studies, SUNY
College of Environmental Science and Forestry,
Syracuse, New York
Joshua J. Cousins, Department of Geography and
Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth
College, 6017 Fairchild, Hanover, NH 03755.
This review examines how stormwater is being rethought of as a resource in urban
planning and governance. No longer administered simply as a conveyance prob-
lem, a range of actors are progressively repurposing stormwater as an underutilized
resource that can resolve water quality and quantity challenges. I suggest this tran-
sition emerged out of the need to address a host of problems rooted in the institu-
tional and infrastructural legacy of treating stormwater as a waste and flood control
problem, as well as a new set of concerns associated with climate change, contin-
ued urbanization, and fiscal and administrative cuts. As a response, a number of
technical and political mechanisms are looking to remake stormwater as a resource.
In particular, the review focuses on the role of green infrastructure and technologi-
cal change, legal structures, and incentives to enroll citizens into the governance
process. These practices assemble stormwater as a resource by configuring diverse
forms of knowledge, technology, and relations that meet political goals to build
smart, resilient, and sustainable cities.
This article is categorized under:
Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
Human Water > Water Governance
Science of Water > Water Quality
environmental governance, green infrastructure, stormwater, technopolitics,
Stormwater and urban drainage are among the most pervasive urban planning and design challenges of the urban era. As pre-
cipitation patterns shift and sea levels rise as a consequence of climate change, more variable weather patterns will bring
floods and droughts that will test the social and technical systems engineered to address water in the city (Castán Broto &
Bulkeley, 2013; Chappin & van der Lei, 2014; Grimm et al., 2008; Wong & Brown, 2009). This is illustrated by major floods
associated with Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, and Maria, but also by the impact of severe droughts on cities such as Cape
Town, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, and Melbourne. These problems associated with the material absence or abundance of rainwa-
ter, however, have significant implications on how cities structure their relationship with water. This can be seen from Shang-
hai to Los Angeles, where planners are looking to design “sponge cities”capable of resolving the water quality and quantity
challenges that arise with climate change and urbanism in the Anthropocene (Liu, 2016; Pincetl, 2017; Standen, 2015). Cities
are also recognizing the financial consequences of inaction and the need to rethink how they address stormwater and secure
future water supplies in the face of climate change (Cousins & Newell, 2015). In many cases, stormwater is no longer consid-
ered a nuisance, hazard, or waste. Instead, planners, politicians, and technical experts are designing schemes that fix water
Received: 18 March 2018 Revised: 25 May 2018 Accepted: 28 May 2018
WIREs Water. 2018;e1300. wires.wiley.com/water © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 1of13
quality and quantity dilemmas in the city by managing stormwater as a resource. The aim of this review is to document how
this shift is occurring in response to a number of perceived problems and challenges related to urban water governance and
The rise of stormwater to the top of the urban environmental policy agenda during a time of increased climate variability,
however, is emblematic of a broader shift in urban water governance. Increasingly, holistic and integrated methods are being
rolled out to address the fragmented and complicated nature of water resources governance (Brown, 2005; Mitchell, 2005;
Roy et al., 2008). The goal among a growing set of urban planners, policy makers, engineers, and nongovernmental organiza-
tions is to rework both the infrastructures and institutions shaping how stormwater flows through the city and facilitate climate
change adaptation (Carmin, Nadkami, & Rhie, 2012; Cousins, 2017a). Instead of depending on centralized, or gray infrastruc-
tures, with single purpose targets, such as sewers, canals, and channels that can efficiently convey stormwater out of the city,
municipalities are increasingly drawing on green approaches such as bioswales, permeable pavements, and other features that
try to mimic the natural hydrology (Brown, Farrelly, & Loorbach, 2013; Karvonen, 2011; Loperfido, Noe, Jarnagin, & Hogan,
2014). These distributed and decentralized techniques present important tools for climate change adaptation planning and as a
means to garner multiple benefits—from water quality and quantity to increased access to urban green space (Bell, 2015; Mar-
low, Moglia, Cook, & Beale, 2013; Tompkins et al., 2010).
Assembling stormwater as a resource, however, requires a different understanding of stormwater's social, political, and
material life. Water embodies multiple functions as a flow resource that transverses political boundaries, social and cultural
categories, and economic functions (Bakker, 2012, 2014; Cousins, 2017d). This requires a need to address the specific politi-
cal and ecological conjunctures in which stormwater emerges as a viable water supply alternative, as well as where, how, and
for whom stormwater becomes a resource to advance water quality and quantity goals. Initiatives for stormwater capture are
often embedded within the wider decentralization and neoliberalization of water (Lane, Bettini, McCallum, & Head, 2017;
Usher, 2018) and the need to harvest rainwater as a resource can also reflect disenfranchisement from safe and potable public
water supply systems (Bakker, Kooy, Shofiani, & Martijn, 2008; Wright-Contreras, March, & Schramm, 2017). Developing
green spaces within the city can also produce equity and environmental justice issues through displacement and gentrification
(Dooling, 2009; Wolch, Byrne, & Newell, 2014).
On one end of the spectrum stormwater offers a means to improve water security for affluent towns, cities, and urban
enclaves across the globe by harvesting an “untapped”resource and reducing pressure on current water supply systems
(Domènech & Saurí, 2011; Fisher-Jeffes, Carden, Armitage, & Winter, 2017; Saurí & Palau-rof, 2017). On the other end of
the spectrum, rainwater harvesting is an old and timeless mode of collecting water and can reflect everyday practices of main-
taining household water security (Angelakis & Zheng, 2015; Arabindoo, 2011; Kumar, 2004). In cities across the globe, how-
ever, stormwater capture and green infrastructure initiatives are gaining salience as an approach to urban water governance
that can work in conjunction with existing infrastructures, improve water security, increase climate resiliency, and achieve
water quality goals and regulations.
