SWS’ 2021 Industry Icon Geoff Brosseau reflects on his career & the storm water industry
Geoff Brosseau, Storm Water Solutions’ 2021 Industry Icon, did not necessarily intend to have a career in storm water.
For the first 10 years of his career, he was a marine biologist. When he was 32, he dipped his toes into storm water working at a small firm in Palo Alto, California. This was right around the time storm water regulations were being implemented by the U.S. EPA, Brosseau said.
“I was kind of in the right place at the right time to get in on the ground flood of storm water management, storm water regulation and have been involved with it ever since,” he said.
Since then, Brosseau’s name has become synonymous with the storm water industry, especially in California.
“He’s the quintessential leader in the storm water industry,” said Jeff Endicott, vice president and director of engineering for CASC Engineering and Consulting, who nominated Brosseau. “And again, at the forefront, absolutely, at the forefront of everything that has been going on since at least the early 1990s."
Brosseau was the first executive director of the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) from 2004 through 2020, of which he was an early member when it was originally called the California Stormwater Quality Task Force. While working with the Task Force, Brosseau co-authored the 1993 and 2003 California Stormwater Best Management Practice handbooks for construction sites, industrial and commercial facilities and municipal operations. The handbooks have been republished several times.
Brosseau’s industry involvement expands beyond CASQA. He has served as the executive director of the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA) from 1994 to 2021, overseeing more than 150 projects and programs during that time, including eight state and federal grants. He worked with the State Water Resources Control Board on its development of the first storm water regulations and with local governments and businesses to help California comply with the NPDES mandates under the federal Clean Water Act, including helping to design and run Our Water, Our World and Clean Bay Business programs.
“I often tell people that everything ends up in storm water because storm drains are down below or in the gutter, and gravity still works, and things fall down into the ground,” he said. “They end up in storm water, so almost everything that happens in society, all of our behaviors and everything else that we do, eventually results in something going into storm water.”
Brosseau was also involved in the Nonpoint Sources Committee and the Pollution Prevention Committee of WEF – authoring the Monograph on Controlling Vehicle Facility Discharges; participated on two Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) study subcommittees on program effectiveness and environmental indicators; and he often participates in various national forums.
Additionally, Brosseau has been involved in strategic planning efforts between organizations developed to address the challenges facing storm water quality management. These efforts include the Brake Pad Partnership, a private-public effort to identify and prevent impacts to surface water quality of wear debris (dust) from vehicle brake pads. He has also worked on a pesticide-related toxicity reduction strategy and the Clean Estuary Partnership – a cooperative effort to develop total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).
And in 2019, Brosseau received the Dr. Teng-Chung Wu Pollution Prevention Award, which is issued by the California Water Board - San Francisco Bay Region, for his leadership in reducing storm water pollution throughout the state.
Scott Taylor, senior vice president for Michael Baker International, who met Brosseau through CASQA, calls Brosseau a “consensus builder,” and Endicott says in an industry where people are worried about the absolute, Brosseau is pragmatic and practical.
“He has a mantra. He says ‘do what you can where you can,’” Endicott said. “In other words, it’s better to do something than to do nothing. ‘Do what you can where you can’ kind of originated out of Start at the Source in that you don’t have to get everything down at the end of the pipe where things are expensive and often not cost effective.”
Endicott said instead, it is better to do a lot of source control at the watershed and keep pollutants out of the runoff, so one does not have the expense downstream, which is something he learned from Brosseau.
“[He has] a strong science foundation, knowing what is the state of science in terms of understanding what is in runoff of concern, where is it coming from, what can we do about it, so he was very strong science based but astute as to applying science to management action,” said Tom Mumley, assistant executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, who met Brosseau when he was a consultant.
In addition to his practicality, Endicott said Brosseau has a fortitude of “sticking things through,” citing his helpfulness in providing testimony to the EPA on the impact of pesticides in runoff, among other initiatives. Endicott, who credits Brosseau with contributing to storm water management being a professional vocation, said he does not just write one letter and call it a day. He follows through.
“I think the regulators count on it,” Endicott said. “They know when they hear from Geoff it’s important, and they know he has something to say.”
That rapport Brosseau has built with regulators is something he strived for throughout his career. When Brosseau reflects on where the industry was when he joined it, he recalls how CASQA, made up of city and county workers, would meet with regulators and environmental groups the second Friday of every month. Together, all three parties worked together to figure out how to deal with storm water, and Brosseau said it was a collaborative relationship rather than an adversarial one, which can happen.
“I remember being told in the 1990s by the regulators, they said ‘you all have now become our partners in this program,’ and that’s an important place to be, so don’t lose that position because you’ll have probably more influence as a result of being a partner as opposed to being an adversary,” Brosseau said.
When asked about the most pressing issues currently facing the storm water industry, Brosseau said funding comes to mind almost all the time. This is something, he said, that connects with educating the public.
“I do think it really goes back to getting to the public and talking to the public about why it’s an important resource and why it’s important to protect storm water,” he said. “And hopefully with that knowledge, the public would be more willing to support it and as a result, that politicians would be more willing to pass resolutions."
Brosseau said it’s hard for the public to understand what might be in storm water and that it is a resource and not waste.
“I sometimes say it’s too bad, obviously joking, that storm water doesn’t stink like waste because if it didn’t smell good, people would spend some money to make sure that they didn’t have to smell it anymore,” he said.
This appetite for educating the public is exemplified by Brosseau’s involvement with Our Water, Our World, a point-of-sale program that works to educate the public in nursery and hardware stores on using less-toxic pesticides in their homes and gardens. For Brosseau, seeing programs like this gives him more satisfaction than his personal accomplishments.
“That’s much more gratifying and satisfying,” he said. “To see these programs that I had some small part, to be involved with, or help run or design go on to be award-winning programs has been pretty gratifying to see that happen, to see these projects continue year after year after year.”
Looking to the Future
By Brosseau’s estimate, the storm water industry is a teenager.
“We have a lot more to learn still, particularly if you compare us [to], say, the wastewater industry, which has been around for close to 200 years now,” he said. “So, we’ve got a long ways to go in order to figure it all out.”
While industry successes might be few and far between, according to Brosseau, being able to sit with uncertainty yet understand that problems are being solved is rewarding to him.
“You have to be comfortable with storm water being a young discipline and be comfortable with uncertainty and not being sure exactly what you should do, but that also presents an opportunity to, in a sense, write your own ticket, kind of make your own way really, if you want to,” Brosseau said.
This was Brosseau’s action plan, he said. But to this day, he said there is still a lot of opportunity for cooperation and collaboration in the industry. Brosseau is now an advisor to the new CASQA executive director. Aside from that, he said he is looking for his next “gig.”
“Obviously, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve experienced a lot, and there’s still a lot to figure out in storm water, so I’m going to be looking for opportunities to help really kind of mature the discipline of storm water management,” he said.