Shelter From The Storm

A thoughtful and focused approach to stormwater management can lead to significant improvements.

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Stormwater is the proverbial double-edged sword. We need the rain, but it can create a host of problems, from flooding to pollution to death.

This summer, the U.S. EPA ordered 85 municipalities in north central and northeast Pennsylvania to improve their stormwater management programs. The EPA issued the orders to augment Pennsylvania’s efforts to ensure effective stormwater management programs are in place to improve water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Pollution has had a big impact on the bay, and the EPA orders are just part of a much broader effort to limit untreated stormwater runoff from the heavily urbanized area from polluting it further.

The EPA also released the Flood Resilience Checklist to help communities prepare for, deal with and recover from floods. The new tool offers strategies that communities can consider, such as conserving land in flood-prone areas; directing new development to safer areas; and using green infrastructure approaches, such as installing rain gardens, to manage stormwater.

“Flooding from major storms has cost lives and caused billions of dollars in damage,” says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “With climate change, storms are likely to become even more powerful in many regions of the country. Where and how communities build will have long-term impacts on their flood resilience, and on air and water quality and health and safety. This checklist will help flood-prone communities think through these issues and come up with the solutions that work best for them.”

Fort Worth, Texas, profiled in this month’s issue of MSW, provides a great example of how a thoughtful and focused approach to stormwater management can lead to significant improvements.

The city was prone to flooding after heavy rains, often with catastrophic results. Since 1986, 17 people have died in flooding-related episodes in the city.

Stormwater management operations had been completely reactive, but after a 2004 storm in which a mother and her two children drowned in their car, the City Council directed a committee of city employees, property owners and others to explore solutions. The panel hired a consultant and came back recommending the creation of a separately funded stormwater utility. That was launched in the spring of 2006. The city has since invested people, management tools, technology and money to make stormwater management a major priority.

The financial investment was key to making it all work. Before the creation of the utility, the city spent about $6 million a year on stormwater-related operations and $3 million on capital improvements. For fiscal year 2014, the operational budget will top $35 million and the capital budget $12 million. Projects have come in all shapes and sizes, from planting native grasses in channels, to reconstructing streets and building retention basins.

A key sign of progress is the fact that the last known flooding-related death was seven years ago, in March 2007.

Fort Worth’s initiatives present some valuable lessons for any utility struggling to deal with stormwater issues. No matter what the situation, the proper approach will lead to improvement. Invest in people, management tools and technology, and make it a priority.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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