WERF stormwater research planning moving forward

Jeff C. Moeller, P.E.
Senior Project Manager
Water Environment Research Foundation
Alexandria, Virginia

In the nearly thirty years since the passage of the initial Clean Water Act, the United States has made great strides in reducing the amount of pollution discharged to waterways from municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities and other point sources. However, roughly forty percent of the nation's surface waters remain at least partially impaired, and much work remains to be done to improve the quality of the nation's waters.

The current single biggest challenge to achieving fishable and swimmable waters is pollution from non-point sources such as agricultural and urban runoff. Every time it rains, storm runoff carries nutrients and pesticides from fields and lawns, metals, grease and oil from streets and parking lots, sediment and grit from construction sites and eroded stream channels, as well as toxics and other contaminants overland and into waterways.

The problem of controlling pollution from stormwater runoff is immense, and the resources of municipalities, stormwater agencies, and others to combat this problem are limited. The rate of progress in controlling non-point source pollution will, therefore, depend in large part on the intelligent use of these limited resources. Research on stormwater issues will be key to providing the necessary information to make good decisions.

In response to this need for information, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) has initiated a new stormwater research program to provide municipalities and stormwater agencies with tools and knowledge needed for sound decision making. This information will help to reduce pollutant discharges to receiving waters, comply with permits, prevent damage due to urban flooding, and protect surface and groundwater quality efficiently and cost effectively. Stormwater research will not only help inform water resource managers but also regulatory agencies, so that regulations are based on the best possible scientific grounds.

In order to help initiate the stormwater research effort, WERF gathered a significant amount of information during 2001 related to research needs from various sources including telephone interviews with more than 100 stormwater program managers from around the country, an invited two-day meeting of stormwater stakeholders in Chicago, reception meetings held at the APWA Annual Conference in Philadelphia and the WEF Annual Conference in Atlanta, surveys of existing WERF subscribers, and meetings with other organizations conducting stormwater related research such as Caltrans.

A sample of the questions and issues that were gathered from stormwater program managers and others through the above-listed meetings, interviews, surveys and discussions are provided below to give the reader an idea of the challenges facing stormwater agencies:

Best Management Practices (BMPs)

  • How effective, in objective terms, are some of the new and existing BMPs?
  • What are the operation and maintenance issues associated with BMPs?
  • What are the lifetime costs of BMPs?
  • What are the potential adverse impacts of BMPs (e.g., on groundwater)?
  • How do you deal with what is at the bottom of BMPs after 15-20 years?
Source Identification/Control
  • How do you balance the benefits of using fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, deicers, and other chemicals with water quality impacts?
  • What is the controllability of various pollutants?
  • What are the most appropriate designs to assess stormwater discharges, potential water quality impacts, and effectiveness of stormwater management programs?
  • How can advances in information technology be used in monitoring, modeling, and information exchange?
  • What standardized field and laboratory protocols are appropriate for urban stormwater monitoring?
Land Use
  • What effective methods exist for stormwater attenuation and how can these be effectively monitored and managed?
  • Are there incentives to development that would allow/encourage reduced runoff practices?
  • How can one ensure land use impacts on water quality are taken into consideration before, rather than after, development has occurred?
Programmatic Indicators
  • How do you evaluate program effectiveness?
  • How clean is clean enough?
  • Which pollutants are truly of concern?
  • What is the cost of meeting numeric limits?
At its fall 2001 meeting, the WERF Board of Directors approved the formation of a technical advisory committee that will be charged with developing a five-year strategic research plan as well as researching project concepts that will work to answer questions and issues such as those listed above that are on the minds of stormwater program managers. The members of the inaugural Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee are:

Christine Andersen, P.E., Chair
City of Boulder, Colorado

Gail B. Boyd
URS Corp., Portland, Oregon

Larry Coffman
Prince George's County, Maryland

Doug Harrison
Fresno Metro Flood Control District, Fresno, California

Robert E. Pitt, Ph.D., P.E., D.E.E.
University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama

Charles Rowney, Ph.D.
Camp Dresser & McKee Inc., Maitland, Florida

Ben Urbonas, P.E.
Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Denver, Colorado

James Wheeler, P.E.
US EPA, Washington, D.C.

The members of the Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee will have their first meeting in early 2002 to begin work on developing the framework for a five-year strategic research plan as well as project concepts for the year 2002. WERF anticipates issuing several new stormwater-related Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in 2002 to add to its over $11 million portfolio of ongoing and completed wet weather-related research.

WERF has already begun research that will address some of the questions and issues noted earlier. For example, WERF recently selected a contractor to conduct a research project monitoring BMPs and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) to determine performance and whole life costs. This $600,000 effort that is being jointly funded by WERF and United Kingdom Water Industry Research (UKWIR) should provide information essential to be able to make comparisons between various options for pollutant removals and plan for the ongoing maintenance and end-of-life costs for BMPs/SUDS.

At its fall meeting, WERF's Board of Directors also approved subscription rates for its new stormwater program. WERF stormwater subscribers, primarily through an annual survey as well as through regional meetings and individual discussions, will set future stormwater research priorities for the program. For further information about WERF's stormwater research efforts and how your organization can benefit you may contact Patricia Haddon at (703) 684-2470 or visit www.werf.org.