Manufactured Stigma

Dec. 2, 2014
Removing the uncertainty from tested solutions

New approaches to storm water management, both manufactured and natural/land-based, continue to emerge with regularity. Many of the manufactured storm water treatment practices that are still classified as “new” or “unproven” technologies, however, have been in use for more than a decade. Some of these technologies have been repeatedly evaluated in both the laboratory and the field. Testing protocols are more complex and rigorous than ever, and the resulting data generally are of higher quality than those produced from many of the studies that shape our collective knowledge of nonproprietary practices. Despite clearing ever-higher bars relative to performance verification and investing millions to fund monitoring initiatives, storm water manufacturers often still find themselves seated at the proverbial kids’ table.  

While a small number of jurisdictions have embraced the manufactured solutions that have been thoroughly vetted, the vast majority still choose to limit or prohibit their use. A combination of factors tends to negatively impact the perception of manufactured solutions. First, the lack of technical expertise at many regulatory agencies makes vetting BMPs cumbersome, so all too often, the do-nothing approach is employed. Traditional land-based BMPs are reviewed, assumed to perform and assigned assumed pollutant removal efficiencies long before anyone at a particular agency has to make the call. That often is not the case with manufactured solutions. Additionally, aggressive claims and complex sizing models developed by manufacturers competing with one another make life difficult for even the best-intentioned regulators. Without consistent testing and sizing criteria, vetting technologies can be an exhausting task with seemingly no end. Also, despite our failure to adequately maintain the vast majority of the storm water management infrastructure installed to date, manufactured practices have taken a disproportionate amount of blame. We commonly ignore all types of storm water infrastructure after installation, but the misperception that manufactured BMPs are harder or more costly to maintain than land-based BMPs fuels the reluctance to accept them.  

The obvious challenges moving forward are how to overcome misperceptions relative to manufactured storm water solutions, encourage continued innovation and, most importantly, achieve water quality goals. As a starting point, we need a uniform process to evaluate storm water management techniques that are applied equally to all types of practices, whether they are manufactured, green, grey or otherwise. Manufacturers must be responsible when developing performance claims and embrace sizing practices that can be consistently applied to different types of storm water solutions. Putting forth defensible claims rooted in sound science is essential to boosting the credibility of manufacturers. Adoption of consistent sizing practices creates a level playing field and eases the burden placed on regulators. 

Finally, we need to address the massive inventory of neglected storm water infrastructure. For their part, manufacturers must consider maintainability and lifecycle costs in developing storm water technologies; the same can be said for all types of storm water practices. Until we fully understand the costs of keeping a BMP operational over its useful life, it will be difficult to determine which storm water practices are the most or least maintenance-intensive. Regardless of how we get there, it is time to make thoroughly vetted manufactured technologies a standard component of our storm water toolboxes.

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About the Author

Derek Berg