Aug 17, 2020

Looking Forward: Storm Water Reflections & Projections

This article originally appeared in SWS August 2020 as "Industry Reflections" 

storm water solutions

Looking Forward

In this issue, we are recognizing and celebrating the 15th anniversary of Storm Water Solutions. For the past 15 years, we have been working hard to bring you the most relevant news and trends regarding the storm water and erosion control industries. However, this is not about us, it is about the industry and where it is heading.

In honor of SWS’s 15th anniversary, we asked associations to reflect on how the industry has grown over the past 15 years and where it is headed in the next 15 and beyond. 


Plotting a Future Course for Storm Water 

Reflecting on the progress we have made during the last 15 years of storm water management effort gives us reason to celebrate a great deal of success, while simultaneously allowing us to plot a course into the future that runs through the core of the complex challenges that remain. Our membership recognizes that many substantial technical, policy and financial hurdles remain in the field of storm water management that will require another 15 years or more to address.

Whether we are talking green or gray, it should come as no surprise that one of our largest—not to mention costly—challenges ahead will be enforcing and funding BMP maintenance. To date, we have done a terrible job of maintaining our installed BMPs, and once we prioritize doing so, there will be a substantial price tag just to restore our existing inventory. As such, we expect life cycle cost to become a larger driver of BMP selection in the years ahead, but much more research is needed on all types of BMPs to establish the cost data we need to do so confidently. 

In the years ahead, we also expect to see an expanded focus on more challenging storm water pollutants, such as nitrogen, bacteria and chlorides. It is hard to predict exactly what form innovation will take, but it does not seem unrealistic to expect a move beyond passive technology to occur in order to target more complex pollutants. 

Last but not least, it is our hope as an organization of storm water professionals that the next 15 years will result in a shift away from prescriptive storm water policies that favor a subset of BMPs. Instead we hope to adopt performance-based standards in combination with robust and consistent BMP evaluation to demonstrate performance. Doing so encourages innovation and ensures we have the most diverse toolbox of proven storm water solutions whether they be green, gray or otherwise. - Derek Berg, president

National Municipal Stormwater Alliance 

Storm Water: Where We Have Been and Where We Will Go in the Future

Storm water is a toddler—a sector that is just getting on its feet. Over the last 15 years, we have seen more communities and entities entering into the MS4 program. We have seen storm water utilities increase in number. We have seen the advent of new technologies and approaches. We have seen new state and national groups (including the organization I represent, the National Municipal Stormwater Alliance, NMSA) form and flourish, and we have seen an increase in storm water conferences and other information platforms. 

With all of the developments in storm water, the evolution of the sector is just now starting. An example is the inclusion of storm water as a separate category in the upcoming (2021) American Society of Civil Engineering Infrastructure Report Card. This is a result of the efforts of the Water Environment Federation Stormwater Institute, with help from NMSA, to lead the first statistically significant survey of MS4 needs at the national level, providing the first estimated annual funding gap for the storm water sector. We will see more examples of storm water being seated at the table alongside other well-established infrastructure sectors. However, we will only see this if we continue to push for more efforts and investments in metadata about our own sector. How many miles of pipe exist in MS4 systems across the country? What are their conditions? What is the total amount of storm water infrastructure investments in the ground now? We have no idea today, but we will know this in the coming decade.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Storm water is quickly becoming a performance-based and data-driven sector. As Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” With new and evolving technologies—such as sensors and real-time control systems—and interest in alternative infrastructure implementation frameworks—such as performance-based contracts that leverage the strengths of the public and the private sectors—we will see storm water programs evolve in their capacity to convey and manage runoff more effectively and efficiently. 

We will also see expanded investments in storm water infrastructure for one simple reason—we have to. Most urbanized land in the U.S. was developed prior to the establishment of federal regulations focused on the management of storm water runoff. This means we will continue to see the impacts of urban runoff until we address these existing areas through retrofits. We will also continue to urbanize, which drives additional storm water infrastructure. Added to this are the pressures on water quality and quantity management systems associated with climate change. 

The last major shift we will see is a growing focus on “true” source control—the elimination of pollutants in our environment. Storm water programs will become more invested in “green chemistry” as the awareness of the impact of thousands of chemicals is having on our environment continues to grow and the appreciation of the countless interactions these chemicals have will become realized. - Seth Brown, executive director 

Center for Watershed Protection

Monitoring, Monitoring Everywhere, But What Have We Learned?

One of my first water quality monitoring projects took place in 1980 and continued for two years. It was part of the U.S. EPA-funded Nationwide Urban Runoff Project (NURP) and spanned 28 different municipalities across the nation. We learned some valuable facts about the nature of storm water pollution from this study with the main take away point being that non-point source pollution, in many cases, impacts receiving water bodies as much as, or more than, pollution from point sources. These findings laid the groundwork for the establishment of the National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permits for separate storm sewer systems (MS4) in the late 1990s. Why there was an almost 20-year gap between the NURP project was due to a combination of politics and the economy.

I managed the city of Baltimore, Maryland's, permit for almost two decades before coming to work for the Center for Watershed Protection, and I was thankful for the experience that NURP gave me. Other jurisdictions were not so fortunate, and some are still catching up, especially with respect to the monitoring that is required under the permits. While I am happy to see so much storm water monitoring going on today, one of the key issues that I have observed is that unlike NURP, MS4 monitoring often lacks clearly defined, uniform methods and goals at least at a regional, statewide or national level. That is not to insult the many jurisdictions who have robust monitoring programs and are using the data in a decision-making process. There needs to be a national platform where the information that we are gathering can be stored, analyzed and shared. We have established a National Stormwater Quality Database, but how many of you know that it exists? I am sure all of you support the funding of a national infrastructure bill. If one ever does come down the pike, hopefully there will be funding to reinvigorate the National Stormwater Quality Database, and it will not take 20 years to get here. - Bill Stack, deputy director of programs


Stewardship of Our Waters & Next Steps

The 1899 Clean Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act is when we knew we needed to be better stewards to our water sources. Unfortunately, it took until the 1970s for the problem to take front stage nationally and another 20 years for things to begin to change. Over the last 30 years, we have seen great advancement in the approach to, and the implementation of, the stewardship of our waters.

In 1990, the U.S. EPA issued the Phase I NPDES Permit for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) operators of large MS4s and in 1999, started the process of Phase II NPDES MS4 permitting. Low impact development and green infrastructure were introduced in 1993 to regulators and the regulated community. The EPA, in 1992, started requiring construction sites to be permitted under the first NPDES Permit. In 1995, they began requiring the same for industrial facilities. The advancements to planning, design, documentation and educational materials that apply to these areas have been incredible to witness; however, we need to make sure we do not lose sight of the fact we have only been at this for three decades.

Think about the history of bridge building and where that technology was after the first 30 years. Believe it or not, that is where we are. It is important to acknowledge our accomplishments and look back and see where you have come from, but it is even more imperative that we look forward and try to see what can be accomplished.

For me, I see the next step to be a more coordinated effort of all these disciplines being regulated by MS4s and overseen by the State DEQs and EPA: MS4s to shepherd the construction and industrial sites within their jurisdiction. I also foresee MS4s educating their citizenry and businesses on how to protect our waters and soil. These efforts will be ongoing and ever evolving with the advent of new technology, which combat the already known pollutants and issues. New pollutants and issues will be introduced into the equation, and new solutions will be required. No one knows where this effort will take us, but we all know we need to find a way to continue to improve the human condition while causing as little harm to the environment as possible. To say the least, the task we have taken on is not a simple one, but the balance must be achieved. - Tom Schneider, past president 

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