Stormwater Management Now

April 3, 2000
Unfunded mandates. Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) alleged to be based on “sketchy” science. Shared responsibility. These are some of the issues with which stormwater managers and experts deal as the industry moves forward in the 21st century.In every region across the country, people dedicate their working lives to stormwater management. Some are seasoned veterans, and others are fresh out of college, but they all share a common goal: the stewardship of water quality in the United States. We spoke with several to find out their concerns and priorities, what their programs have accomplished, and where they’re headed. Five people from different parts of the country weigh in on funding issues, the sometimes tenuous connection with the public whom their programs are serving, the use of consultants, the effectiveness of various best management practices, and more. Matt Kras is the stormwater engineer for Valparaiso, IN, one of the earlier communities to adopt a stormwater utility in the late 1990s. Kras has been on board with Valparaiso for nearly three years as the town’s lead person on the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II program since graduating from Purdue University, where he studied environmental engineering.In California, Matt Yeager serves as the stormwater program manager for the San Bernardino County Flood Control District. He has a counterpart who works as a stormwater program manager for the county as its own entity, separate from the district. Yeager began researching stormwater as a student in 1998 and has worked in the field for the past five years as he wraps up doctoral studies in environmental science engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles. The Flood Control District is the principal permittee for a group of 16 cities plus the county–which is separate from the district–and as such, had been issued an NPDES Phase I permit in 1990 that has been twice renewed by the state. Yeager’s duties are to monitor the cities, organize management committee meetings, coordinate reporting, and serve a liaison role with regulatory authorities, such as the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.In Worcester, MA, Joe Buckley is the assistant director of sewer operations and a former stormwater manager for the Department of Public Works. He had worked with water-quality issues from a health department perspective before becoming Worcester’s stormwater manager. Buckley notes that in much of New England, stormwater management is still looked at as an unfunded mandate. He adds that Massachusetts is an undelegated state, so each city and town must have its own stormwater management program and can’t get into a co-permit type of structure.Pat Collins is a former president of the Florida Association of Stormwater Utilities–now the Florida Stormwater Association–and has worked as a city engineer for the City of Venice, FL; served as a consultant for AMEC Earth & Environmental in Knoxville, TN; and worked in private consulting. He now serves as the city engineer for North Port, FL. He also has worked for Sarasota County, FL, and throughout his career as an engineer, he has always focused his efforts on drainage and stormwater. He started out of college designing infrastructure, sizing pipes and stormwater ponds, doing stormwater modeling, and getting permits from Florida’s water management districts.“Florida has always been one of the most progressive states in stormwater management, so throughout my career, I’ve either been on the design or regulatory side, working for some type of agency somewhere. My specialty is stormwater,” Collins says.North Port is a Phase I community, designated as such in 1994 when the state had not yet been delegated an NPDES authority and the Atlanta region was allowed to designate as Phase I municipalities that didn’t meet the 100,000 threshold. Atlanta EPA officials decided, because of the inter-relationship between cities in a county government such as Sarasota County, that North Port–with its drainage and conveyance system integrated into the county system–met the threshold for a Phase I city. North Port’s permit was one of the first issued by an EPA region in the state of Florida.Damon Diessner is the assistant utilities director for the Environment Division in the city of Bellevue, WA. He is active in the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies and speaks and publishes on stormwater issues. Bellevue was one of the first in the United States to have a stormwater utility to fund its program. Diessner started with the city more than 30 years ago when the utility was being formulated. “Since then, I’ve been able to work on a lot of exciting projects, like some of the research that was done as part of the national urban runoff project in the late 1970s. I worked on some of the first protection area ordinance laws in the state of Washington and nationally. In the 1980s and 1990s, more research verified what changes some of the management practices we had put into place had achieved,” Diessner says. “Now we are moving on in a time where it is very exciting–it’s not just water quantity and quality, but now we are dealing here in the Northwest with the Endangered Species Act and salmon recovery.”Bellevue is a Phase II city, based on its population. “We first applied for an NPDES permit in 1986, and we have been trying to get one ever since,” says Diessner. “We believe the Bellevue program certainly meets the intent of the Clean Water Act, and we’re very confident when we get to the point where the state has caught up with dealing with Phase I and implementing Phase II that we will get a permit and it will all go well.”During the early stages of its stormwater management program, Bellevue chose to keep its stream system open and tried to protect natural areas of wetlands and floodplains before there were national and state requirements to do so. “As a result, we still have salmon spawning through the center of our city, which is unique,” Diessner says. “It’s a delicate resource and one we are having problems with across the entire Pacific Northwest. It’s a very interesting challenge we are trying to meet today in order to figure out how we manage urban stormwater and still achieve a quality environment that allows for sustainable fish runs.”Paying for the Program
One of the most crucial issues in stormwater management these days is funding. Most stormwater managers say there is still resentment that NPDES is an “unfunded mandate.”
