On April 8 — during the thick of Water Week 2024 — stormwater issues will take center stage in Washington, D.C., as the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) and National Municipal Stormwater Alliance (NMSA; Springfield, Virginia) convene the 2024 National Stormwater Policy Forum.

This year’s edition of Recommendations to Improve the Stormwater Program in the U.S. calls for full appropriations for previously authorized stormwater management initiatives, new funding programs, stronger resources to support community-based resilience planning, and efforts to enhance source control for emerging contaminants.

The free, half-day, hybrid event, which welcomes both virtual and in-person attendees, aims to connect stormwater professionals with federal decisionmakers and provide updates on the most pressing policy issues shaping the contemporary landscape of the stormwater sector. Geared toward stormwater program managers, local elected officials, academics, technology manufacturers, and private consultants, the National Stormwater Policy Forum represents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to meet colleagues, learn about upcoming legislative developments, and advocate for the stormwater sector’s needs. The National League of Cities (NLC; Washington, D.C.) and the National Association of Counties (NACo; Washington, D.C.) will co-host the event alongside WEF and NMSA.

This year, National Stormwater Policy Forum attendees will push for new funding tools for stormwater infrastructure, new support for community-based resilience planning, new efforts to advance source control and management of emerging contaminants, and for U.S. Congress to follow through on previous commitments with new appropriations.

“The federal budget for fiscal year 2024 included some of the most substantial provisions for stormwater management ever, providing much-needed support to the sector as it works against flooding, pollution, and other stressors,” said Scott Taylor, Chair of the National Municipal Stormwater Alliance. “However, significant work remains to ensure stormwater professionals can do their jobs to the best of their ability. The time is now for federal legislators to ensure budgeted money is appropriated to build on the stormwater sector’s momentum with sustained investment and robust technical assistance.”

Recommendations to Improve the Stormwater Program in the U.S.

To help rally National Stormwater Policy Forum attendees around a common voice, WEF and NMSA each year collaborate to produce a short fact sheet outlining the stormwater sector’s most urgent priorities for the coming fiscal year. The 2024 edition of Recommendations to Improve the Stormwater Program in the U.S. proposes four key advocacy themes for this year’s event:

  • advance stormwater provisions passed in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) with ongoing appropriations;
  • support the construction and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure with new funding tools;
  • provide more-robust federal guidance to help communities undertake local-scale climate resilience planning efforts; and
  • pass measures focused on source control and emerging contaminants.

Although the IIJA provisioned an unprecedented level of funding for new and existing stormwater programs, many of these programs have not yet received full appropriations from U.S. Congress in recent federal budgets. For example, the IIJA authorized USD $25 million each for new programs targeting stormwater infrastructure resilience and stormwater capture, as well as $10 million each for new, watershed-based stormwater management planning grants and a new technical assistance program targeting small and medium stormwater treatment facilities. None of these programs have yet received appropriations. Other IIJA initiatives, such as establishing Centers of Excellence for Storwmater Control Infrastructure Technologies and a new grant program focusing on controlling combined sewer overflows, have received only partial appropriations compared to IIJA-stipulated levels.

While new grants and funding tools authorized by IIJA have created unprecedented momentum for investments in stormwater management, the sector requires enduring, long-term sources of financial support. For example, WEF’s ongoing MS4 Needs Assessment Surveys continually indicate that only about 25% of regulated stormwater communities have a dedicated funding source such as a stormwater utility. This year’s recommendations aim to increase this percentage by laying the foundation for a new grant program for stormwater infrastructure construction that eventually will mature into a new state revolving fund program such as those that exist for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The document also calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise its criteria for which communities receive Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants to ensure more equitable distribution, including for historically underserved areas.

During the 2024 National Stormwater Policy Forum, water-sector representatives, legislative staff, and federal agency officials will discuss ongoing efforts to help stormwater professionals across the U.S. better protect their communities from flooding and water pollution. Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

Beyond funding, stormwater organizations often report their most urgent priority is aging infrastructure, exacerbated by expected increases in the amount and intensity of future rainfall. WEF’s 2022 MS4 Needs Assessment Survey found that more than 90% of permitted communities lack substantial planning to ensure their existing stormwater infrastructure is resilient, due mainly to a lack of funding for planning efforts as well as a lack of authoritative climate change data that is locally applicable. This year’s recommendations call for a new grant program geared toward providing funding and technical assistance to facilitate community-scale resilience planning, such as updating design standards and criteria and assessing vulnerabilities in existing infrastructure.

Current EPA protocols for determining whether a chemical poses a potential threat to the environment when entrained in runoff typically investigate target substances at their point of use rather than when they enter the environment. As a result, thousands of substances already in widespread commercial use may represent acute challenges for stormwater management professionals in the future. EPA requires sufficient federal funding to investigate these potential pollutants at their source before they enter the market. As such, this year’s recommendations urge new congressional funding for EPA to develop new testing methodologies, including those that determine whether a discarded chemical represents a contaminant in runoff.

Attend the 2024 National Stormwater Policy Forum

National Stormwater Policy Forum attendees will gather on Capitol Hill for a series of addresses from federal legislators and agency representatives as well as stormwater-sector advocates.

The event opens with a luncheon for in-person attendees, followed by welcome remarks from WEF, NMSA, NLC, and NACo representatives. The program continues with a keynote address from Gretchen Goldman, Climate Change Research and Technology Director for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Steve Dye, WEF Legislative Director, then will moderate a panel focused on stormwater-relevant congressional activities, while subsequent panel discussions will cover specific topics and priorities as well as updates from EPA. Concluding the program is a 2-hour networking reception sponsored by AtkinsRéalis (Quebec, Canada).

Registration for the 2024 National Stormwater Policy Forum now is open for both in-person and virtual attendees. Learn more about the National Stormwater Policy Forum and other Water Week 2024 events at the WEF website.

Top image courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

Justin Jacques is editor of Stormwater Report and a staff member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF). In addition to writing for WEF’s online publications, he also contributes to Water Environment & Technology magazine. Contact him at jjacques@wef.org.