In this article, I examine the emergence of stormwater as a resource. I suggest that the transition from treating stormwater
as a hazard, or a nuisance, to a resource is rooted in stormwater's ability to fulfill societal needs at particular times and places,
as well as to resolve a number of political, technical, and ecological problems. This transition, I argue, relies upon technopoli-
tical formations that assemble and link diverse actors and artifacts, including citizens, scientists, engineers, politicians, and
bureaucrats, who each bring their own perspectives and practices to bear upon and control stormwater (Cousins, 2017d; Hecht,
2009; Mitchell, 2002). As Hecht describes, technopolitics are rooted in the design and use of technologies to pursue political
goals and the diverse forms of knowledge and calculation that make the achievement of those goals possible (Hecht, 2009).
Technologies are not only material objects such as computers, rain barrels, water meters, pipes, dams, canals, or sewers, but
also modes of political power that govern people, produce effects, and shape human conduct (Agrawal, 2005; Foucault,
2007). Along with political economic concerns over resource access and control, these insights from science and technology
studies offer much analytical power for understanding the heterogeneous infrastructural configurations that enroll competing
and complementary knowledge systems, technologies, and socionatural relations in new paradigms of water governance
(Lawhon, Nilsson, Silver, Ernstson, & Lwasa, 2017). In the following sections, I utilize these insights to highlight problems in
water governance that rethinking stormwater as a resource is designed to answer. The review then examines three mechanisms
constructing value in stormwater: technology and green infrastructure, legal mechanisms, and citizenship and subject making.
2|THE POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE OF STORMWATER AND URBAN DRAINAGE
Stormwater is a complicated governance problem and the broad shift toward viewing it as a resource instead of a hazard mir-
rors a transition away from command-and-control and state-centric governance (Cousins, 2017d; Finewood & Holifield,
2015). This change in discourse and institutional practice flows from the need to address several, but interrelated, problems of
urban water governance. Governance of stormwater systems have mixed structures of control organized hierarchically (local,
regional, national) and through horizontal networks across city departments and agencies (Cousins, 2017c; Porse, 2013; van
de Meene, Brown, & Farrelly, 2011). Some problems stem from the technocratic and bureaucratic structures managing storm-
water and urban drainage, while other dilemmas arise out of the political and hydrological mismatches of unaligned borders.
In this section, I highlight some of these problems of stormwater governance that the shift to hybrid approaches that value
stormwater seek to resolve.
2.1 |Technocratic governance
Stormwater management and urban drainage remain centralized and heavily reliant on technocratic forms of governance that
attempt to control urban hydrological processes through technical solutions and bureaucratic management (Cousins, 2017c;
Saguin, 2017). This structure of “command-and-control”governance from the top-down was well-suited for many single pur-
pose targets of the past, but has instilled barriers to new forms of technology and participatory governance (Ferguson, Frant-
zeskaki, & Brown, 2013; García Soler, Moss, & Papasozomenou, 2018; Parikh, Taylor, Hoagland, Thurston, & Shuster,
2005; Saurí & Palau-rof, 2017). Scholarship has shown that many technical experts are reluctant to implement green infra-
structure, and if they are supportive, their efforts remain undergirded by a gray epistemology (Brown, 2008; Finewood, 2016).
Finewood defines this gray epistemology as “a way of knowing water that focuses on the technical, abiotic aspects of a system
and the possibilities created by engineering as an objective problem-solving tool”. This reliance on technical expertise is not
surprising to see among government officials whose job is to make institutionally credible and objective decisions for the pub-
lic that can hold up to a business-case scenario, but technical complexities can impede active participation among the public
(Dhakal & Chevalier, 2017). Consequently, gray epistemologies bound decision-making and the range of technical choices
available by differentiating legitimate and illegitimate forms of knowledge and insight (Cohen, 2012; Cousins, 2017c;
Robards, Schoon, Meek, & Engle, 2011). What is typically seen is broad stakeholder involvement, with the aim of recording
participation, instead of governance strategies that look to coproduce and design new experiments in stormwater governance
(Brown et al., 2013; Cousins, 2017c; Farrelly & Brown, 2011; Lane et al., 2011). Overall, as Bell notes, “systems of gover-
nance that have evolved around technocratic, centralized utility provision are ill-suited to newer, more nimble technologies
operating at different levels of complexity and spatial scales”(Bell, 2015).
2.2 |Siloed governance
The persistence of institutional fragmentation also prevents the incorporation of urban stormwater into holistic governance
frameworks. Efforts to develop integrated approaches that include stormwater exist in many cities across the globe, but institu-
tional objectives remain focused on performing tasks prescribed within legal frameworks, such as flood control or water qual-
ity (de Graaf & Van der Brugge, 2010). The problem of silos within broader urban environmental governance agendas is
well-documented (Bulkeley, 2010; Furlong & Bakker, 2010; Morrison, Westbrook, & Noble, 2017; Vogel, Moser, Kasper-
son, & Dabelko, 2007; While & Whitehead, 2013) and has shown bureaucratic siloing to negatively impact progress and lead
to ongoing implementation of fragmented mitigation and adaptation activities (Brown, 2005; Castán Broto, Glendinning,
Dewberry, Walsh, & Powell, 2014; Fitzgerald & Laufer, 2016). While integrated water resources management and other holis-
tic planning efforts are popular among both scholars and practitioners, the slow and uneven uptake has brought many of these
frameworks under criticism (Cohen, 2012; Cousins, 2017c; Dhakal & Chevalier, 2016, 2017). Shared ways of constructing
solutions to stormwater problems can bring stakeholders together, despite silos, but how they are forged influences how tech-
nical and institutional interventions will proceed in a particular place and time (Cousins, 2017b).