Diessner, who has published on funding issues, says getting money to fund programs is becoming more difficult at all levels of government. “There is a lot of pressure put on our resources, more so today than ever, when we remember our stormwater environmental programs are competing against the growing need for human services, health care, and transportation needs,” he says. “The Clean Water Act is now getting around to requiring smaller cities to implement the kinds of programs Bellevue started in the 1970s,” he notes. “There is no revenue stream in terms of seeking state and federal help to do these kinds of things. And frankly, it seems to be the states and feds are looking to help these much smaller jurisdictions before they help the more advanced jurisdictions in the larger cities and those who have been working stormwater management for quite some time.” Many communities have responded to the funding challenges by either adopting a stormwater utility or seeking some other form of dedicated revenue. For example, the permittees in San Bernardino’s Flood Control District are signatories to an implementation agreement executed in 1992 and based on a cost share formula, which includes factors such as the number of impervious surfaces and land-use types. The cities are contributing from their general funds, and while none of the permittees is considering a stormwater utility, there have been discussions of assessing developers’ fees. Funding issues will be more critical as the program moves toward more intense project approval review for stormwater best management practices (BMPs), which will require more staff time and expertise.Because Valparaiso adopted a stormwater utility in the late 1990s, the city has been able to get a steady stream of revenue from which to finance its projects. The stormwater fee is assessed on homeowners’ water bills and varies according to the property type–single-family, multiresidential, or commercial buildings–and is dependent on a site’s impervious area. Residents were receptive to it because it was presented in such a way that they understood how it would be used. “The city engineer at the time spent a lot of time addressing what kind of problems we had and what projects the fee was going to address, so when it actually came to the city council to be passed, there weren’t a lot of arguments from the citizens,” Kras says. Those communities without a stormwater utility are working diligently to come up with ways to finance programs. North Port has for years avoided making substantial drainage improvements, and the funds are needed for them, Collins notes. North Port officials are considering a stormwater utility. Additionally, one of the city commissioners teamed up with a lobbyist in the state’s capital to obtain additional funding, and Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush has allocated funding for the upcoming budget year to develop a master plan for North Port and help the city get a stable funding source, such as a stormwater utility, to maintain the program. “We need that stable funding source so that whatever our program is, we can sustain it,” Collins says. Buckley says Worcester talked about a stormwater utility at one time, but currently the program is financed through a rate structure–a portion of the sewer-user fee, based on 100 cubic feet of wastewater transported, which goes to fund the stormwater management program. Talking to the Public About Water Quality
In order for a community to address–and pay for–stormwater issues, members of the community must be aware those issues exist. Most stormwater experts believe NPDES Phase II has increased the general awareness of stormwater in their region, though some, like the Phase II community of Valparaiso, initiated a stormwater program long before the advent of Phase II.
