Last year, more than 800 U.S. Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program permittees shared information about the challenges facing their organizations and the resources they need to surmount them as part of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Stormwater Institute’s second MS4 Needs Assessment Survey. Results from the 2020 survey, released in February, indicate an annual estimated funding gap of approximately $8.5 billion for U.S. MS4 permittees.
The 2020 survey adds new context to the results of the WEF Stormwater Institute’s 2018 MS4 Needs Assessment Survey, which represented the first national-scale inquiry into the resources and requirements of stormwater management organizations. Responses suggest a need for more robust funding mechanisms in order to empower MS4 permittees to better protect public health and the environment, survey administrators described in a February 25 webcast about the results.
“The stormwater infrastructure that is vital to the health of our communities and our environment is in desperate need of increased and sustained investment,” said WEF President Lynn Broaddus. “Stormwater infrastructure is an integral part of our overall water infrastructure and it is imperative that it be included in any infrastructure package developed by the Biden Administration and Congress.”
Among both Phase I and Phase II MS4 permittees that responded, aging infrastructure, funding and availability of capital, and increasing or expanding regulations were the most frequently cited challenges. More than 50% of respondents ranked all three of these issues as either “challenging” or “very challenging”.
Aging infrastructure was consistently indicated as the most pressing issue, with about 75% of Phase I MS4 permittees reporting infrastructure disrepair as their primary challenge. Compared to the 2018 survey, more respondents voiced needs for infrastructure renewal and other types of asset management during the 2020 survey.
In 2018, about 45% of respondents indicated that they experienced an annual funding gap, meaning they have had to defer programs and infrastructure due to a lack of sufficient ongoing funding. In the 2020 survey, that number rose even higher.
“58% of 804 respondents identified needs for additional funding for their stormwater programs, confirming again the need for reliable funding sources to ensure a sustainable stormwater sector,” said Fernando Pasquel, national director of stormwater and watershed management for Arcadis (Arlington, Virginia), during the webcast. “What is clear is that there is a need for federal and local investment in stormwater infrastructure.”
Other needs expressed include best practices for watershed-based stormwater planning, better strategies to win public and political support for stormwater programs, improving cross-departmental coordination, and attracting new talent to fill the positions of sector veterans, many of whom are reaching retirement age.
“With all of the compounding issues that the sector faces, these challenges and needs will continue to increase,” said Rebecca Arvin-Colon, WEF Stormwater Institute senior manager. “As we continue to make large investments in our infrastructure, it’s important to understand the needs of the MS4 programs and communicate those needs to Congress.”
Data With a Purpose
For the 2020 installment, survey administrators partnered with software developer 2NDNATURE (Santa Cruz, California) to create a dynamic Data Dashboard that adds context to the results. Dashboard users can filter survey results by location, organization type, service population, and other factors, as well as how those values have changed over time.
Survey results help inform WEF Stormwater Institute advocacy as well as other efforts to identify U.S. national-level stormwater sector trends. Findings, for example, were incorporated into the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (Reston, Virginia) upcoming Infrastructure Report Card, which will this year assign a grade to the state of U.S. stormwater infrastructure for the first time. The survey also helps guide WEF’s efforts to build support for stormwater-sector funding among state and federal legislators, including the organization’s 2020 Recommendations to Improve the Stormwater Program in the U.S. document.
In an effort to track how stormwater-sector challenges, resource levels, and priorities change over time, the WEF Stormwater Institute plans to undertake its MS4 Needs Assessment Survey at regular intervals.
“WEF is committed to regularly conducting the survey in the future and providing the results analysis to continue to better understand the sector’s needs and challenges as well as how we can address those challenges by developing resources and advocating for the sector,” Arvin-Colon said.