As we near the start of StormCon ’02–August 12, 2002, at Marco Island, FL, for those who have yet to register for the event–I find myself marveling at how much has happened in the nearly two years since our first issue of Stormwater. Yet for all the to-and-fro activity on the regulatory front, for all the tremendous amount of effort and energy expended at every jurisdictional level in preparation for NPDES Phase II, and despite the additional responsibilities placed on all of us by the momentous events of September 11, 2001, our basic mission along with the challenges we face remain remarkably the same. In our very first issue I made the following observation:
Even when headlines scream about beach closures or polluted waterways, the concern seems to focus on the effects rather than the underlying causes, an admission of sorts that the problems are so deep and so complex that it’s easier to think about throwing money at end-of-the-pipe solutions than taking a hard look at infrastructural shortcomings or–more frightening still–the way we live.
Those tasked with dealing with water-quality issues day in and day out know that beneath the rhetoric and regulations lie real problems concerning the health and safety of our citizens. The beach closures, threatening as they are to tourist revenues, are symptomatic of deeper disorders created and driven in large part by population growth and the accompanying explosion in urban development. Few people I know are against a strong economy, rising standard of living, or the desire to provide the benefits of prosperity to our families, even when we know that each of these places a burden on nature and society. The difficulty lies in accepting the fact that those burdens are real, immediate, and apply to us both individually and as a whole.
“All well and good,” you say, “but how does that help me do my job?” More to the point, you might ask, “What good does it do to worry about “˜explosive urban development’ when my government doesn’t have an adequate budget to meet today’s challenges?” After first acknowledging that we’ve all got enough on our plates just in trying to meet the day-to-day demands of our job while struggling to get ready for the new and increased demands of the NPDES Phase II regs, let me point out that, like it or not, we have no option but to try to affect the future.
Custodian or Steward: Which Will I Be Today?
Both, and the trick lies in making the transition as seamless as possible. In one way at least, the new regulations offer some real encouragement in this area–the requirement for establishing programs that increase public awareness of the issues. While I don’t imagine that any of us dare dream that the results of such programs are likely to show up quickly–that we can expect our fellow citizens to rise up and march on city hall demanding action–I do believe that, over time, public education will have a pronounced and lasting effect on our actions. To me that’s the custodial part of the job. But what about stewardship? How do we leverage this undefined requirement into something that addresses such issues as “explosive urban development”?
You might start by thinking how you can direct a portion of this educational activity uphill toward your jurisdiction’s elected officials who have to sift through an incredible amount of information in an attempt to determine how best to make use of their limited and shrinking resources. The first vision you might try to establish is that for government the issue is not money–face it, no government on the planet will ever have enough funds to make more than a tiny dent in the problem–but rather leadership in establishing the direction and ground rules for future development. While it is important that some of such efforts target the elected officials themselves, your real focus should be on the “movers and shakers” in your community who marshal the investment funds for development projects.It seems to me that the key to success in renovating aging infrastructure, at the same time accommodating both change and growth, lies in making it possible for public officials and private developers to work together with similar ideas as to what constitutes the public good. Because water quality is such an important and enduring issue in our lives, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to put our knowledge and concerns unmistakably in front of those in a position to take effective action. The public education mandate of NPDES Phase II is critical to your community’s long-term welfare…just make sure it goes where it can do the most good.