“The reason we were so proactive was because it was a concern for the people in the city,” says Kras, adding that city officials had the foresight to realize water quality was becoming an increasingly critical issue.Funding stormwater projects was another factor in the city’s proactive stance, Kras says. Before the utility, drainage projects were often piggybacked onto road or other types of projects. Drainage became a crucial issue after the region experienced a series of moderate-sized rainstorms and residents complained of flooding problems.Collins believes wholeheartedly that Phase II has increased the general awareness of stormwater issues. “In many parts of the country that previously weren’t as sophisticated as Florida–California, Maryland, and the state of Washington–it was a real eye-opener for a lot of folks to even consider water quality,” he says.Buckley, too, believes Phase II has brought about greater awareness of stormwater issues in his region. “But there is no state entity to run roughshod on the whole thing, and every community handles it a little differently,” he says. “Some towns may embrace it wholeheartedly; others are gong to fight it. Because there is no money involved and they have to pay for it all out of pocket, there’s some that are not willing to do it.” He notes that Massachusetts is one of the more progressive states with respect to stormwater management in some ways, but not so in others. “We have local conservation commissions that enforce the Wetlands Protection Act for the state,” he says. “The act is written in such a way that a community can upgrade that bylaw, so we have our own wetlands protection act on top of that.”For instance, a structure cannot be built without making provisions for protecting a catch basin, and if the structure is within 100 feet of a storm drain, that storm drain must be protected from silt and other matter.“A commission also reviews new and rehabilitated designs. If you are going to put a subdivision in or knock down a bunch of old buildings and rehab the area, the commission would sign off on the stormwater management plan and the erosion controls,” Buckley says.He says the commission in Worcester is relatively conservative and follows the guidelines listed in the Massachusetts stormwater policy. “The problem with the policy is it is just that–a policy, not a state ordinance.” But because the commission strictly adheres to the policy’s design criteria, ready-made stormwater-quality units such as Downstream Defender and Vortechs are going in ground “because you have to meet so much groundwater recharge, so much TSS [total suspended solids] removal,” Buckley says, adding that many of these units have been in the ground for only about five years, so there hasn’t been enough experience with the technology to make an observation on long-term performance.“Our biggest concern is being able to clean them properly, to make sure there is proper access for a vacuum truck or a catch basin cleaning machine,” he says.On the other side of the country, however, Diessner is not convinced that Phase II in itself has been responsible for increasing the awareness of stormwater issues. “I think there has been a natural progression of understanding about stormwater management as more communities have gotten into it and as people have seen how their environment and quality of life has degraded over time from urbanization. As a result, they have demanded local government take on these problems,” he says. “How much of that change has been due to Phase II? At this point, I would say very little. If you check across the United States, you’d find that there are many thousands of small communities that have not heard of a Phase II NPDES program.”For municipal officials working under Phase II permits, of course, one of the measures required is public education. Several stormwater managers note that public awareness is increasing, but it’s a slow process. San Bernardino’s well-funded education program includes such outreach methods as radio and newspaper advertising and community events. Telephone surveys reveal that stormwater awareness has increased, though Yeager believes much work still needs to be done. “I still see a lot of people throwing cigarette butts out and there’s trash all over the place, so as far as awareness, there’s still a long way to go,” he says.One of the challenges is communication. There is a lot of immigration to the area, and although Yeager says the district is providing bilingual outreach efforts, it will still take time until those new to the area will get the message about water quality from different sources of information.In Bellevue, residents have become accustomed over the years to paying for stormwater management, but in surveys, people have indicated they want to pay less and get more, Diessner says. “On one hand, we have folks who want us to do even more in preserving wetlands, open space, and fish and enhancing water quality, and on the other hand, they feel their utility rates are pretty high.” But attitudes have improved steadily over the past three decades. “If you compare this population to some other parts of the country, I think people here are much more aware of how the stormwater system works, the eventual impact of using pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and washing your car in the street and having it go down the storm drain and into the streams,” Diessner says. “On the other hand, this is a growing region and we have new people coming in all the time, so there have always been opportunities for more education here as long as I’ve worked here.”Buckley says Worcester started a public education process before getting its stormwater permit. The city applied for a permit in the early 1990s and didn’t enter into permit discussions with the EPA Region 1 until the summer of 1998. “At that time, there were only two communities in all of Region 1 that were captured under the Phase I permitting process. One was Worcester and the other was Boston,” he explains.Worcester’s public education campaign included distributing flyers and posting signs on waterways in an effort to get residents to make a “connection” with those water bodies. Storm drain stencils have also been used. “Stenciling has helped a little bit, but there is always the person out there who gets mad when you tell them they can’t put something in the drains,” Buckley says.The city also is engaged in an educational effort that begins in kindergarten and runs through the graduate level of the area’s colleges. Additionally, the city puts out a quarterly newsletter that includes discussion of stormwater issues, and it sponsors a household hazardous-waste day during which, free of charge, it will take oil or any other household chemicals. Vigilance about pet waste and oil is the major public education issue, Buckley notes. Information is sent to all dog-license holders about how to properly dispose of pet waste.Valparaiso has teamed up with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPL) to develop a three-county-wide educational format, which includes radio and billboard advertising. The council also plans public meetings to educate homeowners on stormwater runoff, BMPs, and why they should care about stormwater management and water quality. A stormwater advisory council with representatives from builders, public educators, and industry, among other sectors, meets quarterly to discuss water-quality issues and how to increase awareness within the community. The city also is doing storm stenciling on the city’s north side to address where the water is going.