Drowning In Water Challenges

Drowning In Water Challenges

12 min read

Better stormwater management requires strategy, innovation, and green and gray infrastructure

Stormwater management matters regardless of the location, but for municipalities experiencing more frequent rain events that are also more intense, there’s a new sense of urgency around improving infrastructure and safeguarding communities. One of the most common threats of poor stormwater management is flooding, but not only for the life-threatening conditions and property damage.

“Every jurisdiction in the country is under some kind of mandate to manage stormwater and to keep it from polluting the surface waters of the United States,” says Barbara Hopkins, Esq, ASLA, Executive Director of The Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange. 

Some cities have combined sewers, which collect stormwater, industrial wastewater, and sewage in one pipe. In this setup, weirs (or low-water dams) have been installed. When the volume of water is too great and the pipe can’t hold anymore, the sewage and water flows into the nearest tributary, contaminating the water source. This triggers action from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which gets involved to facilitate cleanup or remediation. This is especially challenging in the country’s older cities in the northeast and northwest, where combined sewer systems are more common.

Cities with separate sewage systems for wastewater and stormwater are governed under the EPA’s MS4 permit system. Under MS4, there are specific regulations around stormwater, and penalties are instituted if runoff isn’t handled appropriately, or pipes are inadequate for the levels of stormwater they transport. In this instance, too, violations can lead to polluted stormwater runoff entering local bodies of water.