Last week, Sept. 27 – Oct. 1, a total of 20,385 water professionals from nearly 100 countries assembled in New Orleans for the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) 87th annual conference, WEFTEC, and second annual Stormwater Congress. The Stormwater Congress is a spotlight event held in conjunction with WEFTEC. It included more than 30 stormwater technical sessions and workshops as well as the Stormwater Pavilion, a concentrated area for exhibiting stormwater companies. This was the third year for the Stormwater Pavilion, and with more than 30 exhibitors spanning 372 m2 (4,000 ft2), its size was double last year’s pavilion. In addition to the Stormwater Congress offerings, attendees had access to WEFTEC’s 1,027 exhibiting companies and more than 200 sessions on a variety of key water topics, from policy to operations.

“There was a lot of buzz around the Stormwater Congress at WEFTEC in New Orleans,” said Mike Beezhold, Stormwater Committee chair and senior planner at CDM Smith. “The congress continues to grow since its inaugural showing in Chicago.”

The Stormwater Congress kicked off with two workshops on green infrastructure ― one on performance and another on implementation. The Green Infrastructure Implementation workshop was based on the recently released WEF publication of the same title, which Watershed Committee Chair Fernando Pasquel calls “a must-read for anyone who is building green infrastructure programs around the world.”

Additionally, on the first day of the conference, more than 100 volunteers, organized by WEF’s Students and Young Professionals Committee, built a rain garden and bioswales at New Orleans’ Conrad Park. The project will help reduce flooding in the Hollygrove neighborhood of the WEFTEC 2014 host city. Read more about this project.

The Students and Young Professionals Committee also organizes the Student Design Competition, which promotes real-world design experience for students interested in pursuing an education or career in the water sector. This year, one of the winning teams, which included students from the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of British Columbia, focused on stormwater controls. Team FloBeau, looked the feasibility and costs of stormwater management by regional facilities that receive uncontrolled urban runoff from a large area versus decentralized systems or stormwater controls. The study will aid the City of Coquitlam near Vancouver in determining how to best protect the salmon-bearing stream of Star Creek while it proceeds with development.

On Sept. 28, WEF continued the discussion on Stormwater Testing and Evaluation of Practices and Products (STEPP) with a workgroup meeting. The goal of the program is to build support around and develop a framework for a national testing and evaluation protocol for stormwater management practices and devices. A national protocol that applies to states in most markets and WEF’s potential administration of that program is supported by the Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Association (SWEMA), said SWEMA representative and Oldcastle Stormwater Solutions Regulatory Services Manager Will Harris. The program would help reduce cost and time barriers for companies looking to get innovative stormwater products to market.

In addition to being involved in STEPP, SWEMA has also been instrumental in helping WEF expand the Stormwater Pavilion, and the organization hosted its biannual general membership meeting at WEFTEC for the first time this year.

Just after the Opening General Session on Sept. 29, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke during the Great Water Cities session. Administrator McCarthy discussed clean water challenges, including nutrients, climate change, and infrastructure investments, as well as the opportunities those challenges and their solutions present. WEF is proud to be included by EPA among organizations that can help provide those opportunities by driving innovation and technology advancements in the water sector. As such, Administrator McCarthy announced $250,000 dollars in support of STEPP and Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology, a joint WEF and Water Environment Research Foundation effort. She also mentioned WEF’s work on developing a national municipal stormwater and green infrastructure recognition program, for which WEF recently received a $25,000 grant from EPA. The program will distinguish high-performing municipal separate storm sewer system programs.

EPA staff participated in many other capacities, on the exhibit floor, in sessions, and in the joint Stormwater-Watershed Committee meeting, where they provided input on Waters of the U.S. and other efforts. “The Stormwater Congress gave unprecedented access to U.S. EPA headquarters staff,” Beezhold said. This presence by EPA and state regulators is helpful and much appreciated, said Sarah Reeves vice president at Brown and Caldwell and vice chair of WEF’s Program Committee.

Also on Sept. 29, the exhibit hall opened, and technical sessions began. However, the activities ramped into high-gear during the sold-out Stormwater Congress luncheon sponsored by Arcadis. At the luncheon, Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney discussed the county’s award-winning “Save the Rain” program. “Save the Rain” is a comprehensive stormwater management plan to reduce pollution to Onondaga Lake. The plan combines both green and traditional stormwater infrastructure solutions. Read more about “Save the Rain” here.

On Sept. 30, WEF hosted the first National Stormwater Summit to bring together municipal stormwater leaders and other sector professionals. Meeting participants discussed the stormwater sector’s technical support and advocacy needs and how those needs can be addressed at the national level. Consensus was that WEF should take a national role in the sector, and convene future meetings.