2.3 |Collective action
Diversity among governance approaches and perspectives, as well as issues in assigning responsibility and authority, presents
stormwater as a collective action problem (Cousins, 2017b; Dhakal & Chevalier, 2016; Ostrom, 1990). The problem of collec-
tive action arises from the need for many individuals and institutions to contribute and participate in an effort to reduce the
adverse impacts of stormwater on the urban environment. Many of these actions, however, can be costly for individuals and
institutions. Private land, for example, occupies the majority of a city's surface area, but many regulatory structures do not
allow enforcement of water quality measures on private parcels—even if they are major contributors to the problem
(Dhakal & Chevalier, 2016). Incentivizing the broad range of actors to participate thus becomes important in achieving water
quality and quantity goals. Beyond incentivizing individual landowners to participate, diverging institutional interests also
need addressed. Water suppliers and flood control managers, for example, both depend on multipurpose reservoirs. Their
objectives diverge, however, with flood controllers preferring empty reservoirs to capture large volumes of runoff and water
suppliers needing full reservoirs to maintain reliable supplies (Cousins, 2017d; Hanak et al., 2011). This problem stems from
siloed governance, but helps indicate how collective measures can be costly or in conflict with their institutional needs. With
responsibility cast widely across a number of institutions and individuals, authority for controlling stormwater comes into con-
flict with competing priorities. The move toward integration, however, can be seen as a means of collective action that orga-
nizes capital for investments in infrastructure and other mechanisms that can address stormwater problems.
2.4 |Gray versus green
A large proportion of literature still points toward a preference for traditional, or gray infrastructures, over green infrastructure
(Brown, 2008; Dhakal & Chevalier, 2016; Ferguson et al., 2013). Part of this preference stems from accounting procedures
that do not fully integrate the full range of ecosystem services green infrastructure can provide (Cousins, 2017b; Hansen &
Pauleit, 2014; Lovell & Taylor, 2013; Meerow & Newell, 2017). Gray infrastructures, however, also provide a standardized
practice that is easily measurable and calculable, in terms of volumes of stormwater captured or diverted, and provides a
method to segregate stormwater from the social systems influencing how it flows across the landscape (Finewood, 2016).
Broad consensus for green infrastructure does exist across a range of technocratic structures and community groups, but the
implementation of green infrastructure often reflects goals of more elite interests and their ability to install it where it can cap-
ture and cleanse desirable volumes of stormwater with clear economic or regulatory gains (Cousins, 2017d). Green and gray
infrastructures, however, work in an ideological tension that supports a mutually held vision of urban sustainability, albeit one
that operates in the sphere of technocratic governance and decision-making (Cousins, 2017d; Finewood, 2016; Wachsmuth &
2.5 |Political and hydrological boundaries
While siloed governance emerges out of competing jurisdictional mandates, the mismatch between political and hydrological
boundaries impedes sustainable stormwater governance (Dhakal & Chevalier, 2016). In part, these mismatches emerge out of
water's multiple roles and functions in society. Stormwater is at once a water quality problem under jurisdictional control by
state agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), it is also a water supply and conserva-
tion issue managed by water suppliers, and it is also a flood control problem managed by flood control districts, municipali-
ties, and state level institutions. The mismatch between hydrological and political boundaries also leads to the issue of
“passing of the flooding problem”downstream and into another jurisdiction (Brown, 2005). This creates a tension between
urban and nonurban spaces that challenges any city-centered focus on the stormwater problem, as it may flow into the city
from suburban or nonurban spaces (Angelo & Wachsmuth, 2015; Cousins, 2017d). Other barriers to integrated and sustainable
stormwater governance include the separation of technocratic governance from impacted communities, unclear responsibilities
with multiple partnerships working on the same problem, and insufficient incentives among and between different groups
(Brown, 2005; Fitzgerald & Laufer, 2016; Prudencio & Null, 2018). Evaluating ecosystem services is also challenging as it is
best done at regional levels but municipal planning and jurisdictional boundaries often do not consider the role of urban
water-related ecosystem services throughout a watershed or basin (Schuch, Serrao-neumann, Morgan, & Low, 2017). Inte-
grated approaches do look to shift the scale of analysis to the entire watershed in order to coordinate efforts across bureaucratic
and jurisdictional boundaries and reduce fragmentation (Cousins, 2017c), but the proposed participatory and inclusive
approaches to decision-making remains uneven and conflict laden over the specific aspects of water management that need to
be integrated (Bakker, 2014; Hughes & Pincetl, 2013). The problem centers on how current policy structures and infrastruc-
tural systems do not account for the relational geographies of stormwater flows and the web of infrastructural systems
(e.g., roads, sewers, canals, and channels) that extend out from the municipal boundaries.
Fragmented governance structures and altered hydrological systems are also dilemmas of funding. One of the major chal-
lenges for cities is developing methods to finance new social and technical systems for stormwater management. Decision-
makers and planners, for example, are constrained in their ability to generate funds for green infrastructural improvements.
