Feb 07, 2007

Why We Manage

There are several good reasons why managing storm water runoff, particularly on active construction sites, makes sense. First, from a purely resource-management standpoint, allowing storm water to remove the native soil material is not good form. Soil is a vital component of our built environment, and when we lose it to streams and rivers, it’s not coming back. When you consider that it may take 100 years or more to create 1 in. of topsoil, we simply do not have that kind of time to wait for soils to regenerate. Furthermore, when we lose the soil, we lose the ability to use it for construction, revegetation and landscaping purposes, where it does the most good.

Although thinking of soil as a resource and recognizing its ecological importance for our projects is, in my mind, the ultimate and single-best reason to practice sound storm water management, this mindset unfortunately does not pervade the majority of design and construction professionals. What does make soil important to them is the fact that if it runs off the site, they can be fined or shut down, not to mention getting coverage in the press. This is the compliance mindset. We manage the soil resource because it’s the law. It is the second and most common reason for storm water management. As I travel around the country, I see more and more construction sites that are implementing best management practices to manage storm water runoff, and that’s encouraging.

One of the goals of the International Erosion Control Association’s Economic Research Committee is to examine the costs and benefits of erosion control. Once we can demonstrate that money is saved by not having to address erosion-related problems, there becomes another reason to manage storm water during the construction process—the economic reason, i.e., it’s good for business. If the economics were well understood and articulated, storm water runoff management, I believe, would flourish worldwide, regardless of the regulatory environment. Therefore, the third reason for sound storm water management could, or should, be because it makes good business sense.

Not all parts of the country experience the same level of regulatory enforcement. Where enforcement is lax, infrequent or perhaps even nonexistent, it follows that storm water management may not receive the effort it does in areas of more active regulatory enforcement. If the inspectors are not there, then it’s easy to think no one’s watching. That is a risky attitude to take—do not underestimate your neighbors.

The fourth reason for storm water management is perhaps one of the most important to embrace. If you anger your neighbors with muddy-water discharges to adjacent streams, sediment deposits on streets, in yards or in ponds, or dust blowing into nearby homes, the consequences may be severe.

Today’s neighbor may know more about the law than you do. If nothing else, they are much less tolerant of construction impacts, like mud on the streets that gets on their shiny cars. They also are not afraid to go to the authorities to correct the situation. So, reason number four should compel everyone to properly manage storm water, regardless of the enforcement environment. If you can keep your neighbors happy, you’re probably going to keep the regulators happy, too.

About the author

Ben Northcutt is executive
director for the
International Erosion
Control Association.
He can be reached at
[email protected].