GIS Enabled Green Infrastructure Design Tool

EPA Grant Number: SU839286
Title: GIS Enabled Green Infrastructure Design Tool
Investigators: Graettinger, Andrew
Current Investigators: Graettinger, Andrew , Pitt, Robert E. , Blackwell, Aaron , Martin-Rodriguez, Arianna , Greer, Ashton , Khanam, Mariam , Elliott, Mark , May, Matthew-Lane , Swartz, Raegan , Smith, Randy , Cohen, Sagy
Institution: University of Alabama
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018
Project Amount: $13,909
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Sustainability , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment


Green infrastructure is a cost effective, resilient, and sustainable stormwater management approach that uses natural processes to reduce and treat stormwater. Rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, and vegetated swales are all examples of green infrastructure that deliver environmental benefits including water quality and habitat improvement. Many municipalities are investigating the use of green infrastructure as a solution for combined sewer overflows or otherwise underperforming stormwater infrastructure. Green Infrastructure also supports several of the goals outlined in the EPA Strategic Plan, such as protecting America’s waters, cleaning up communities, and advancing sustainable development (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2014).

Despite the benefits, local governments face barriers to implementing green infrastructure. These barriers include a lack of staff knowledge, a lack of resources, the perceptions of higher cost, the perceptions of a loss in performance, and conflicting codes and ordinances (EPA, 2016b). These barriers are particularly limiting in smaller towns and firms that already lack the capabilities to design and estimate costs, making it difficult for green solutions to compete with standard and well-known gray infrastructure. The current state-of-the-practice regarding green infrastructure design often involves hand calculations, which are time-consuming, resulting in a major challenge to sustainability. Implementation of green infrastructure is not always prioritized by local governments because of the effort required to compare cost and performance with traditional grey infrastructure.


The goal of this research project is to reduce the barriers to green infrastructure implementation by developing an open-source Geographic Information System (GIS) based decision support and design tool. The deliverable for Phase I of the project will be an opensource GIS based design framework and a pilot tool to design swales for small watersheds in urban environments. Additional green infrastructure design tools will be developed and included in the GIS based framework in Phase II.

The innovative aspects of this project include utilizing GIS as the primary tool for analyzing and designing green infrastructure, specifically vegetated swales, as well as providing preliminary cost estimates. The application will be user-friendly and will make innovative use of widely available elevation, land cover, and soil datasets. The project will also increase the knowledge base and awareness of green infrastructure, thereby enabling practitioners and municipalities to make informed decisions about sustainable designs.


The GIS-based design tool framework will prompt a user to select a potential location for green infrastructure and enter relevant design parameters. The tool will subsequently access open-source data such as elevation, land cover, and soil data and iteratively design green infrastructure options. The output of the tool will be a preliminary design, a cost estimate, and the estimated environmental benefit gained from the proposed green infrastructure.

The proposed project will address people, prosperity, and the planet through research activities and community outreach. This project addresses people by educating practitioners and local government officials about the performance, cost, and design process of green infrastructure. We hope that these tools will enable officials to make more knowledgeable decisions regarding the implementation of green infrastructure, thereby leading to an increase in green infrastructure construction. Green infrastructure is known to have positive water quality effects, impacting people and prosperity through public health and economic benefits. Water quality improvements will also benefit the planet by reducing contaminant concentrations in ecosystems and waterways.

Dr. Graettinger (PI) plans to implement educational components into multiple courses at The University of Alabama, highlighting green infrastructure as well as fostering use of the tool.

Expected Results:

Phase I efforts will focus on the open-source GIS based framework for green infrastructure and the development of a pilot tool for the design and analysis of vegetated swales. We will also give at least three presentations to local and state-level stakeholders. Written outputs will include the Phase I report to EPA and Phase II proposal, with journal publication to follow the completion of Phase I. While our long-term goals for this research include substantial water quality and health outcomes, measurable environmental changes are outside the scope of Phase I. However, education and outreach outcomes are planned for Phase I; we will present and disseminate the results of our project and future plans to at least 50 local stakeholders. During a possible Phase II, we plan on transitioning to a web based tool, beta testing, and expanding to other categories of green infrastructure.

Supplemental Keywords:

Pollution prevention, Open-source, GIS, Design tool

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report