2011 Outlook

Feb. 17, 2011

About the author: Caitlin Cunningham is managing editor of Storm Water Solutions. Cunningham can be reached at 847.391.1025 or by e-mail at [email protected].

In Storm Water Solutions’ 2010 State of the Industry survey, respondents rated the economy, regulations and compliance, budgets and erosion control as topics of the utmost importance. Here a panel of storm water and erosion control experts addresses these concerns, summarizing where the industry stands and offering forecasts for the year ahead.

Increasing Attention, Moderate Growth
Craig Beatty
President, KriStar Enterprises Inc. and Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Assn.

With the challenging public sector funding issues in 2010, advancement in storm water treatment methods has been stifled in many areas. Our industry has been a leader in developing innovative solutions to address the dynamic standards for pollutant removal. However, many state and local officials have little time or money to review the applicability of cutting-edge solutions in their respective jurisdictions.

Where this occurs, several areas of concern arise. First, a specifier in any given area is not able to take advantage of otherwise proven solutions that provide enhanced storm water quality—a goal that all stakeholders have in common. Second, the resultant limitation of available alternatives invariably leads to higher costs of construction, something our fragile economy can ill afford at this time. The industry continues to suffer from the lack of consistent and meaningful paths for acceptance of manufactured technologies, while natural-based options are typically held to lesser standards for performance, if at all.

An increase in regulatory activity is anticipated as wider arrays of pollutants of concern are identified and numeric limitations are increasingly enforced. In actions that we wholeheartedly support, greater regulatory attention to maintenance of all types of best management practices (BMPs) is expected in 2011 and beyond. This action is critical to effectively flush out those types of BMPs—manufactured or otherwise—that are not sustainable long-term solutions.

While there are pockets of positive trends in new residential and commercial construction, the economic environment in the majority of the country’s regions remains relatively stagnant. We do not anticipate any change in this until at least the latter part of 2011. However, given the ever-increasing focus on regulatory enforcement, the level of spending on storm water management will experience moderate growth compared to the construction sector as a whole. A large number of opportunities will continue to come from public works spending for both infrastructure and military base projects.

With the increasing focus on green solutions, the industry will need to consider providing systems solutions that incorporate manufactured products into natural-based installations to maximize the sustainability and performance on any given site. More engineering time and effort will be spent in the coming year on demonstrating the interaction and efficacy of manufactured products as related to the green initiatives.

Adaptation & Recovery
Russ Adsit, FASLA
Executive Director, International Erosion Control Assn.

The institution or first draft of the adoption of effluent limit guidelines (ELGs) has been underestimated by many in the industry as to its scope and magnitude on the construction industry. While it has been put on hold in many arenas, it will probably be just a delay until the exact number is determined.

This issue will lead to monitoring and sampling opportunities for those in the inspection business. While many of these standards are gray at this time, the measurement at any given level of ELGs will lead to interpretation of these measurements and compliance opportunities, whether they are in flocculants, increased and high-volume filtering methods, decreased runoff and erosion or other ways of meeting these limits that are new and improved.

The states that have renewed their Construction General Permits are getting better at making and refining their systems and BMPs that work and are allowed in their region. Most renewals are now in their third or fourth version, and these only get better with experience.

More states have instituted storm water utility-enabling laws that allow municipalities and MS4s to begin the process of creating these utilities and setting funding mechanisms for their storm water systems. While there is resistance in some areas, these municipal utilities now allow inspection, enforcement and approval processes that do not rely on general funds or fines. They also allow oversight of post-construction installations, which in many cases have been ignored or at least put on the back burner. This improves compliance as well as the water quality in that state and region.

We will find increased regulations from the U.S. EPA in what might be considered minor areas right now such as wind erosion, air quality and areas that have previously been exempt or not enforced. These will provide some opportunities but will be resisted by those who have to pay the bill: the developer, the regulated industries and the cites expected to enforce these rules.