Some municipalities, however, are able to implement parcel-based stormwater fees that charge property owners a fee based on
the amount of impervious cover on their property (Campbell, Dymond, & Dritschel, 2016; Zhang, Gersberg, Ng, & Tan,
2017). These mechanisms provide a credit structure that incentivizes stormwater retrofits but vary considerably across states
and municipalities and vary country to country (Fitzgerald & Laufer, 2016; Zhang et al., 2017). Gaps around the costs and
benefits of green infrastructure, including maintenance costs, and how the cumulative effects of many small-scale, decentra-
lized, and distributed projects across the city will impact stormwater flows, also remain a challenge in developing sustainable
urban drainage and stormwater systems (Emanuel, 2014; Lovell & Taylor, 2013). Integrated approaches become a means to
develop cost-sharing plans across government agencies, but municipalities are also looking to the private sector to finance
stormwater projects through public–private partnerships. Strategies such as mitigation banking, for example, focus on devel-
oping private markets that encourage investments in green infrastructure and on leveraging private capital to reach clean water
goals (Cousins, 2017b). Other mechanisms, such as tax increment financing (TIF) schemes, utilize public investments to
attract private capital to specific geographical locations or districts and use the anticipated property tax increases to fund pro-
jects. Chicago, for example, used TIF schemes to fund their green roof program and other green infrastructure projects
(Weber, 2010). Developing financial structures for stormwater governance, nonetheless, center on the very logic of materially
and discursively treating stormwater as a beneficial resource that can improve human and ecological heath, as well as boost
real-estate values and other assets (Burgess et al., 2017; Cousins, 2017d; Schilling & Logan, 2008; Wild, Henneberry, &
2.7 |Justice and inequality
Stormwater also expands into the realm of environmental and social justice. Problems include uneven exposure to flood risks,
sewer backups, contaminants, and other hazards. Other concerns, however, center on unequal access to green spaces, the lega-
cies of discriminatory planning policies, and the lack of basic infrastructure such as sewerage and stormwater drains (Grove
et al., 2018; Ranganathan & Balazs, 2015). Spirn, for example, displays how city planning and design can inflict injustices
upon local communities by ignoring the biophysical conditions of a place (Spirn, 2005). These perceived failures of planning,
however, can be ameliorated by reintroducing biophysical features of the past, such as creeks and wetlands, to manage and
detain stormwater through green infrastructure. Ecological disparities exist alongside other environmental justice concerns that
center on participation and who bears the costs and benefits of pollution control and stormwater management (Finewood,
2016). Research has shown, for example, that socioeconomically privileged communities benefit most from stormwater pollu-
tion controls (Kamieniecki, 2008). As stormwater systems continue to evolve to embrace green infrastructure and function to
value stormwater as a resource, new design frameworks stress social equity. A wide-range of scholars, however, remain atten-
tive to the unintended consequences of greening efforts such as ecological gentrification, burdens on individual property
owners, and disproportionate costs upon different communities in the same watershed (Dooling, 2009; Hill, Collins, & Vidon,
2018; Kamieniecki, 2008; Porse, 2018).
3|UNDERSTANDING THE HAZARD TO RESOURCE SHIFT
The shift from governing stormwater as a hazard to a resource relies upon a set of technopolitical interventions organized
around overcoming problems posed by the variability of water flowing through cities. In this section, I highlight three ways
the relationship between water, power, society, and technology are enrolled in the process of valuing stormwater as a resource.
All three fall under the wider push toward integrated and hybrid forms of water governance and that seek to address the prob-
lems outlined above. The first focuses on green infrastructure as a form of technology and expert practice that looks to rework
social–ecological relationships in the city. The second focuses on legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that discursively redefine
stormwater as a resource. The third focuses on developing modes of governance that shift attitudes and behaviors, which pro-
duce new forms of citizenship and subject-making that are crucial in achieving storm water's value as a resource.
3.1 |Green infrastructure and technological change
Green infrastructure emerges in relation to problems of water quality, urban drainage, and the limits of traditional, or gray,
water infrastructures. Envisioned as an interconnected system of urban green-spaces, such as parks, rain gardens, and green
roofs, green infrastructure conserves and restores biophysical functions and provides human health benefits (Benedict &
Mcmahon, 2002; Matthews, Lo, & Byrne, 2015; Meerow & Newell, 2017). This promise of delivering multiple benefits
appeals to needs to find more flexible and resilient solutions to managing the relationship between water and the city. While
often placed in contrast to gray and centralized forms of infrastructure, green infrastructure does not always function as a com-
plete or situational replacement of large pipes, sewers, and concrete channels. Instead, green infrastructure typically serves a
complementary role alongside centralized systems, where they overlap in a gray and green matrix. As any technology, though,
green infrastructure is comprised of technical and discursive elements. Some highlight the value of green infrastructure on real
estate values (Burgess et al., 2017; Netusil, Levin, Shandas, & Hart, 2014), ecological function (Gill, Handley, Ennos, &
Pauleit, 1998; Pataki et al., 2011; Tzoulas et al., 2007), or on human wellbeing (Jorgensen & Gobster, 2010). In this section,
I want to highlight the technical and discursive practices that enroll green infrastructure into the process of delivering storm-
water as an alternative water supply source and in providing ecosystem services.
