By Angela Godwin, Chief Editor
Stormwater runoff has been called the single most common cause of pollution in our nation's waterways, carrying a variety of pollutants, such as sediment, bacteria, organic nutrients, and hydrocarbons to our watersheds and degrading water quality. But controlling and managing a non-point source of pollution isn't easy — flows can be unpredictable, pollutants are variable, and regulatory requirements can be confusing. Couple that with very limited funding and you've got a perfect storm indeed.
This year at WEFTEC, stormwater will be covered like never before. "Compared to previous years, there's been an overall increase in the topic [of stormwater] and the program reflects that," said WEF's Stormwater Program and Policy Manager Seth Brown. Nearly 40 papers across seven sessions will delve specifically into stormwater and green infrastructure topics, exploring such themes as establishing stormwater utilities; sustainable stormwater infrastructure design; managing urban stormwater with trees; and using computer modeling to help manage the impact of rain events on watersheds.
This is the second year WEFTEC has planned a dedicated stormwater track, something Brown said is a reflection of the maturation of WEFTEC's programming. "In the past, stormwater topics focused primarily on wet weather issues like CSOs," he said. "While that's still part of what we do, we are starting to diversify and talk about things like rainwater harvesting, sediment and erosion control, and financing options for stormwater."
In addition to the traditional Technical Sessions, WEFTEC will offer for the first time this year a number of Featured Sessions, which follow a somewhat different format — including a lively panel discussion — and are put together and led by leading industry experts.
One of those Featured Session is titled "EPA's Stormwater Effluent Limitation Guidelines: A Moving and Disappearing Target." Three speakers from the International Erosion Control association will deliver presentations, question each other, and then take questions from the audience. They'll cover some ELG history, treatment technologies, EPA activities and research on the subject, and finally offer their predictions on where things are headed.
"It's focusing on erosion and sediment control guidelines for constructions sites," said Brown. "That's a new area for WEF and one that I'm excited about."
It's Not Easy Being Green... Or Is It?
Communities across the country are doing some amazing things when it comes to managing stormwater with green infrastructure. WEFTEC's ‘Big Cities Turn Stormwater Green' session will highlight a few of these: Orlando, Philadelphia, and New York City, to name a few. One presentation will also discuss how alternative green infrastructure can help cities save big dollars.
As water quality regulations grow more stringent, it's becoming clear that traditional gray infrastructure isn't enough. In the ‘Gray, Green, and Integrated Stormwater Design' session, six presentations will outline how municipalities were able to successfully combine planning, outreach, engineering and management to create innovative designs that utilized the best of gray and green infrastructure to manage runoff.
Trees can bring some tremendous benefits to an urban environment: they're not just aesthetically pleasing but also help conserve water, minimize erosion, support wildlife, reduce air pollution, and mitigate greenhouse gas effect. But urban forests are not without their challenges. Industry experts in WEFTEC's "Urban Trees for Stormwater Management" session will discuss these issues and strategies for reducing the impact of trees on urban infrastructure and improving the success rate and overall health of urban trees.
"Cities are facing long term control plans and consent decrees and they're seeing that green infrastructure can be a cost-effective way to deal with these issues," said Brown. At the same time, EPA is opening the door to green solutions through their new integrated planning approach.
"There's more interest, even outside the regulatory environment, to use a technology or an approach that can be — and has often been shown to be — more cost-effective that just gray solutions," said Brown.
There are also a number of side benefits to green infrastructure: public health improvement, aesthetic value, and economic revitalization of blighted urban areas.
WEFTEC attendees are sure to notice the volume and diversity of stormwater content at this year's event.
"We recognize the value and interest in stormwater across the water sector," said Brown. "These integrated water management issues aren't just rhetoric, they are real issues. We hear you, we're addressing it, and we're here to meet the rising challenge of stormwater. Look for big things from us."
The lines between stormwater, drinking water, and wastewater are quickly fading as we begin to embrace the concept of holistic water management, the idea that all of our water resources are not only interconnected but interdependent. It's worth noting that a new session at WEFTEC this year will bring water leaders from several different sectors together to share their perspectives on how to work smarter — not harder — to manage water and meet our quality and quantity needs. On Monday, October 1, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM, join WEF's Executive Director Jeff Eger and five distinguished speakers for insights into their urban water management visions and strategies for attaining it. Speakers include: DC Water's George Hawkins; American Water's Jeff Sterba; Xylem's Gretchen McClain; University of South Florida's Kala Vairavamoorthy; and U.S. EPA Administrator, the Honorable Lisa Jackson (invited).