“WEF’s advancement into the stormwater arena is a huge plus for all stormwater utilities seeking to better manage their stormwater assets and water quality within their communities,” said Steve Leo, director of Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources’ Stormwater Management Division. “WEF does a great job at providing a forum to discuss the technical, utility management, policy, and regulatory aspects of stormwater management all in one place and with practitioners from all over the country and around the world.”

Also on Sept. 30, WEF President Sandra Ralston ceremoniously “passed the gavel” of leadership to incoming President Ed McCormick and inducted the 2014-2015 WEF Board of Trustees.

In addition to these highlighted events, WEF also organized three facility tours and two afternoon networking receptions in the Stormwater Pavilion, the first sponsored by Michael Baker International. Sessions reflected the latest in research and technology for meeting complex regulatory requirements as well as the basics of maintenance, asset management, public engagement, and more. “The technical sessions covered all of the relevant stormwater topics of today and gave us a peak into tomorrow’s hot issues,” said Pasquel, who is also the national director of stormwater and watershed management at Arcadis. To see all that was offered in the Stormwater Congress, check out the onsite program.

“The Stormwater Congress at WEFTEC once again provided an extraordinary diversity of high quality presentations and examples, individual access to key national policy makers, and timely and cutting edge information on integrated planning of stormwater and wastewater treatment,” said Andrew Reese, vice president at AMEC.

Sessions and other events also focused on local issues. One of the facility tours explored the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood and the efforts of the Make It Right Foundation, a non-profit created by actor Brad Pitt in 2007. The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans has been widely publicized since the tragedy nearly 10 years ago. “But getting off the tour bus at ground zero hits you head-on,” said Neal Shapiro, supervisor of the Watershed Section of the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. The tour guide provided a detailed description of what happened during the storm and showed buildings washed away by waters that breeched the levees. Now, despite the devastation, life is blossoming and buildings, including about 150 new homes, are rising from the once flooded community.  The engine that brought about these improvements was Make It Right. The group builds homes and communities for people in need. All Make It Right projects are LEED Platinum certified and “cradle-to-cradle” inspired – meeting the highest standards of green building.

To create such a rigorous and informative program each year, WEF’s volunteer leaders review hundreds of abstracts when developing the technical program. “We had tremendous breadth in the technical program, and many new voices and topics on the agenda this year,” said Juli Beth Hinds, principal at Birchline Planning. Hinds also is chair of the Stormwater Management Program Symposium, which leads the Stormwater Congress program development in conjunction with the Watershed Management and Sustainability Symposium. “Both the Stormwater Committee and the symposium are finding out a lot about what WEF members from different sectors of the water industry need to improve their stormwater management programs, as well as how different formats at WEFTEC can meet those needs,” Hinds said.

In terms of the watershed and stormwater programming, there is a lot of overlap, said Reeves, who pointed to sessions on total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and integrated planning. For instance, WEF hosted a special session in coordination with the Environmental Law Institute, EPA, the Association of Clean Water Administrators, and 10 state TMDL coordinators. This was the first in a series of dialogues to be continued between these groups. The dialogue centered on how utilities, states, and EPA could collaborate on implementing the TMDL 10-Year Vision Plan for the agency’s 303(d) program. The plan is an effort to reboot the 303(d) program to better measure progress and determine if TMDLs are leading to improved water quality. See the meeting agenda.

The collaboration between the stormwater and watershed committees only continues to grow as the groups begin hosting a joint meeting at WEFTEC, which occurred for the first time Oct. 1. “There is good synergy between the Stormwater Committee and the Watershed Management Committee. The cooperation will provide opportunities for members to continue to grow professionally and get involved in cool activities,” Pasquel said.

One area where WEF is exploring new presentation formats as Hinds mentioned is the Stormwater Pavilion Theater, an area for short, interactive programming on the exhibit floor. For instance, WEF offered a new style of presentation to stormwater exhibitors for the first time this year — the lightning round presentation in which companies had only seven minutes to present their timed slides.

“The Stormwater Theater provides an intimate setting to meet, up close and personal, experts on stormwater management,” Shapiro said. “Moreover, you are right on the expo floor, in the heart of stormwater activities, so you also have immediate access to a variety of stormwater professionals with numerous experiences and solutions to fit your needs.”

EPA also hosted a session on greening water infrastructure and the agency’s Innovation Blueprint in the Stormwater Pavilion Theater. During this collaborative session, attendees were asked to discuss barriers and to come up with opportunities and solutions for using green infrastructure. “The Innovation Blueprint sessions were exciting and engaging,” Hinds said. “I expect we will expand that programming next year in Chicago.”

To be part of the 2015 Stormwater Congress technical program in Chicago, submit an abstract! Click here to learn more. Also check out more highlights from WEFTEC and the Stormwater Congress on WEF’s YouTube Channel.