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The Natural Infrastructure for Aquifer Recharge Financial Calculator, is an excel based tool with a flexible financial model that estimates the private costs and benefits, including the return on investment (ROI), of natural infrastructure interventions designed to enhance aquifer recharge. The technical note explains the methods, data and assumptions used to produce the tool.

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Green infrastructure like forests, wetlands and coral reefs can help traditional “gray infrastructure” perform better. Yet, green-gray infrastructure projects remain relatively niche, mainly because of persistent myths about their costs and feasibility.

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The decisions each country, business and investor makes today will directly impact global climate and development goals. Do it right and we can feed 9 billion people, provide clean electricity for all and grow the economy while protecting the environment.

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Making our infrastructure cleaner and more sustainable could add as little as 5 percent to upfront costs, which could be fully offset by lower operating costs. WRI Board member and former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón reveals four ways to unlock capital for low-carbon infrastructure.

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Securing clean water is becoming increasingly difficult in the United States. Infrastructure like dams and treatment plants are aging, water demand is increasing, and more frequent extreme weather events like wildfires and flooding are driving up the cost of water management.

It’s a complex problem, but one of the potential solutions is decidedly low-tech: Invest in nature.

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This post was co-written with James Mulligan, Executive Director at Green Community Ventures.

Natural ecosystems provide essential services for our communities. Forests and wetlands, for example, filter the water we drink, protect neighborhoods from floods and droughts, and shade aquatic habitat for fish populations.

While nature provides this “green infrastructure,” water utilities and other decision-makers often attempt to replicate these services with concrete-and-steel “gray infrastructure”—usually at a much greater cost. Particularly where the equivalent natural ecosystems are degraded, we build filtration plants to clean water, reservoirs to regulate water flow, and mechanical chillers to protect fish from increasing stream temperatures. And even though healthy ecosystems can reduce the operational costs of these structures, investing in restoring or enhancing various types of green infrastructure is rarely pursued—either as a substitute for or complement to gray infrastructure.

Despite America’s history of reliance on gray infrastructure, now is a critical time to tip the scales in favor of a green infrastructure approach to water-resource management. Investing in the conservation and improved management of natural ecosystems to secure and protect water systems can keep costs down and create jobs. Green infrastructure can also provide a suite of co-benefits for the air we breathe, the places we play, the wildlife we share our landscapes with, and the climate we live in.

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Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

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Since January 2005, the Green Power Market Development Group has implemented or signed contracts for 185 megawatts (MW) of new green power projects and purchases – enough to power approximately 55,000 homes.

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