When traveling on business, Rick Stepien doesn’t mind a little ink on the fingers. The president of CONTECH Stormwater Solutions Inc. is constantly feeling the pulse of the storm water industry, which has him reaching for the local newspaper wherever he goes.
“I am amazed as I travel how many times I will find an article or even an ad by the local storm water district that is addressing storm water treatment,” he said. “It is really becoming mainstream.”
The storm water industry, however, still has a ways to go before it all becomes common knowledge. Stepien took some time to discuss the pressing issues with Storm Water 2006.
SW06: One of the topics that come up frequently is how to pay for storm water measures. Is funding a continual problem in the storm water industry?
Rick Stepien: You are starting to see more and more storm water utilities pop up. In fact, I live in a very small town outside of Cincinnati called Deerfield Township, and my wife called and told me she got a little flier in the mail saying there was a town meeting being held because they were discussing a new storm water utility fee that was going to be hitting our utility bill. And this is Ohio, which has not been the mainstay of the storm water industry. As we are starting to see these things in places like Ohio, I have a pretty strong confidence that the funding mechanisms are getting in place.
SW06: What new technology is ready to burst on the scene?
RS: What we see starting to take hold in so many places is filtration. One of the issues with different technologies is it takes quite a while for the technologies to be proofed out. It is one thing to test a technology in the lab to see what would happen, it’s another to get a real-life example when you are in the ground dealing with the pollutants and large storms. If you look at the filtration systems that are out there, they have now been out and in the ground for over 10 years, and that real-life data that you have now allows us to take that technology and apply it to so many different applications.
That’s one of the questions we are asking ourselves right now: What is going to be the next technology that is out there that will be commercially viable?
That’s the key. You hear a lot about bacteria—that is the next event, but with storm water you are talking about such quantities of water, how do you create a product that can handle the quantities of water that is economically justifiable?
SW06: Are there any other current hot-button issues in the storm water industry?
RS: The one thing I look at that is probably holding the industry back a bit is the world of regulations can be very confusing. Each state and municipality has its own method of analyzing and trying to specify different BMPs. It seems to me that there must be a better way. [Specific regions] have been putting some pretty rigorous standards in place that require both laboratory and field testing over a period of time, so it sets a level playing field, and the local regulators and engineering firms will know exactly what they are getting. I hope the industry evolves in that direction.
SW06: Is there still a serious need for education at the state, city and county levels?
RS: Oh, absolutely. I think it is one of the biggest issues that is holding back successful programs from actually being instituted more rapidly. Each one of these municipalities is required to create their own program, so we have different municipalities across the country starting from scratch trying to figure out exactly what to do.
SW06: So what do cities need to do to educate themselves?
RS: A company like ours, we have a number of regulatory specialists that are out in the field working with towns and counties to try to help create best practices. There are a number of websites, like stormwaterauthority.org, that have regulatory databases that municipalities can look at and see what is being done in other places. Right now, unfortunately, it is left up to the individual to try and create the network.