APWA and WERF to discuss storm water research plans

APWA has played an active role in the ongoing debates that have raged at the federal, state, and local levels over the regulation of storm water.

Much of the debate has centered around the lack of scientific data and knowledge of the economic implications of such regulation. The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) has heard that call for sound science in storm water management from across the country and in response is launching a major initiative to increase the breadth and depth of its storm water research.

Doug Harrison, an APWA representative on EPA's storm water advisory committee during Phase II negotiations, reflects the views of many APWA members when it comes to the overriding dilemma for storm water managers.

"The evolution of the storm water regulations has moved substantially faster than has the science and economics needed to effectively direct the storm water regulatory initiative," he wrote in a recent paper for the United Engineering Foundation.

The APWA Water Resources Committee is working cooperatively with WERF in its efforts to expand storm water research. Christine Andersen, APWA's Director-at-Large for Environmental Management, explains why. "APWA members have long voiced the need to bring sound, scientific research to decisions about how best to manage urban runoff," she said. "A cooperative research effort carried out by WERF with APWA collaboration is very much in synch with APWA Water Resource Committee plans and goals as well as the larger goals of APWA as a whole."

The Committee has invited WERF to discuss its storm water research plans during the APWA Congress in Philadelphia, both at its Committee meeting and again informally late Tuesday afternoon at a reception to be held by WERF in the Philadelphia Marriott.

Both Andersen and Harrison participated in a recent meeting of storm water stakeholders from across the country convened by WERF to begin the work of shaping a comprehensive, dedicated storm water research program at WERF.

Although much of WERF's existing research focuses on the watershed and related ecological issues, the Foundation felt it was necessary to take the program to the next level after recognizing that storm water is emerging as one of the single biggest issues in water quality. The industry needs knowledge and tools to develop successful, efficient solutions. WERF is in a position to make this happen.

At the early June meeting in Chicago, enthusiastic attendees provided feedback on creating such a program and helped identify research needs.

"Under the structure of storm water NPDES permits in place across the nation, millions of dollars are being spent on storm water monitoring, but comparatively little true applied research is being done," said Harrison, who is the general manager of the Fresno Metro Flood Control District. "It is essential that we determine, scientifically, if and how storm water pollutant loads can be sufficiently reduced to meet desired receiving water objectives and that we identify the environmental, economic, and community impacts of this effort."

As storm water flows over land to storm sewers, it collects pollutants, nutrients, and pathogens that are then deposited in receiving waters, according to WERF research. Storm water and the sewer overflows that often result can cause regulatory problems, damage aquatic environments, threaten wildlife, and make streams, rivers, lakes, and seashores unusable for recreation.

Nearly 40 percent of surveyed U.S. water bodies do not meet water quality standards, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1996 National Water Quality Inventory. Nonpoint sources, including storm water pollution, are among the leading causes of these impairments.

Meeting Phase II regulations is going to be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. WERF has recognized this need for research and is stepping in to fill it. Storm water issues directly affect current and potential WERF subscribers, which include municipal and regional water and wastewater utilities, public works agencies, storm water authorities, industrial corporations, and environmental engineering firms.

According to Gordon Garner, chair of WERF's board of directors, "Almost half of our municipal subscribers have storm water responsibilities, including NPDES storm water permit responsibilities."

Research efforts will address storm water issues from programmatic, technical, and regulatory perspectives. This effort will focus on helping the water quality community manage storm water, reduce pollutant discharges to receiving waters, comply with permits, prevent damage due to urban flooding, and protect surface and ground water quality efficiently and cost effectively.

The problems of storm water reach beyond those directly dealing with permit issues. "Ultimately, storm water and wastewater issues end up in the same watersheds," Garner said. Research that benefits storm water permittees will result in cleaner water for all users and fewer issues for all water quality professionals. Such research also will help the industry realize a desirable future in which watershed management is the primary force.

Much of WERF's existing research relates to storm water issues, either directly or indirectly, which has provided a sound base for the new program. Projects have surveyed wet weather research needs, reviewed existing hydrodynamic models, studied impacts of storm water, and explored mitigation strategies. But considerably more research is needed.

During the meeting, participants identified current and future storm water research needs. Topics included the effectiveness of various best management practices, how to mitigate the impacts of urban runoff, land use practices, the value of current water quality measures and monitoring techniques, and what constitutes effective storm water management. Public participation also emerged as a hot topic, including effective communication and education.

But the concern reached far beyond these topics and included issues such as identifying and controlling sources of pollution from wildlife, fertilizer use, pesticides, fungicides, and deicers, the effectiveness of watershed planning in achieving water quality goals, and controlling erosion and sediment. Managers also indicated that they needed to know the effectiveness of various technologies and restorative efforts such as stream restoration in urban environments.

Program managers in attendance gave short presentations about their local programs and a summary of storm water management efforts (for quality purposes as well as NPDES storm water permit purposes) in their region or state. From the discussions, it was clear that many of these programs are in their infancy, or still very much in evolution from a permit that they could not comply with to a program with local meaning.

"Because of the episodic and variant character of storm water and its quality, the NPDES regulation of storm water will involve an immense reach into community life and economics," Harrison said. "Unfortunately, much of the knowledge required to bridge the gap between desired storm water quality and achievable storm water quality is unknown."

Participants also discussed trends in land use, operations, and public policy that impact storm water management, made recommendations on the kinds of products that would be most useful, and advised WERF on a governance and rate structure to support a storm water research program. They also helped identify potential candidates for a technical advisory committee.

Participants were overwhelmingly supportive of a leveraged storm water research effort and felt that WERF was well positioned to do that research. Using this information, WERF began the work necessary to create the program.

To learn more about WERF's plans or to contribute your thoughts on storm water research, stop by the WERF reception at the APWA Congress. The reception will be held from 4:00-5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11 in the Philadelphia Marriott, Salon B. You may contact WERF at (703) 684-2470 or visit www.werf.org or via e-mail at werf@werf.org.