Survey reveals stormwater sector’s approaches, challenges

During WEFTEC 2019, more than 100 stormwater professionals attended Session No. 105: State and Future of Stormwater. The interactive, 90-minute session covered evolving stormwater regulations, ways to enhance collaboration across agencies and governments, and tips to help maximize the effectiveness of stormwater infrastructure.

Community members voice concerns related to local flooding more often than public safety, appearance or maintenance of green infrastructure systems, reducing urban heat island effects, and effects of stormwater management activities on property values combined, according to more than 100 stormwater professionals who attended Session No. 105: State and Future of Stormwater, at WEFTEC 2019. Image courtesy of the WEF Stormwater Institute

The session also offered an opportunity to survey the leaders driving innovation in the stormwater sector. This 11-question survey sought details on the greatest challenges and most effective strategies from these experts for project delivery.

“Professionals who attended our State and Future of Stormwater session clearly voiced the sector’s need for dedicated sources of funding for stormwater programs and infrastructure,” said Adriana Caldarelli, Director of WEF’s Stormwater Institute. “Survey results also suggest that flood issues are becoming more visible to our customers, making our work even more important. WEF will continue to study how it can best serve the needs of the stormwater community.”

Greatest challenge: Funding

When asked about the greatest challenge facing today’s stormwater sector, session attendees indicated that funding and financing was the toughest obstacle to surmount. 48% of participants named funding as their greatest challenge, followed by 23% who cited public engagement and education and 13% who struggle with developing realistic permit criteria that drive water quality improvements. Other respondents identified stormwater asset management and incorporating new science and technological innovations into infrastructure as significant hurdles.

Most pressing issue: Local flooding

Overwhelmingly, respondents said that issues related to local flooding come up more than any other aspect of health or community development during their work. Survey results show 72% chose flooding as their community’s primary concern. Other responses included green infrastructure maintenance, ensuring public safety, and effects on property values. None of the participants indicated a significant focus on reducing urban heat-island effects.

Requirements for developers: Not overly restrictive

Post-construction stormwater regulations generally have some impact – although neither too much nor too little of one – on the physical or financial feasibility of developing new properties, according to respondents. 55% of the audience said building modifications are often made to address stormwater requirements in their community, but only 13% said that stormwater requirements can affect whether or not projects happen at all, and 23% said stormwater requirements seldom or never affect project design or feasibility.

Research methods: Going it alone

Asked about the most pressing obstacle facing their utility or stormwater management agency, most respondents named funding, infrastructure maintenance, public outreach and understanding, and dealing with runoff from non-point sources as their most significant issues. Image courtesy of WEF Stormwater Institute

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit partners sometimes aid stormwater managers during stormwater studies, projects, and programs, though survey respondents indicated that this was not the norm. Nearly 60% of professionals in the audience said they have partnered with NGOs or nonprofits either infrequently or only once or twice, versus 15% who said they frequently collaborate with these groups and 21% who have never worked with an NGO or nonprofit partner. When these partnerships occur, 32% of respondents said their partners generally support projects by providing technical support and community outreach. 53% said their partner organizations support stormwater activities financially, ranging from funding for a single phase of the project up to the majority of project costs.

Seeking more questions

At the end of the survey, attendees were asked about the unanswered questions they have for other stormwater experts. Some of these questions included:

  • whether the stormwater sector’s strong emphasis on green infrastructure solutions is slowing innovation for other types of stormwater management approaches;
  • the most important strategies and relationships a municipality needs while looking to implement a stormwater utility fee; and
  • if recent regulatory developments at the U.S. federal level, such as revisions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule, have helped or hindered progress in the quality of receiving waters.

The WEF Stormwater Institute is devoting considerable effort toward gaining a better understanding of common challenges and needs affecting stormwater professionals. Read the institute’s May 2019 report, National Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Needs Assessment Survey Results, for more takeaways about how stormwater professionals approach their work.

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