A Dedicated Program for Stormwater Research

Sept. 1, 2001
Stormwater is emerging as one of the single biggest issues in water quality. The industry needs the knowledge and tools to develop successful, efficient solutions. The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) believes it is positioned to make this happen.While much of WERF’s current research focuses on the watershed and related ecological issues, we decided to take the program to the next level. To do that, WERF gathered a group of stormwater program managers and other stakeholders from across the country to help craft a dedicated stormwater research program. At the June meeting in Chicago, enthusiastic attendees provided feedback on creating such a program and helped identify research needs. “Because of the episodic and variant character of stormwater and its quality, the NPDES regulation of stormwater will involve an immense reach into community life and economics,” says attendee Doug Harrison, general manager of the Fresno (CA) Metro Flood Control District. “Unfortunately, much of the knowledge required to bridge the gap between desired stormwater quality and achievable stormwater quality is unknown.” Nearly 40% of surveyed US water bodies do not meet water-quality standards, according to USEPA’s 1996 National Water Quality Inventory. Nonpoint sources, including stormwater pollution, are among the leading causes of impairments. Meeting Phase II regulations will be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. “Under the structure of stormwater NPDES permits in place across the nation, millions of dollars are being spent on stormwater monitoring, but comparatively little true applied research is being done,” Harrison notes. “It is essential that we determine scientifically if and how stormwater pollutant loads can be sufficiently reduced to meet desired receiving-water objectives and that we identify the environmental, economic, and community impacts of this effort.”Research efforts will address stormwater issues from programmatic, technical, and regulatory perspectives. This effort will focus on helping the water-quality community manage stormwater, reduce pollutant discharges to receiving waters, comply with permits, prevent damage from urban flooding, and protect surface and groundwater quality efficiently and cost-effectively.The problems of stormwater reach beyond permit issues. Research that benefits stormwater permittees will result in cleaner water for all users and fewer issues for all water-quality professionals. Such research will also help the industry realize a desirable future in which watershed management is the primary force.Much of WERF’s existing research relates directly or indirectly to stormwater issues, providing a sound base for the new program. Projects have surveyed wet-weather research needs, reviewed existing hydrodynamic models, studied impacts of stormwater, and explored mitigation strategies. But considerably more research is needed.Meeting participants identified current and future research needs, including effectiveness of various best management practices, mitigating impacts of urban runoff, land-use practices, the value of current water-quality measures and monitoring techniques, and what constitutes effective stormwater management. Public participation also emerged as a hot topic. Concerns also included identifying and controlling sources of pollution from wildlife, fertilizer use, pesticides, fungicides, and deicers; the effectiveness of watershed planning in achieving water-quality goals; and controlling erosion and sediment. Managers also indicated they needed to know the effectiveness of various technologies and restorative efforts, such as stream restoration in urban environments.Program managers attending the Chicago meeting gave short presentations about their local programs and a summary of stormwater management efforts (for both quality and NPDES permit purposes) in their region or state. From the discussions, it was clear that many of these programs are in their infancy or still very much evolving from a permit that they could not comply with to a program with local meaning. Participants also made recommendations on the kinds of products that would be most useful, advised WERF on a governance and rate structure to support a stormwater research program, and helped identify potential candidates for a technical advisory committee. Using this information, WERF began the work necessary to create the program. Issues related to stormwater management are the subject of controversy today and will provide the framework for the next major advance toward sustainable environmental management practices. By funding such research, WERF helps to inform not only water resource managers but also regulatory agencies so that regulations are based on the best possible scientific grounds. Using the strength of its current research and municipal, national, and industrial expertise, WERF is building a stormwater program that will help make these changes happen.WERF, a not-for-profit organization, seeks to promote the development and application of sound science to water-quality issues. For more information, contact WERF at 703/684-2470 or [email protected], or visit www.werf.org.

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