“We require builders to submit drainage plans for new development, showing what erosion control measures they’ll have and how they’ll address the stormwater runoff,” Kras says.Kras also is performing water-quality monitoring in three of Valparaiso’s receiving waters in conjunction with the city’s wastewater treatment plant and Valparaiso University. On an annual basis, university students conduct biological monitoring, with the wastewater treatment plant doing chemical monitoring. Kras has assessed the data to get a baseline characterization of where the water in the creeks has gone bad. He says he hopes to increase the frequency of the analysis in the future as to address needed changes more quickly. The city and the NIRPL also work with schools to incorporate water-quality issues into the curriculum. Kras believes all of the educational efforts are having a positive effect; water-quality monitoring is yielding good results.Reaching the development community as well as the general public is important. Valparaiso has conducted a grant-funded stormwater-quality management demonstration project at the county jail, designing BMPs at the site, including rain gardens, vegetated swales, underground storage, and grass pavers for parking lots. “Developers and builders can incorporate these into new development,” Kras says.When it comes to educational issues, Collins borrows a phrase from former colleagues: “You have to have a compelling case. If you don’t have a compelling case, the local citizens aren’t going to support the plan.” Education is key to making that case, Collins says. He’s taken his case before members of the local chamber of commerce by challenging community members to help him in the cause of stormwater issues. He’s also writing a column for the local newspaper that will help him highlight stormwater issues. Total Maximum Daily Loads
With an estimated 40% to 45% of the nation’s waters classified as “impaired,” TMDLs are on the radar for many stormwater programs. Water-quality concerns can sometimes be overshadowed by the unmet flooding and drainage problems a community is experiencing.
“We have to catch up with the rest of the state with our flood control issues, and then we also need to advance our local program so we can catch up with the rest of the folks who have been out there talking about TMDLs by developing a regional plan,” says Collins. “We have about $300 million worth of improvements that need to be done here, and probably $90 million of that is stormwater. This community is so far behind where the rest of the nation is with TMDLs because it hasn’t made all of the improvements needed for flood control.”Yeager says there are two TMDLs in his region. One is a sediment TMDL at Big Bear Lake, where the US Army Corps of Engineers is involved with modeling and local agencies are preparing a report for water-quality objectives. “The sediment is a natural phenomenon,” Yeager says. “Since it is a manmade lake, it will fill up with sediment and become a meadow at some point in the future. They are going to have to develop some sort of a dredging program if they want to keep it open long-term.”The other TMDL is a pathogen indicator impairment on Reach 3 and Reach 4 of the Santa Ana River. “It’s probably a year out before we have something to implement,” Yeager says. “The implementation will initially be only a monitoring plan. The problem is that for pathogens, there isn’t a list of effective BMPs we know of that will do the job. It’s a very difficult one.” Buckley believes the state has “dropped the ball” on dealing with TMDLs properly in his region. “In a lot of ways, they used a lot of old data,” he says. “The TMDLs were released for a couple of waterways here in the city, and they’ve been used effectively and are properly writing 319 grants, but I wasn’t entirely happy that the state used a good scientific basis when putting them together.” Diessner says Bellevue has worked to “try to do a TMDL without doing a TMDL.“We’ve worked to achieve the goals that one would have,” he explains. “For instance, instead of doing a beneficial use attainment assessment on the lake system, a number of jurisdictions got together and did a lake management plan. As a result, we came up with loading that seemed to make sense for phosphorus–which was a pollutant concern–in terms of the beneficial use of fishing and recreation.” All of the jurisdictions are trying to implement the plan, and while Diessner concedes he’s not an attorney, he says the approach is similar to that of a TMDL.“The concern I have about TMDLs in general across the US is they tend to be based on standards that “˜just happen,'” Diessner says. “Many times, water-quality standards are not based on good science. There was pressure on EPA and then on the states to adopt surface-water-quality standards within a time frame before the research was done and the science in place to justify what those numbers might be. So we have some numbers in water-quality standards today in this country that really don’t make any sense or necessarily achieve the beneficial uses they were intended to achieve, and some of them are simply unattainable.” Nor do they need to be attained, he adds.Additionally, communities are not wholeheartedly buying into funding the measures necessary to achieve those beneficial uses, Diessner says. “What seems to happen is that TMDLs may be set, the actions don’t occur to the extent necessary, and nobody cares,” he says. “It makes a mockery of the whole system. It would seem to me what we really need to do is spend a little time on the science up front and figure out what it is we want to achieve before we start arbitrarily setting loadings based on numbers that are pulled from the air.” Bringing in Outside Help
In water-quality challenges, help is coming from man and machine: consultants and ready-made BMPs. The availability of consultants’ services has mushroomed, especially in the wake of NPDES Phase II. Many smaller communities without full staffing use them, as do larger communities on major projects. Community officials say their knowledge is invaluable.
