Panel: Municipalities have options for stormwater management

But it will take work, and there will be costs associated no matter what, experts say

October 05. 2012 3:00AM

Brent Burkey

The days of getting a big grant to install stormwater pipes and forget about them are over.

John Klinedinst, president and CEO of C.S. Davidson Inc., speaks during the panel discussion at “Cows, Crabs and Cash” on Sept. 21. The York-based engineering firm hosted the event at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville as the first of a planned series of presentations on issues facing municipalities. Photo/Submitted

Municipalities need to start managing stormwater in the same manner as wastewater and drinking water treatment because of the pollutants it can pick up and carry to a local stream — and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Complying with constricting environmental rules could mean establishing stormwater authorities and fostering other forms of community cooperation, members of a panel said last week in York County.

"You need to do something else (other than seek grants)," said Joanne Throwe, director at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland. "You need to develop a stormwater financing strategy."

At the same time, stakeholders need to start educating the community about the need for stormwater improvements and initiatives, because there will be costs to bear no matter how good a plan is, she said.

York-based engineering firm C.S. Davidson Inc. hosted the "Cows, Crabs and Cash" event Sept. 21 at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville as the first of a planned series of presentations on issues facing municipalities, President and CEO John Klinedinst said.

Throwe's role at the event was to outline funding and financing options available to municipalities.

Local governments usually don't have the budget to just go out and build a big new public works project; the most important tactic Throwe stressed was planning and creating a comprehensive plan for what specific needs and costs would be.

She said there is a big difference between funding — such as from finite grants that have become harder to get in recent years — and financing through a sustainable plan to pay for stormwater management for years to come.

There are still grants out there, however, and municipalities should keep pursuing all the ones they can, she said.

But actively managed systems, as opposed to the traditional idea of putting pipes in the ground and forgetting about them, now are needed, and grants will never be enough to build and properly maintain an adequate system, Throwe said.

The idea of stormwater authorities similar to entities set up for drinking water or wastewater systems is taking hold, particularly in other parts of the country, as a way to share resources or explore technological solutions, she said.

"Sometimes you are too small to go at it alone," she said.

The panel's consensus was that noncompliance is not an option when the federal government controls key permitting such as the municipal separate storm sewer system, or MS4, for urbanized municipalities.

Architects and builders wholeheartedly endorse the goal of ensuring clean water, Mark Johnson, a principal with RGS Associates, a landscape architect and civil engineering firm based in West Earl Township, has said.

It's almost impossible to quantify how much stormwater requirements could increase project costs, because projects and sites vary so much, he said.

As a ballpark estimate, however, he suggested the stricter practices could add 10 percent to 20 percent to site design and preparation costs. Those costs typically account for about one-fourth of a project's total cost, Johnson said.

Cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay is being enforced by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

It told Pennsylvania to create a watershed implementation plan to reduce the commonwealth's share of pollutants reaching the bay, said Jake Romig, York County circuit rider working on behalf of the York County Community Foundation and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The state then gave planning targets to counties, but ultimately the authority in Pennsylvania to do something about the problems is at the municipal level, he said.

Reductions are being tracked with a federal computer modeling system.

It figures out how much of a pollutant is stopped from getting into streams and eventually the bay through putting in place one of about 40 prescribed practices, and it gives jurisdictions credit accordingly, he said.

Best management practices include putting forested or grass buffers in drainage areas, restoring wetlands that retain water and reducing the amount of surfaces through which water cannot seep into the ground, according to a list provided at the event.

At the same time, the TMDL Workgroup started in York County plans to establish a monitoring network to track exactly how well the county is doing with lowering the actual amounts of pollution in waterways, he said.

The first part of the name refers to the bay's so-called pollution diet, the total maximum daily load.

The group was founded to help coordinate best management practices across the county, based on where they make the most sense and can have the best effects, and to manage an outreach effort to get the public on board with initiatives, Romig said.

Outreach will stress that cleaning up pollution under the federal mandate means better water for local residents, he said.

"If we take care of our water, then the bay is going to be fine," Romig said.

Today, large "home run" projects toward compliance aren't in the cards for many municipalities, but they should be on the lookout for where they can hit singles that can add up, said Jeffrey Shue, senior client representative with C.S. Davidson.

Crews can do a little extra work to install stream restoration features, for example, at the same time they replace a bridge, he said.

And putting them in a project can even help with streamlining the permit process for the bridge replacement itself, Shue said.

It's also extremely important to make sure everything is documented so a municipality can get the credit it is due for whatever actions it has taken, he said.

Every little bit can add up, Shue said.