A key method in developing stormwater as an alternative supply source is through different economic valuation
approaches that seek to establish a value for green infrastructure investments. The technical elements include the modeling of
stormwater flows through the city and green infrastructure's ability to enhance water quality and quantity in the city
(Jayasooriya & Ng, 2014). Some models look to establish a toolkit of economic evaluation methodologies for green invest-
ments across a region (e.g., north-west Europe) while others might focus more directly on a city scale (e.g., Johannesburg or
Detroit) (Mell, Henneberry, Hehl-Lange, & Keskin, 2013, 2016; Schäffler & Swilling, 2013; Schilling & Logan, 2008). Based
out of Chicago, Illinois, The Center for Neighborhood Technology's Green Values™Stormwater Management Calculator, for
example, provides a tool to measure the financial and hydrological conditions of a site for green infrastructure investments
(CNT, 2018). Others include GiVAN (2010), a toolkit that monetizes the social and environmental benefits of green infra-
structure, the USEPA's SUSTAIN model that provides an implementation tool to aid decision-makers in choosing the most
cost-effective solution for stormwater quality and quantity management (USEPA, 2014), and the model for urban stormwater
improvement conceptualization (MUSIC), a decision-making tool for controlling stormwater flows (eWater, 2017). These
models are all highly technocratic in their form and deploy a range of economic valuation techniques and hydroecological
algorithms to inform decision makers. While these models provide a technocratic toolkit to value stormwater, they also work
to show the benefits of viewing stormwater as a resource rather than a nuisance or hazard. In other words, they simplify a
complex social and ecological problem that allows officials to see the financial consequences and opportunities of their deci-
sions. Developing stormwater as a resource, however, also depends on the valuation of ecosystem services and in providing
insurance—economic and ecological—for cities.
The first way this is done is through the valuation of ecosystem services. While green infrastructure has been shown to
help deliver a number of ecosystem services, such as urban heat island mitigation, improved air quality, reduced social–
ecological vulnerability, improved access to green space, and more landscape connectivity, stormwater abatement is typically
the focus of green infrastructure programs (Cousins, 2017b; Meerow & Newell, 2017; Newell et al., 2013). The quantification
of each these benefits, however, serve to help render value to stormwater and reinforce technocratic structures. These calcula-
tions and measurements, moreover, influence how stormwater flows through the city by demarcating differences between ben-
eficial and harmful flows of water in the city (Cousins, 2017d). The use of ecosystem services as a means to quantify the
benefits of a “green”approach over a “gray”fit within goals to provision and develop alternative forms of water supply as
well as water purification, aesthetics, and supporting habitat (Burns, Fletcher, Walsh, Ladson, & Hatt, 2012; Cameron & Bla-
nuša, 2016; Prudencio & Null, 2018). Kandulu, Connor, and MacDonald (2014), for example, demonstrate how the ecosystem
services approach works to give value to stormwater as a supply source in Adelaide, Australia. They quantify five different
ecosystems services (urban recreational amenity, regulation of coastal water quality, salinity, greenhouse gas emissions, and
support of estuarine habitats) and show that incorporating ecosystem services in water supply investment decisions would
yield monetary benefits of up to three times the cost of operating and maintaining stormwater harvesting programs. Many
scholars broadly agree that the valuation approach to green infrastructure assets, such as water supply and water quality,
requires monetary values and accounting systems that can work alongside the municipal budget systems operating gray infra-
structure (Schäffler & Swilling, 2013). The other way green stormwater infrastructure provisioning services attain value is
through climate resilient city frameworks, which look to address how climate change diminishes water supply reliability (Gill
et al., 1998; Pataki et al., 2011; Prudencio & Null, 2018; Voskamp & Van de Ven, 2015).
The second way green infrastructure renders value to stormwater is through insurance. On the one hand, insurance refers
to government or private sector actors and their potential role in financing green infrastructure for stormwater capture and
abatement, flood control, and boosting urban resilience. On the other hand, insurance refers to the value of ecosystems and
biodiversity in providing ecosystem services in the face of shocks and stresses. In terms of the latter, insurance companies can
act as investors for green infrastructure where they can address performance risk and cost management risk as a private-sector
partner and as a broader actor in developing private markets to develop green stormwater infrastructure (Valderrama et al.,
2013). In much of the developed world, stormwater is also regulated by national governments through flood control policies
and regulations. In the United States, stormwater regulation indirectly occurs through the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) and their National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). To participate, municipalities need to complete a num-
ber of requirements that prove new projects will not increase flood heights (National Research Council [NRC], 2012). Flood
insurance programs, however, can create barriers to adaptation by fostering complacency or continued settlement in flood-
plains, as well as incentives that distribute risks to insurance companies and reduce residential insurance rates (Wilby &
Keenan, 2012). The structure of insurance programs will influence the outcomes and involve choices about how much insur-
ance to invest in order to build resiliency (Walker, Abel, Anderies, & Ryan, 2009). It is the costs borne by flood and extreme
events, however, that create the impetus to rethink stormwater as a resource through insurance. In Chicago, for example, a
2008 storm flooded thousands of buildings and lead to the evacuation of 10,000 homes and a total of $155 million in property
insurance losses (Changnon, 2010). Automobiles were also impacted with a total of $18 million dollars in losses. Then there
were additional economic losses from shutdowns across city services. These types of losses are critical in understanding why
cities are looking to reframe stormwater as a resource through green stormwater infrastructure (Cousins, 2017a).