Diessner has seen an increase in the number of consultants, and his city has employed them to help out. “There was a time when consultants would come to this community to get information from us, because we had been at it longer than most consultants,” he says. “The general awareness of stormwater management issues and the training from universities–the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Water Resources Management and other like institutions across the country–have really raised the bar in terms of the level of expertise that would be brought to bear on these issues.” Yeager has seen a “tremendous increase” in the amount of stormwater consulting work being done. “It’s primarily because the cities and most of the agencies that have these permits are general-funded and presently don’t have a big staff for public works, so with an increase in the workload, the only option they have is to go outside,” he says. “It’s sometimes easier to get a contract approved to do a required specific piece of work than it is to hire a staff person. Eventually, staff levels will increase, but right now a lot of these agencies are farming out work such as development plans.”Valparaiso uses consultants for larger storm sewer projects and also works with the US Army Corps of Engineers. On smaller projects, Kras and the city engineers will do the design work, with construction done in-house by the utility department.“There is an increase in the number of consultants, because water quality is becoming more of an issue, so there is a higher demand for a consultant to do this type of work,” Kras says. “We have not had any problems with consultants being skilled or knowledgeable in the needs we have.”North Port relies on consultants to assist in stormwater program management. With Florida’s population rapidly continuing to grow and property values going through the roof, there are all types of firms from throughout the nation setting up shop in the Sunshine State, Collins notes. He believes many local governments are in a difficult situation because, with only so many engineers and other technical personnel available, and with municipal salaries not being competitive with those in the private sector, it’s hard to fill in-house positions. “Consequently, when you are trying to provide services for a community and get things designed and permitted, it becomes a daunting task,” Collins notes. “Sometimes it’s better outsourcing it.“I wouldn’t say you should outsource the entire program,” he continues. “North Port did that for years. The problem with totally outsourcing engineering consulting services is the fact you are asking someone in-house who is not an engineer to negotiate engineering fees and services for a community. And that’s putting people outside their comfort zone; you don’t want to do that because it ultimately is going to cost the community more money.”Best Management Practices
Since NPDES Phase II went into effect, more companies are offering manufactured water-quality products such as hydrodynamic separators, catch basin inserts, and other forms of inlet protection. Some communities are using them; others opt for more traditional BMPs, such as Valparaiso, which relies heavily on vegetated swales and rain gardens.
“A lot of our development now is residential, so we try to work a lot with native species of plants, plants that are going to have root systems that can dig deep into the soil and help control the water quality by filtering it through the soil,” Kras notes.Erosion control is a perennial issue on construction sites, Kras says.“Silt fencing is what everyone in the country uses as a main way of controlling erosion,” he says. “There are problems with that, but we do our best. We also use the stone driveways for construction entrances and exits to help prevent erosion. Other than that, we work with developing in phases so it disturbs as little soil as possible, making sure if the site is not going to be constructed right away, it is left alone.” If possible, the site is seeded after construction or temporarily seeded to prevent erosion if the site is going to be dormant for a while.

Kras says the primary challenge with silt fences is maintenance. Some builders and contractors install them correctly; others don’t. Even installed correctly, others working on the si

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