Are LIDs Financially Sustainable in Ontario? Philadelphia Green Infrastructure Costs - 1100 Low Impact Development Projects Define Implementation Funding for Long Term CSO & Water Quality Improvement - Comparison with 24 Ontario Projects

Philadelphia Green Stormwater Infrastructure Projects Map - Over 1100
Low Impact Development Projects for CSO Control
See September 2019 Update at Bottom of This Post

Philadelphia has an extensive green infrastructure retrofit program with cost information - recent Ontario low impact development project costs show comparable unit cost for implementation.


The City of Philadelphia implements green infrastructure (GI), aka low impact development (LID) best practices (BMPs), to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs).  Having implemented 1100 features in a retrofit setting, Philadelphia has a clear understanding of retrofit implementation costs. The following is a summary of their green infrastructure design construction costs provided by the city program staff:

City of Philadelphia Green Infrastructure / Low Impact Development Best Management Practices - Construction, Design and Planning Budgets Per Total and Impervious Area

Construction Cost
- $175,000 per acre ($432,000 per hectare)
Philadelphia Green Infrastructure Map by SWP / LID Type 
- $270,000 per impervious acre ($667,000 per hectare)

Design Cost
- Design fees typically 20-25% of construction costs

Total Cost (Design & Construction)
Philadelphia Green Infrastructure Map - Spatial Location
of Low Impact Development Measure
- Total costs of $230,000 per acre ($568,000 per hectare)
- Total costs of $350,000 per impervious acre ($865,000 per hectare)

-  $350,000 per impervious acre ($865,000 per hectare) is the overall target/budget cost that is achieved for the program and that does not include contingencies that could be carried for individual projects within the program.
- If estimated costs exceed $400,000 per acre ($988,000 per hectare) based on design estimates and project cannot be re-scoped, it is deemed too expensive and does not go ahead.

In Ontario, green infrastructure has been promoted for stormwater management in new developments since the Ministry of Environment's 1991 Interim Guidelines. Green infrastructure measures were promoted as part of a 'source control' approach and features that promoted infiltration were called Best Management Practices (BMPs). Since then, Ontario cities have developed design targets for achieving specific water resources management goals and have implemented LID BMP measures in appropriate locations. In the City of Markham and York Region, his history was summarized in a National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative Stormwater Task Force presentation:

The presentation above summarized LID implementation costs for nine (9) recent Ontario projects including bioswales, bioretention, infiltration galleries and permeable pavement. Theses cost are receiving close attention as LID implementation targets in some regions have been increased, e.g., through the Lake Simcoe Protection Act to meet environmental protection / phosphorus reduction goals, and as generic province-wide targets are now being evaluated by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

Additional Ontario LID project implementation costs have been compiled with information shared by Ontario municipalities and also the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authorit. This expands/updates the project costs in slide 17 of the above presentation. These costs include construction, design, administration and in-kind staffing efforts related to implementation of LID projects in the City of Markham (2 projects), City of Brampton (1 project) Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville (1 project), City of Ottawa (2 projects), Town of Ajax (1 project), City of Mississauga (3 projects), Town of Newmarket (2 projects), City of London (7 projects), Town of East Gwillimbury (1 project), Town of Uxbridge (1 project), Town of Aurora (1 project), Town of Innisfil (1 project).

The project costs and unit costs per total catchment are are shown below:

green infrastructure construction cost Ontario low impact development implementation cost retrofit
Ontario Green Infrastructure / Low Impact Development Best Management Practice Implementation Costs (No Adjustment for Inflation to 2018 Dollars) - Normalized Unit Costs Per Catchment Area Managed
This is a link to the above compiled Ontario LID costs (let me know if you have projects to add or can suggest edits / updates): Excel - Ontario Low Impact Development BMP / Green Infrastructure Implementation Cost Summary - 24 Projects

The average cost per hectare of $575,000 for these 24 projects is very close to the City of Philadelphia budget cost of $568,000. Cost per impervious hectare treated by the LID BMP would typically be higher (i.e., catchment is less that 100% impervious). Some notes regarding the project costs:

- complete costs are not available for some projects (e.g., Markham Green Road bioswale vegetation)
- one service area has been adjusted based on different sources (e.g., East Gwillimbury area reflect municipality's project brief and not original TRIECA 2017 presentation value).
- one projects has only tender cost estimate available, not actual construction cost (e.g., Newmarket Forest Glenn Rd)
- one project from LSRCA was not included in the list as it did not proceed to construction, but nonetheless incurred design and administration costs (e.g., City of Barrie, Annadale Recreation Centre, design/administration/geotechnical/in-kind staff cost of over $78,000) - this may reflect go/no go decisions on implementation that the others also consider
- most projects are retrofits, however some are new builds (Markham Green Road, Innisfil Fire Station)
- bioswales/enhanced swales require review given the wide range in unit costs per hectare of $51,000 (Uxbridge) to nearly $1.9M (Newmarket), with obvious sensitivity to the drainage area served

Previous cost estimates cited on this blog considered unit costs of approximately $400,000 per hectare and significant concern regarding the financial viability of any widespread implementation across Ontario's 852,000 urbanized hectares. Considering the expanded project cost review and adjusting for inflation, today's Ontario green infrastructure implementation costs can be estimated to be in the order of $600,000 per hectare. This magnitude of cost is comparable to Philadelphia's budgeting cost, considering over 1100 projects. These costs support the concern related to emerging Ontario policies that have not considered implementation cost impacts or financial viability.

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) has recently highlighted concerns with the implementation of green infrastructure in Ontario in comments on Ontario's Long-Term Infrastructure Plan (my bold emphasis on the recommendations)

"....OSPE recommends that the Government of Ontario:

i. Critically apply the proposed ‘risk lens’ to infrastructure investments related to extreme
weather adaptation, recognizing variations in observed and predicted trends across the

ii. Evaluate adaptation measures such as green infrastructure for stormwater management,
often cited as key mitigation measure, using the same ‘risk lens’ and consider the cost-
effectiveness of those infrastructure investments.

iii. Recognize that green infrastructure must be viewed through the same lens as
conventional infrastructure, adhering to established asset management principles and
full cost accounting—meaning it must be addressed up-front and directly, considering
system-wide costs."

OSPE has also commented on the limited role of green infrastructure for flood control and life cycle cost concerns in response to Ontario's draft Watershed Planning Guidance.


Green infrastructure LID implementation costs should be acknowledged to be potentially higher
than conventional grey infrastructure design, particularly for retrofits, and funding for additional
incremental retrofit costs should be considered in the comprehensive evaluation of alternative
management solutions beside green infrastructure and LIDs, including enhanced conventional
grey infrastructure designs with pollution prevention activities. Higher retrofit costs compared to
greenfield implementation should also be acknowledged.

Consideration for disproportionate costs should be acknowledged as a prohibitive constraint in
general and for linear development retrofits or widespread watershed implementation. A more
strategic approach to green infrastructure implementation, based on local needs and
considering local constraints (infiltration impacts and property flooding) is warranted."


The additional lifecycle cost associated with green infrastructure should be acknowledged to
support budgeting for long term operation, maintenance and depreciation.

The cost impacts of green infrastructure in existing communities should also be quantified
including costs in communities that are susceptible to infiltration stresses and sewer back-up
risks, additional treatment costs as infiltrated water is collected in foundation drains and
conveyed to treatment plants and cost of reduced service life of cast iron and ductile iron
watermains due to chloride infiltration in right-of-ways (i.e., accelerated corrosion). Such a
robust and holistic economic analysis can then support more strategic, financially sustainable
implementation policies for green infrastructure."

Let's work toward this sustainable implementation policies for all infrastructure - including green infrastructure - considering costs and strategic goals and specific performance outcomes. Low impact development implementation costs in the order of $600,000 per hectare, as shown through local and other jurisdictions, are simply not sustainable on a broad, system-wide basis.



September 2019 Update

Additional projects have been reviewed in Ontario and a couple have been added from Edmonton, Alberta.  The resulting average cost per hectare (area-weighted) is $581,000.  The following table presents a summary of cost per LID type (porous/permeable pavement, rain garden/bioletention, bioswale and infiltration/exfiltration).

The Ontario/Alberta costs now represent almost 8 hectares of catchment area, close to the EPA BMP database catchment area for projects with costs data (middle column).  Note that the Ontario/Alberta project costs may include several types of LID types in the treatment train.