Multi-benefit Projects

Communities are faced with competing priorities to invest in resilient infrastructure, natural resources, and ecosystems. How can we put funding to its best use to meet these diverse needs and create safe and sustainable communities?

Multi-benefit projects create many outcomes that are valued by diverse users, such as levees that reduce flood risk, improve water quality, and create habitat for fish and wildlife; or forest management projects that sequester carbon, improve watersheds, and reduce wildfire risk. Valuing and leveraging the multiple benefits these projects provide can enable better outcomes from each dollar for both people and nature.

The complexity of multiple benefits

Many infrastructure projects already face limited budgets, tight timelines, and procurement restrictions — and designing projects to have multiple benefits can also increase project cost and complexity.

A typical procurement process ties funding directly to project needs (such as planning or construction) rather than the achievement of defined project benefits (such as habitat or flood risk reduction). Single-purpose funding sources restrict which types of projects or even actions can be funded, and are often not sufficient to fund the entire project for a suite of benefits.

This process frequently requires leveraging several “buckets” of funding, each with their own restrictions and red tape. Coupled with rising construction and O&M costs, multiple agency mandates, and competing pressures for every acre of land; opportunities to create projects that include environmental and community benefits may be rejected out of the need to simply get projects done.

complexity of multiple benefits chart

Realigning funding with outcomes

Effectively implementing multi-benefit projects relies on both the method for raising funding and the method for allocating funding.

Project planners can raise funding from multiple sources by quantifying the variety of benefits a project can achieve. Then, using pay for performance, funding can be allocated to the achievement of specific project outcomes. This approach reduces the risk of public dollars being spent on projects that do not deliver their intended benefits.

Structuring and valuing benefits as tangible contract deliverables also opens the market up to private investors who can bring additional resources and ingenuity to deliver outcomes, overcome land acquisition barriers, and speed up project timelines. It is even possible to define benefits as “goods,” which can allow the contract to focus on those benefits rather than cost-reimbursable services.

realigning funding with outcomes chart

There are approximately $14 billion worth of flood projects planned for the Central Valley flood system alone over the coming years.  If projects like these are not fully valued for the suite of ecosystem and community benefits they can provide, they will fail to be implemented to maximize value. Across dozens of projects, this could be the difference between extinction and recovery for a species, or the need for future hard infrastructure projects verses creation of resilient inundated floodplain habitat.

Focusing on the benefits achieved from projects not only puts funding to its best and highest use, it can also build public trust and create compelling rationale for future funding requests. Navigating the complex state and federal funding landscape for multi-benefit projects is essential to ensure critical infrastructure continues to provide for our communities over decades. Pay for performance is one way to realign focus on achieving the many outcomes that really matter.