In an exclusive interview with Public Works Senior Editor Michael Fielding during last week's StormCon conference, AMEC Earth & Environmental Vice President Andrew Reese discusses the industry's fundamental shift in priorities.
1) You were one of six panelists who contemplated "The Future of Stormwater" in Tuesday's opening session. What are the top three trends facing stormwater utilities?
The shift toward green infrastructure for volume-based treatment. It's being driven by an increasingly sustainable culture, the belief that infiltration is the way to go because it's cost-effective, and public acceptance of multifunctional designs.
There's also a shift to numeric standards like the 95% rule [in which EPA requires that developers prevent discharge from all rain events "equal to the 95th percentile rainfall event to the maximum extent technically feasible."]. We're talking about effluent-based requirements. Stormwater regulation is going to look more like wastewater, with a shift to measurable activities rather than measurable outcomes.
2) To what extent are public agencies justified in recouping compliance costs from developers and property owners through fees and separate stormwater utilities?
According to its recent National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, Washington, D.C., must retrofit both publicly and privately owned developments to pervious surfaces. That means ripping up what's already out there, and that costs money.
In Massachusetts, EPA Region 1 is amending the residual designation for the Charles River to include privately owned impervious surfaces larger than two acres in NPDES permits.
EPA is using its authority to mandate that every single Wal-Mart get a permit as a discharger.
Such measures are analogous to asking private property owners to pay for their wastewater discharges, which they already do.
There are 1,300 stormwater utilities in the United States, and more are coming. The newer ones are going to focus more on water quality than controlling runoff.
3) How close is the industry to being able to accurately measure the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs)?
We're already there. Except that, for example, certain BMPs can't treat dissolved metals. That's why monitoring is still ongoing.
4) The buzz these days is about sustainability, low-impact development, and BMPs. But obviously there still exists a need for traditional stormwater controls such as retention ponds, culverts, and other conveyance systems.
Moving forward, how do stormwater managers balance those two needs?
The traditional approaches were to address flood control and conveyance. The 1990s brought a new dimension to stormwater: pollution.
Now the stormwater manager's job is to balance competing drivers and competing needs: compliance vs. flooding and an aging system.