‘Smart Pond’ Stormwater Technology Tested During Hurricane Ian

Dec. 30, 2022
Smart Pond technology allowed stormwater managers to remotely lower the water level in the pond by almost 4 feet before the first hurricane bands began to impact the region

History books have closed on the 2022 Hurricane Season, but not before leaving a trail of destruction from hurricanes Ian and Nicole. While Floridians are resilient and pressing forward to rebuild their lives, businesses and neighborhoods, many are looking for ways to improve the resiliency of their communities before the next large storm. 

One such example from the near-Category 5 Hurricane Ian is the performance of smart stormwater management technology at Babcock Ranch, located in hard-hit Charlotte County, and Port Tampa Bay.

Babcock Ranch, a planned community, and Port Tampa Bay are just two of several Florida locations that have tapped into stormwater management technology provided by National Stormwater Trust, Inc. (NST) to improve their water quality and build flood resiliency. 

“Our primary focus is on improving water quality,” Jeff Littlejohn, co-founder of National Stormwater Trust, said. “But when a storm the size of Hurricane Ian is headed towards Florida, our objective shifts to protecting our communities and the environment from the flooding impacts of stormwater.” 

As the name implies, Port Tampa Bay sits on one of Florida’s prized waterways – Tampa Bay. Smart Pond technology that was installed in an existing stormwater pond adjacent to the seaport, allowed stormwater managers at NST to remotely lower the water level in the pond by almost 4 feet before the first hurricane bands began to impact the region.  

That extra storage enabled the pond to capture more than 175,000 cubic feet of untreated stormwater, preventing it from discharging into the neighboring community and from flowing into Tampa Bay. 

At Babcock Ranch, which is located near the Caloosahatchee River, Smart Pond live rainfall forecasts were used to project the impact of the storm before its arrival. This real-time flood forecasting capability gave the community’s leaders assurances that its large lakes had adequate storage to contain the stormwater and protect the homes, roadways and schools. 

For Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, developers of Babcock Ranch, the data made a difference.  

“This confirms for me the value of smart stormwater technology,” Kitson said. “As our community grows, we look forward to continued collaboration with NST to incorporate their Smart Pond technology.” 

While these ponds are proving their strength and resiliency, they also encompass environmental protection efforts. 

The Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation recently awarded NST with its Environmental Stewardship Award for safely capturing and preventing 175,000+ cubic feet of untreated stormwater at its pond adjacent to Port Tampa Bay from flowing into Tampa Bay during Hurricane Ian.  

“This technology is creating a better net gain for the environment, with more nitrogen treatment, and is increasing the amount of usable space for Port Tampa Bay,” Port Tampa Bay Environmental Director Christopher Cooley said. “Port Tampa Bay is a leading supporter of this environmentally friendly innovation.” 

So, what makes a stormwater management pond “smart?” 

Traditional stormwater ponds hold rain and stormwater runoff. However, in large storms, these ponds often overflow and flood the surrounding area with untreated stormwater. 

The latest innovation in stormwater management is to connect a pond to live weather forecast data and use that information to project water levels and, if necessary, automatically lower its water level before a storm arrives.  

While the sun is still shining, an NST Smart Pond can actively drain itself to increase its flood storage capacity while in constant communication with professional stormwater managers who can oversee its performance and even remotely control the pond. 

Both Babcock Ranch and Port Tampa Bay are making additional investments in this technology. 

National Stormwater Trust is also working with businesses, local governments and residential communities to deploy the latest smart stormwater technology from OptiRTC, the leader in forecast-based control of stormwater infrastructure. Additional Smart Ponds will soon be developed at LeeVista Center in Orlando, JAXPORT, Port Canaveral, Seascape in Florida’s Panhandle, and in America’s favorite retirement community – The Villages. 

Edie Ousley is a professional writer and can be reached at [email protected]