We all hope that the economic climate begins to turn around with the political certainty of the midterm elections behind us. While we could all argue whether a Democrat or Republican is better for the economy, my opinion on this issue is that uncertainty is more of an economic swing than any political decisions. Small businesses—which most of the industry falls into—will adapt to whatever politics are thrown at them, and they will find ways to survive in any economy or political climate. Thankfully, I think the economy is stabilizing or at least becoming more predictable. While we will probably never see the housing bubble we experienced in the past and many companies have consolidated or decided to close, we will see an economic recovery in the next two years as businesses adapt and survive.

I believe that technology will continue to advance as our suppliers and manufacturers look for a better way to build product as well as installation techniques. While the labor market will continue to look for a rebound, many companies will be very slow to hire and the current labor force will be asked for higher and more productive efforts so that the businesses can do more with the same or perhaps even less. Short term, this will work; by the end of 2011 or 2012, we should see the results of these pressures as well as the results of technology advances that allow workers to be more productive and start down the path to a more normalized work week and hiring to begin again.

A Time to Innovate
Frank Birney
Vice President, Storm Water, Contech Construction Products Inc.

Two of the more significant storm water industry developments in 2010 include the rise of the low-impact development (LID) design philosophy and tougher standards from the EPA.

The movement to manage all storm water with LID methods continued to strengthen in 2010. At a time when budget cuts were the norm throughout the country, this idea of runoff reduction was further strengthened because of the perception that it is also the most economical solution. This paradigm shift made it essential for the industry to explore new and innovative ways to help customers meet runoff reduction requirements cost-effectively.

With work toward creating national storm water standards in 2010, the EPA appears to be taking a tougher stance on regulating storm water. The draft DC MS4 permit and the draft Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) show the EPA intends to raise the bar and will get directly involved when states and municipalities do not comply. Although the cost for states to make the necessary storm water retrofits and comply with the pending regulations may be significant, it will create more opportunity for new and improved technology innovation to solve these issues and most importantly lead to cleaner receiving waters.

In 2011, I believe there will be further development of TMDLs, with a focus on reducing nutrients, bacteria, sediment, trash and flow. As these stricter regulations come online, a political tug of war between business, local governments and public interest groups regarding enforcement of TMDLs for their impaired watersheds will most likely ensue. Some jurisdictions will enforce the stricter regulations, while others will fight the regulations. Lawsuits will continue to be brought on by local grassroots organizations to encourage compliance.

Although enforcement of these regulations is required to improve the quality of our water, lack of budget will continue to be a limiting factor. Cost-effective technologies that can meet regulations and successfully reduce storm water pollution will be a necessity, which could create more jobs and help to rebuild our economy.

Expanding Regulatory Universe
John Whitescarver, QEP
Executive Director, National Stormwater Center

This year we have seen an increase in storm water permit enforcement actions by the EPA and several states. EPA’s statement of enforcement initiatives issued early in 2010 identified keeping contaminated storm water out of our nation’s waters, preventing animal waste from contaminating surface waters and reducing pollution from mineral processing operations. EPA directed state National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) managers to take specific EPA actions to “raise the bar for state performance.”

The construction and development industry effluent guideline was promulgated by EPA. While the turbidity sampling requirement was vacated, expect it to return in a couple years. The result is a significant change from permit assistance, incentives and monitoring to permit compliance. Frequent noncompliance has resulted in penalties—especially in the five states discharging into the Chesapeake Bay.

[In 2011], expect changes in storm water permit requirements and increased municipal inspections. Reissued industrial storm water permits will reduce analytical sampling but require submission of annual reports and emphasize practices to minimize exposure. Construction permits will be reissued and include the EPA’s ELG. These narrative standards appear to be the same as current permit requirements, but the prohibition of waste materials in the discharge is significant. Municipal permits will be reissued to conduct NPDES compliance inspections in addition to local ordinance compliance inspections. EPA will expand the universe of regulated discharges beyond urbanized areas.

The increase in municipal workload will result in increases in permit fees, which will generate complaints and political actions. The EPA plan is to have municipal governments eventually inspect industry and construction for NPDES permit compliance. This will free up state and EPA personnel to audit municipal compliance.

EPA headquarters will initiate two major proposed rules in 2011. Instead of permittees sending compliance reports to states, EPA wants all reports to be electronically filed in a central EPA database. The agency will propose post-construction rules to mimic preconstruction hydrology.

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About the Author

Caitlin Cunningham