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Great Plains LID Research and Innovation Symposium and Low Impact Development Design Competition

Policies, Innovations and Tipping Points in Stormwater

Seth Brown, PE, Water Environment Federation

Lunch Keynote Speaker

The landscape of policies in the stormwater and watershed management sectors is changing rapidly. Advancements in the NPDES stormwater program being considered by the EPA include the development of first national performance standard for stormwater based upon an on-site retention basis along with a proposed watershed-based permitting framework that could expand the extents of regulated areas. Legal rulings impacting the sectors reflect the shifting nature of policies as well. Challenges have arisen on retention-based permits, water quality trading, and stormwater utilities. Emerging areas of policy include Residual Designation Authority and integrated management, which are so new that the implications of these approaches have yet to be fully understood.

Beyond policy changes, a variety of innovative funding/financing frameworks have emerged to address the growing needs within the wet weather and municipal stormwater network. Unlike the Construction Grants program that supported the national secondary treatment standard associated with the passage of the Clean Water Act, there is little Federal funding available to help translate national policies into action at the local level. Challenging economic conditions at the state and local level further limit public dollars for traditional stormwater infrastructure investment; however, new concepts that seek to integrate private capital into stormwater programs are being considered, ranging from trading of stormwater retention capacity to generous stormwater fee/rebate programs and public-private partnerships (P3).

Innovation efforts beyond financing are needed to further the stormwater sector. The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has led on supporting and developing approaches in two areas; wide-scale implementation of low impact development / green infrastructure, and stormwater product/practice testing, evaluation and verification. Addressing misconceptions and preconceived barriers to implementation of progressive stormwater management infrastructure currently limit the full potential of approaches such as low impact development. A novel approach focusing on design competitions have been used to challenge the design community at the local level, most notably in the Houston / Harris County area. Other communities, including the Tulsa / Green Country area, have adopted this approach in hopes that the conversation on stormwater can move from a regulatory burden to an economic and environmental opportunity.

Current barriers in the stormwater product/practice industry limit competition and innovation in the sector. A national testing/evaluation program could help to increase competition and open markets that should drive costs down and efficacy of products up. To help reduce or remove barriers to innovation in the stormwater sector, WEF hosted a meeting at WEFTEC 2012 to discuss the topic of testing and evaluation programs for stormwater devices. This meeting resulted in the genesis of the Stormwater Testing and Evaluation of Products and Practices (STEPP) Workgroup. It became clear among the meeting participants that there was a need to consider the development of a national, standardized testing and evaluation program for proprietary stormwater products and practices. WEF and the STEPP workgroup developed a white paper that outlines the feasibility and need for a national program as well as some options for how a national program might be structured.

Lastly, while the fields of stormwater and watershed management are evolving, it is unclear whether these sectors have reached maturity. Other environmental fields, such as wastewater and municipal solid waste recycling programs, have followed paths where there have been initial rates of slow growth of change followed by periods of acceleration to a point of maturity in the respective sectors. The drivers for the changes in these fields range between behavioral/social norms to regulatory/economic needs, which reflect a spectrum of bottom-up versus town-down drivers. Stormwater encompasses characteristics of both dynamics, which makes discerning the current maturity of the field less clear and the future growth in the sector even less clear. Differing metrics, such as stormwater utility formation, urbanization rates or regulated areas lead us to varying conclusions when addressing the question of maturity in the sector.