The insurance value of green infrastructure also resides in the urban environment's capacity to provide ecosystem services
in the face of shocks and stresses (Baumgärtner, 2008; Green, Kronenberg, Andersson, Elmqvist, & Gómez-Baggethun,
2016). The motive of framing green infrastructure in terms of insurance value is to optimize green space development toward
the goal of building resilient cities that guarantee the provision of ecosystem services at multiple planning levels (Mathey,
Rößler, Lehmann, & Bräuer, 2011). In examining the role of private gardens in providing insurance value of green infrastruc-
ture, Green et al. (2016) show that urban gardens can work in favor of city goals to build resilience and urban biodiversity. As
they note, a “city can point out that like an insurance policy taken out by the city, the collective effect of many biodiverse gar-
dens is to position the city better for climate change and other threats”. While scholars and practitioners are developing
methods to create a monetary value of insurance out of the ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure that can work
in place of insurance provided in financial markets (Perrings, 1995), caution remains in depending upon monetary notions of
insurance value (Green et al., 2016). This is due to the high degree of ecosystem simplification required to monetize resilience,
as well as how monetization creates a misleading notion that investing in ecosystem resilience is the equivalent of purchasing
financial insurance, when the two may be incommensurable with each other.
3.2 |Legal structures
Generating value in stormwater also requires the enrollment of legal and bureaucratic systems (Cousins, 2017d). Most legal
frameworks have historically defined stormwater as a waste or nuisance. As a consequence, solutions in many cities across the
globe have relied on “end of pipe, out of sight, out of mind”solutions based on the rational planning of stormwater engineers
(Karvonen, 2011). In the United States, for example, the emergence of these types of solutions is rooted in efforts in the nine-
teenth century to protect urbanites from epidemics and disease-carrying wastes (Melosi, 2000). This form of engineering, how-
ever, had a number of consequences for urban water governance. First, centralized engineering projects had serious impacts
on water quality. This lead to the creation of the Clean Water Act, which made stormwater overflows and discharges a policy
liability for cities. Second, the codification of urban drainage and stormwater infrastructure into building and municipal codes
created a different water rights structure for rainwater. In the United States, water law typically follows two systems for sur-
face water and groundwater rights: riparian and prior appropriation. Rainwater, however, can be guided by administrative law
in some cases (Meehan & Moore, 2014). Collectively, this legal and regulatory structure impedes the ability for water
resources managers to govern stormwater as a resource.
In order for stormwater to become a valued resource its benefits need to gain legal recognition. Whether stormwater cap-
ture requires a water right, however, remains questionable in many cases and varies state-by-state, country-by-country, and
case-by-case. Downstream parties, for example, may object to stormwater capture because it conflicts with their senior water
rights by impeding the flow of stormwater into streams and rivers. This is particularly true in the western United States where
the long-standing tradition was to make the harvesting of rainwater or stormwater capture illegal based on the prior appropria-
tion doctrine, typically known as the “first in time, first in right”rule. A number of states, however, have developed rainwater-
harvesting acts that allow the collection of rainwater for beneficial use. Colorado, for example, allocates water based on the
prior appropriation doctrine, and historically prohibited stormwater capture based on its potential to interfere with senior water
rights. Overcoming this barrier required the passing of a number of pieces of legislation. In 2009 Senate Bill 80 and House
Bill 1129 set legal criteria and guidelines for pilot projects and for some well owners to use and collect rainwater (National
Conference of State Legislators, 2018). Furthermore, in 2016 House Bill 1005 allowed residential households to use two rain
barrels with a combined capacity of 110 gal to capture stormwater on-site for outdoor use, such as gardening (National Con-
ference of State Legislators, 2018). The enactment of this law now ensures that household scale collection of rainwater does
not conflict with existing water rights.
While Colorado offers an example of changes to water rights at the state level to develop stormwater and rainwater as a
resource, many other legal and bureaucratic barriers impede this process. In many cases, defining stormwater is a difficult
legal and bureaucratic challenge as stormwater embodies a plurality of institutionally based positions and mandates (Cousins,
2017c). This is due to challenges in assigning liability and maintenance for flood control and water quality infrastructure, as
well as developing stormwater as a resource for beneficial use by coordinating across the various siloed institutions of water
governance. In this way, the social and material relations of water governance are shaped and reshaped by the legal structures
that shift how water flows into and out of cities (Bakker, 2003; Cousins, 2017d; Linton & Budds, 2014).
A large swath of literature, however, has remained focused on aspects of institutional fragmentation and water quality reg-
ulations instead of the legal structures impeding the process of developing stormwater as a resource. In California, for exam-
ple, strict regulation limits how revenues are raised to address stormwater. This is due to Proposition 218, which requires local
governments to obtain 2/3 public approval for a new fee or tax, such as stormwater fees (Cooley et al., 2016; Hanak et al.,
2011). This creates barriers that require stormwater to be redefined in legal and bureaucratic structures in order to capture its
value by removing obstacles to funding (Cousins, 2017d). At the state level, for example, the passage of Assembly Bill
(AB) 2403 in June 2014 clarified sections of Proposition 218, which differentiated water supply—which is not subject to pub-
lic vote—and stormwater management, which was defined as a waste and pollution problem. The new bill reframed the defini-
tion of stormwater as a water supply issue, where, “‘water’means any system of public improvements intended to provide for
the production, storage, supply, treatment, or distribution of water, including, but not limited to, recycled water and storm-
water intended for water service”(Rendon & Mullin, 2014). This discursive shift in water law transforms urban stormwater
runoff into a valuable asset that can facilitate changes in urban drainage infrastructure through designs to capture and reuse
stormwater and urban runoff. These changes in water law are often coupled with other legal revisions at other scales of gover-
nance (Cousins, 2017d). The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA), for example, created mecha-
nisms to manage stormwater as a water supply resource by resolving jurisdictional conflicts between agencies such as the
United States Army Corps of Engineers and water supply agencies by allowing flood control dams to be used to water reten-
tion and supply, especially in drought stricken regions.
