IRIS advances the integration of natural and conventional infrastructure systems to strengthen society’s long term resilience to flooding, sea level rise, drought and other disruptions. Through collaborative partnerships, interdisciplinary expertise and research innovations, we empower communities and businesses to discover wise infrastructure solutions that deliver a broad array of social, economic and environmental benefits.
Natural and conventional infrastructure working together for thriving communities, businesses and natural systems.
What is natural infrastructure
Infrastructure is more than roads and pipes; it is also everything from forests, which purify our drinking water, to river floodplains, which reduce damage to homes downstream during floods, to marshes, which protect coastlines from storms.
Natural infrastructure uses natural processes and ecosystem services to support engineering objectives, such as reducing flood damages or securing safe and ample water supplies. Examples of natural infrastructure include marshes and dunes that protect coastal property and infrastructure against storms and erosion, as well as forests and wetlands that reduce river flooding and purify water for downstream communities.
• performs engineering function(s) / service(s)
• includes natural systems such as forests, floodplains, riparian areas, streams, wetlands, reefs, living shorelines, dunes, among others
• includes “natural and nature-based features”, often combined in a system
• includes conserved, created, enhanced, and restored features and systems
• can complement and be strategically combined with conventional “gray” infrastructure
• produces an array of social, environmental, and economic benefits
Natural infrastructure can play a critical role in enhancing the resilience of human and ecological systems in a changing operating environment (e.g., natural hazards and climate change). Evidence suggests that natural infrastructure approaches can be equally or more cost-effective than conventional structural approaches for flood risk reduction in some situations. Unlike conventional infrastructure, natural infrastructure often has the capacity to recover from extreme weather- and climate-related hazards and self-adjust to ongoing environmental changes.
What value does natural infrastructure provide?
Natural infrastructure can produce a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits, including:
· Reduced damages related to coastal and inland storms;
· Support for jobs related to fisheries, wildlife, food and fiber production, and tourism;
· Recreational opportunities and improved public health;
· Enhanced water and air quality, carbon storage; and
· Habitat for valued species.
Effective application of natural infrastructure also supports sustainable development by:
· Reducing risks to existing transportation, power, and water infrastructure systems while increasing their functional life span;
· Increasing regulatory efficiency through effective resolution and inclusion of environmental considerations;
· Enhancing resilience by incorporating natural recovery potential as a part of infrastructure systems; and
· Working together with conventional infrastructure to strengthen the overall infrastructure system.