Launch Slideshow

Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

Time to slow down and take stock

Time to slow down and take stock

  • Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/edit-lyons1_tcm111-2077239.jpg

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    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

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    Bill Palmer

    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last month’s record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.
  • Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/edit-lyons2_tcm111-2077240.jpg

    true

    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

    600

    Bill Palmer

    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last month’s record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.
  • Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/edit-lyons3_tcm111-2077241.jpg

    true

    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last months record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

    600

    Bill Palmer

    Located as the base of the St. Vrain watershed, the consequences of last month’s record rainfall was inevitable for tiny Lyons, Colo.

My boss is Bill Palmer, editor of Public Works’ sister publication Concrete Construction. Bill lives in the foothills just above Lyons, a town of 2,000 people located at the confluence of the north and south St. Vrain creeks.

Usually, he says, you hardly notice the river’s there. But one consequence of Colorado’s torrential rains last month is that, in addition to overflowing its banks, the body of water itself has actually moved. So no one knows where to relocate the wastewater treatment plant.

I was preparing for the Water Environment Federation’s annual convention during the flooding. As North America’s largest gathering of people and companies in the wastewater collection and treatment industries, WEFTEC is a BIG show. For the second year it’s also offering extensive stormwater programming. (For more details, see my Sept. 25 blog at go.hw.net/WEFTEC.)

This makes perfect sense: You can’t talk about cleaning up stormwater without also talking about wastewater. (And you shouldn’t talk about it without also including drinking water, but … baby steps.)

The January 2014 deadline for EPA’s revised stormwater permitting program has once again been postponed but eventually, someday, there will be new requirements. Agency representatives will be at WEFTEC to answer questions about how the proposed changes may affect MS4s and NPDES permit holders in real life. In my experience, EPA staffers are loath to give hard-and-fast answers to the types of questions you and I have. That’s understandable, given how long and drawn out, and how painful figuring out how to regulate non-point sources of water pollution has been.

When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1970, most water pollution was from point sources: industrial and wastewater treatment discharges. Now the situation is reversed: Most comes from non-point sources. That’s a huge improvement in just 40 years.

We often lose perspective when we’re in the midst of a difficult journey. As we as a nation struggle to adequately and fairly mitigate this last type of water pollution, pat yourself on the back for making enormous strides despite all of the uncertainty. All the best management practices implemented without knowing how effective EPA may deem them. All of the stormwater utilities formed. All of the outreach to explain in plain English what the heck a “stormwater utility” is and why businesses and residents must pay a third water-related fee.

Your efforts have made the U.S. a society that’s enraged rather than resigned to nature’s occasional devastation and death.