The intersection between legal structures and stormwater management, however, is also influenced by competing infra-
structural visions. Typically, gray approaches tend to treat stormwater as a flood control or water quality problem. This trans-
lates into a legal and bureaucratic structure that regards stormwater as a nuisance through a set of rules and infrastructures. As
Dhakal and Chevalier acknowledge, courts in the United States established this through case laws for draining stormwater off-
site instead of capturing and treating stormwater on-site (Dhakal & Chevalier, 2017). As they further note, these drainage laws
typically abide to one of three rules: the Common Enemy Rule, the Law of Natural Drainage, or the Reasonable Use Rule.”
The Common Enemy Rule allows landowners to use any means they desire to convey surface water off of their property
(Dellapenna, 1991). The Law of Natural Drainage, also known as the Civil Law Rule, is based on the rationale that water runs,
and should run, as it is wont to do by natural right, or Aqua currit, et debet curere, ut solebat ex jure naturae (Weston, 1976).
This rule restricts landowners from undertaking any land modifications that may change the natural course or flow of rainwa-
ter and surface water. The Reasonable Use Rule attempts to provide more flexibility than the Civil Law Rule or the Common
Enemy Rule by allowing land modifications that can avoid some of the inequities arising from the strict use of one of the other
rules (Dellapenna, 1991).
3.3 |Citizenship and subject-making
Efforts to transform society's relationship with stormwater also embody new forms of subject making and urban environmental
citizenship. Increasingly, how individuals come to perceive themselves in relation to the environment is influenced by decen-
tralized forms of governance that seek to conceptualize citizens and their responsibilities through incentives that prompt partic-
ipation (Lemos & Agrawal, 2006; Pellizzoni, 2011; Wong & Sharp, 2009). This is part of a shift to neoliberal forms of urban
environmental governance that reconfigure governmental control through new regulations, institutions, and rules—including
devolution, decentralization, delegation to nonstate actors, and the introduction of market-based approaches (Bakker, 2014;
Whitehead, 2013). Many of these governance mechanisms rely on citizens and consumers to internalize the goals of the cen-
tralized state government by taking responsibility for managing, maintaining, and participating in these new configurations of
governance. This method of using technologies of governance is one means through which technopolitics function to achieve
the goals of the state.
Among the most prominent means of developing new forms of civic engagement is through rainwater harvesting pro-
grams. In both the global South and global North, these types of programs are being rolled-out to develop stormwater as an
alternative supply source. In Mumbai, for example, the Municipal Corporation required in 2003 that all new developments, or
constructed buildings, include mechanisms for rainwater harvesting infrastructures (Button, 2017a). While scholars have
shown that engineers in Mumbai are at times disinterested in managing distributed water resource regimes (Anand, 2017),
rainwater harvesting is incrementally reshaping domestic water use as well as household relationships to the state (Button,
2017b; Furlong, 2010; Meehan, 2014). Button (2017a), for example, demonstrates how rainwater harvesting shifts responsibil-
ity for governing water resources onto residents—rendering them both consumer and supplier. This shift also serves as a
mechanism to reflect and secure a middle-class lifestyle in Mumbai by providing additional water resources for garden
upkeep, bathing, and car-washing among other uses (Button, 2017b). Across the global South, however, rainwater harvesting
is working as a mediating technology inscribing new forms of citizenship and filling in gaps left in municipal infrastructures
(Furlong, 2010; Rugemalila & Gibbs, 2015). Meehan (2014) illustrates how the tools of rainwater harvesting—the buckets
and barrels—work to resolve institutional gaps in federal laws and municipal water infrastructure in Tijuana. Furlong (2014)
also explains how stormwater becomes an alternative water supply source in response to scarcity in Quibdó, Colombia, requir-
ing sociotechnical innovation and learning. Fisher-Jeffes et al. (2017) also suggest that rainwater harvesting practices work to
improve water security and resilience in Cape Town, South Africa. Across Southern cities, the adoption of rainwater
harvesting technologies as an alternative supply source complicate any simple trajectory from more “traditional”supplies to a
modern and universal piped water supply system. Instead, they at once serve to maintain and reintroduce traditional forms of
rainwater harvesting, while coexisting alongside piped water supply networks.
In the global North rainwater harvesting is also being introduced to resolve water quality and quantity dilemmas. House-
hold incentives and educational campaigns work to direct and influence behavior by teaching residents about their impact on
the water cycle and providing methods for them to reduce their impact, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, cisterns and other
residential improvements. The aim of these types of distributed projects is to enroll citizens into programs designed to con-
serve and capture stormwater through behavioral changes. In Los Angeles, for example, rainwater harvesting strategies are
directed toward enhancing water resources through approaches that reorient individual water-use practices toward behaviors
that maintain water reliability and achieve water quality and quantity goals. Enrolling citizens for enhanced water governance
is based on the categorization and quantification of urban residential water-use in order to direct their consumer behavior and
form new types of citizen responsibilities (Cousins, 2017d). Similarly, in Barcelona, subsidies incentivize home-owners to
install rainwater systems and other forms of decentralized and user-led approaches geared toward developing alternative water
supply sources (Domene, Saurí, & Parés, 2005; Vallès-Casas, March, & Saurí, 2016). These forms of alternative supply are
intended to exist side-by-side centralized approaches and require citizens to assume control for management and performance
of these systems, in addition to the burdens of maintenance (Saurí & Palau-rof, 2017). Yet attaining these goals will require
citizens to enroll themselves voluntarily into these programs.
Rainwater harvesting technologies, however, are also part of a larger set of green infrastructural practices reworking urban
environmental citizenship. These may entail municipal or state efforts directed at flood control, water quality, or water supply.
