The Storm Is Coming

Prepare for worsening weather events and the stormwater issues they create before it’s too late.

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I’ve used this space to talk about stormwater for the past two months. Let’s make it three.

Two months ago, I whined about the challenges a string of rainstorms presented during a home remodeling project. Shortly after I wrote that, floods hit part of my home state of Wisconsin, and Hurricane Florence devastated parts of North Carolina and the surrounding area.

I talked about that extensively in last month’s column, and now Hurricane Michael is bearing down on Florida’s Gulf Coast. I just read a story noting that the region hasn’t experienced a Category 4 hurricane going back to the earliest records in 1851.

The news media tends to overhype many of these events — every storm seems to have the potential to be the worst ever recorded. But lately it seems like they’re right more often than not. Whether you believe in climate change, and whether you believe climate change is just a natural cycle of Earth’s weather patterns or the result of human impact on the environment, you can’t argue with the facts: Events like this are becoming more common and more impactful.  

Regardless of the cause, these events are happening, and the impact is devastating. There’s a serious need to take a much more in-depth look at the effects of stormwater and a changing environment and what we need to do to protect our infrastructure against these forces of nature.

This month’s issue of Municipal Sewer & Water features excellent stormwater programs in Texas and Missouri.

The city of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department was established in 1991. It is responsible for building, operating and overseeing the city’s stormwater drainage infrastructure while also overseeing the public’s compliance with city, state, and federal codes and regulations.

Since the creation of the department, management of the city’s stormwater drainage system has focused on the mission to protect lives, property and the environment. The department manages a network of public stormwater drainage assets that includes a little more than 1,000 miles of traditional underground pipelines, nearly 1,000 miles of natural and engineered waterways, and more than 1,000 city-owned or -operated stormwater management ponds. The department has also overseen the installation and continues the inspection (once every three years) of more than 7,000 privately owned ponds and other drainage structures.

The result is a level of management and compliance that has earned national recognition over the past two years from the national Stormwater Congress.

Kirksville, Missouri, hasn’t earned any national awards yet, but the city’s revision and simplification of its stormwater management did earn approval from the Department of Natural Resources. The original plan was put together by a large engineering firm in 2011, and it just didn’t match the city’s needs and means.

So when the DNR took notice of compliance issues in 2017, the city was forced to re-examine. The process led to a greatly simplified plan developed with input from city staff. They looked at the old plan, discussed what worked and what didn’t, and put together a much simpler plan that was easier to comply with and better met the city’s needs.

The new plan has led to a higher level of outreach and involvement and some noticeable improvements in the community.

Neither of these communities are dealing with anything quite like Florence or Michael, but they’re handling their stormwater issues and making their communities safer, and that’s what it’s all about.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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