Serving the Greater Good

Managing stormwater has a lot in common with overall community improvement

The theme of this month’s issue of Municipal Sewer & Water is Stormwater Management. But there’s another, deeper theme running through most of the stories in this issue: Community. 

That theme is perhaps most obvious in this month’s Human Side column, aptly titled “Community Matters.” The Camden County (New Jersey) Municipal Utilities Authority used the success of a rain garden project 12 years ago to launch a broader community improvement effort. 

That first project, performed under the auspices of a group the utility formed called the Camden SMART Initiative, united the utility with other public and private groups and agencies around the common goal of building “green” stormwater infrastructure projects that would help remediate the effects of urbanization on the area’s waterways. That group morphed into the Camden Community Initiative, a solutions-oriented partnership with even bigger collective ambitions: improve the environment, health and quality of life for residents of Camden.

Furthermore, the utility established a Green Ambassadors program, which provides five-week summer internships for 10 to 20 high school students who work on CCI green-infrastructure projects. It also established a PowerCorps Camden (an offshoot of AmeriCorps) that increases economic opportunities for up to 60 disadvantaged “at-risk” youths every year by hiring them to maintain various green infrastructure projects.

In Columbus, Ohio, one of the utilities profiled in this issue, stormwater management has been a big focus over the past 20 years. Improved maintenance and mainline rehabilitation have been part of the effort, but the biggest changes have come on the private side, where the utility is rehabilitating laterals on private property, free of charge, to provide people a better solution to a community-wide problem.

Instead of simply treating overflow symptoms with massive, time-consuming underground construction of tunnels that would cost billions, leaders in Columbus decided to eliminate inflow and infiltration at its source. Preventing overflows and basement backups not only served consent decree requirements, it made a positive change in overall community health and provided direct benefit to those whose laterals were rehabilitated. 

And finally, our Safety First column highlights the importance of being part of the solution. Safety is often as much about what your coworkers are doing as it is your own behaviors. A good workplace is a little community of people working toward the same objectives, and if we’re not looking out for each other and making decisions with our coworkers’ wellbeing in mind, we’re all at greater risk. 

That’s really the basis of community: serving the greater good, helping out where needed and thinking beyond ourselves. That’s what brings people together and creates the bond of community. 

You have a unique ability as utility leaders to work with diverse stakeholders, bring different groups together and make a significant difference in your communities. I hope you’re embracing that opportunity.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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