Green alley programs, for example, may require residents to monitor and care for green infrastructure (Newell et al., 2013). In
these cases, residents are enrolled in the maintenance of green technologies, which require new forms of environmental
engagement by citizens through their everyday practices and experiences (Broto & Bulkeley, 2013). Changing patterns of
responsibility, however, can also be reflected in broader shifts in the relationships between citizens, politics, technology and
nature in the city. Karvonen, for example, shows how urban ecological citizenship emerges through individual maintenance of
and engagement with green infrastructure (Karvonen, 2010, 2011; Karvonen & Yocom, 2011). The outcome is a more politi-
cally engaged citizen capable of enacting alternative relations between humans and the biophysical world.
Urban civil society, however, is not experienced equally. Many barriers and concerns over equity and justice exist in tran-
sitioning to the water sensitive city, including uneven exposure to environmental risks (Ranganathan, 2015). Such barriers
may include political disenfranchisement, financial constraints toward installing new landscapes or technologies for rainwater
capture, labor and time costs associated with maintenance and upkeep, or access to formal mechanisms for rainwater capture
and decision-making. In some cases, efforts to participate through residential behavior changes may reflect the class of people
who can participate more than it does a fundamental transition in how water is managed in the city (Button, 2017b). While the
benefits of green infrastructure and rainwater harvesting are often hailed as mechanisms for addressing equity and justice
issues, such as flood control, greater procedural justice, and improved access to green space, considerable equity issues remain
in terms of individual responsibilities in driving collective changes. Educational and outreach campaigns based on increasing
information and new technologies, for example, have been shown to have little influence on behavior (Schultz, 2002) but
encroach upon domestic life by conditioning residential environments and behaviors (Brand, 2007).
Cities are increasingly viewing stormwater as a resource instead of a hazard or nuisance. This shift is rooted in political and
regulatory goals to develop alternative water supplies, find new flood control solutions, and resolve water quality problems. In
other words, controlling the volume of stormwater flowing through cities is related to political aims to solve water quality and
quantity dilemmas. Achieving these goals also entails overcoming a broader set of governance issues, including negotiating
diverse perspectives on institutional and infrastructural interventions, mismatches between political and jurisdictional bound-
aries, developing financial mechanisms, and integrating fragmented governance structures (Cousins, 2017a; Porse, 2013;
Rijke, Farrelly, Brown, & Zevenbergen, 2013). Reframing stormwater as a resource, however, is premised on the logic that it
can assemble the fragmented structures of stormwater governance and shape more sustainable forms of management by treat-
ing it universally as a resource (Cousins, 2017d; MacDonald, 2010; Roy et al., 2008). This shift in governance is situated
within a broader move toward decentralization and the neoliberalization of water and infrastructure that privileges multi-
functionality and flexibility (Chaffin et al., 2016; Hansen & Pauleit, 2014; Lane et al., 2017).
In this article, I identified a set of practices involved in remaking stormwater as a resource. They include technical prac-
tices involved in developing and supporting green infrastructure, legal practices that redefine and regulate stormwater flows,
and behavioral changes aimed at creating new forms of citizenship. Green infrastructure works as a technology that performs
political work by fixing particular ideas and meanings of how urban ecologies should function in a particular time and place.
While green infrastructure offers important social-ecological benefits by restoring and revitalizing urban ecological functions,
its implementation can also unevenly link together different sets of people, political programs, and institutional ideologies that
reinforce particular ideologies or interests over others (Finewood, 2016; Hecht, 2009; Rogers & Crow-Miller, 2017). Legal
and regulatory practices are also enrolled in building stormwater as a resource by directing liability of water quality measures
but also by establishing the types of interventions that can be taken to capture stormwater and shape its value. Aims to incen-
tivize behavioral changes, whether through household labor or maintenance of green infrastructure, become part of the
resource assemblage by creating new forms of citizenship that arise through active participation and interaction with water
(Buijs et al., 2016; Karvonen, 2011; Mattijssen, Buijs, Elands, & Arts, 2017; Usher, 2018). These practices help reveal how
stormwater becomes a resource by assembling a diverse set of actors who have discursively redefined stormwater through
legal and bureaucratic mechanisms, calculated and inscribed the benefits of green infrastructure, harvested rainwater, or con-
structed various forms of infrastructure that organize the flow of stormwater. Collectively, these actions help construct storm-
water as a resource capable of resolving water quality and quantity deficiencies.
Much remains at stake, however, as the relationship between water, technology, and cities continues to shift in response to
global environmental changes and to new forms of governance and institutions. An important part of this urban governance
transition formulates through efforts to build smart and resilient cities (Derickson, 2017). Resources, such as water, are an
important component of these trends in urban environmental governance as they shape and scope what counts as politics and
the type of political trajectories possible (Huber, 2018). Efforts to manage, control, and govern stormwater as a resource
appeal to normative visions of sustainability and urban greening, which have the potential to mask, depoliticize, and reinforce
the technocratic structures of stormwater governance if poorly implemented (Cousins, 2017c; Finewood & Holifield, 2015).
Assembling stormwater as a resource, however, is not a uniform process. Instead, it is a heterogeneous and uneven course of
action that enrolls a diversity of sociotechnical and socionatural components—often with competing uses and users—into
political agendas to build smart, resilient, and sustainable cities. Pursuing these political questions will require sustained
engagement with the material politics of water and infrastructure, as well as the political economy of resource access and
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The author has declared no conflicts of interest for this article.
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How to cite this article: Cousins JJ. Remaking stormwater as a resource: Technology, law, and citizenship. WIREs
Water. 2018;e1300. https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1300
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