Stormwater year in review

January 2012 » Web Exclusive » PROGRESSIVE ENGINEERING
2011 marked by major stormwater events, announcements, and developments.
Bob Drake

In late December 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement of a “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay set the stage for a new year of significant events, impacts, projects, and programs related to stormwater that reflect the challenges and opportunities facing civil engineers in the year ahead and beyond. From record flooding along the Mississippi River and in the Northeast to numerous consent decrees and green infrastructure projects, here are some of the major stormwater news stories and resources from 2011.

• The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution diet targets reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Plans included pursuing state legislation to fund urban stormwater management programs in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia and·implementing a progressive stormwater permit to reduce pollution in the District of Columbia.

• U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists unveiled a hypothetical “ARkStorm Scenario” for California that describes a storm that could produce as much as 10 feet of rain, cause extensive flooding (in many cases overwhelming the state’s flood-protection system) and result in more than $300 billion in damage. “The ARkStorm is essentially two historic storms (January 1969 and February 1986) put back-to-back in a scientifically plausible way,” said Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project and architect of ARkStorm. “The model is not an extremely extreme event.” ARkStorm is part of efforts to create a National Real-Time Flood Mapping initiative to improve flood management nationwide.

• A report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and American Rivers — “The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits” ( sought to place an economic value on the benefits provided by green infrastructure such as green roofs, trees, rain gardens, and permeable pavement. “Every planner, stormwater manager, or developer who’s deciding how to invest their water infrastructure dollars for the next 20 years should read this informative, thought-provoking handbook,” said Mike Rosen, Watershed Division manager of Portland, Ore.’s Bureau of Environmental Services.

• The Clean Water America Alliance announced five winners of the 2011 U.S. Water Prize for watershed-based approaches toward water sustainability: The city of Los Angeles and New York City Department of Environmental Protection for planning, integrating, and incorporating innovative green infrastructure approaches and increasing resource recovery through water reuse and other cutting edge technologies; the Milwaukee Water Council for establishing public-private collaborations that advance water technology and promote economic development; the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center (Alton, Ill.) for mobilizing volunteer communities around the confluence of two rivers and creating a national and international center for science, education, and public outreach; and the Pacific Institute for being consistently in the vanguard of water issues from water use efficiency to climate change, informing political debate and elevating public awareness.

• The Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation released the results of research on pervious concrete pavement, completed at the University of Minnesota, performed in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and their Pavement Testing Facility — MnROAD. It includes a comprehensive evaluation of the use of pervious concrete in cold weather and examines issues such as impermeability causes, mix design, a rheological study, and a pavement structural analysis. The report is available at

• The EPA released updated data and a mapping tool at designed to help the public compare water quality trends during the last two years. The Web-based, interactive map includes “state dashboards” that provide detailed information for each state, including information on facilities that are violating the Clean Water Act and the actions states are taking to enforce the law.

Continuing education in stormwater
The CE News Professional Development Series offers civil engineers a quick and free way to earn continuing education credit by reading specially focused articles — sponsored by CONTECH Construction Products Inc. — and taking an online quiz. The following Professional Development Series articles related to stormwater and wastewater are currently available online at

  • Introduction to Infiltration Best Management Practices (BMPs)
  • Introduction to Decentralized Packaged Wastewater Treatment (PWWT) Systems
  • Cistern Design Considerations for Large Rainwater Harvesting Systems
  • Geosynthetics in Articulating Concrete Block Section Design
  • Practical Considerations Related to the Use of Alternative Backfill Materials for Flexible Soil-interaction Structure Installation
  • The Practical Differences in Material Properties of Flexible Pipe Products
  • Siting Considerations for Open-Bottom Buried Precast Concrete Bridge Structures
  • Rainwater Harvesting and Re-Use: A Tool for Stormwater Runoff Reduction
  • Articulated Concrete Block Design
  • Practical Factors and Considerations Related to Culvert Inspection
  • Economic Optimization of Sustainable Subsurface Infiltration Systems
  • Designing for LID: An In-depth Look at Integrated Management Practices and Design Considerations

• The Water Environment Federation (WEF) premiered its monthly e-newsletter, The Stormwater Report. Available for free at, the publication covers advanced practices, research, policy updates, and current events pertaining to stormwater.

• The Obama administration released a national clean water framework that included draft federal guidance to clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act nationwide; partnerships and programs to improve water quality and water efficiency; and initiatives to revitalize communities and economies by restoring rivers and critical watersheds. The administration said it is dedicating “unprecedented attention” to restoring iconic places such as the Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and Everglades.

• The EPA launched a new strategy to promote the use of green infrastructure by cities and towns to reduce stormwater runoff. As part of the strategy, EPA will work with partners including local governments, watershed groups, tribes, and others in 10 cities that have utilized green infrastructure and have plans for additional projects. EPA will encourage and support expanded use of green infrastructure in these cities and highlight them as models for other municipalities around the country. The 10 cities are: Austin, Texas; Boston; Cleveland; Denver; Jacksonville, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Puyallup, Wash.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C. and neighboring Anacostia Watershed communities. More information on EPA’s green infrastructure agenda is available at

• At the direction of Maj. Gen. J. Michael Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, technicians detonated explosive charges removing a portion of the Mississippi River mainline levee at the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), removal of the levee section was necessary to maintain the integrity of the National Flood Protection System located along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri and western Kentucky, just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

• The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act of 2011 (H.R. 1802), introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, would remove state volume caps on private activity bonds for water and wastewater financing, providing easier access to capital for water projects.

• The USACE New Orleans District opened the Morganza Floodway to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) System. Historic flood levels created the need to operate the entire MR&T Flood Control System to protect millions of lives and prevent catastrophic damages to property. The opening marked the first time in history that three of the MR&T floodways operated simultaneously.

• American Rivers named the Susquehanna River to the top of its America’s Most Endangered Rivers list, citing the rush to develop natural gas reserves in the region without considering the significant risk to clean water and public health. American Rivers also added a “special mention” on the 2011 list for the Mississippi River, based on “outdated flood management strategies and over-reliance on levees.”

• Researchers at Columbia University estimated that if New York City’s 1 billion square feet of roofs were transformed into green roofs, it would be possible to keep more than 10 billion gallons of stormwater a year out of the city’s sewer system. Their study concluded that, based on the price of building and maintaining a green roof, it costs as little as two cents a year to capture each gallon of water.

• WEF’s board of trustees approved a revised position statement ( that recommended updating regulations under EPA’s Clean Water Act and improving stormwater management, including use of a volume-based approach for stormwater treatment, support of green infrastructure, flexibility in the stormwater regulatory framework, consideration of climate change, and integration of a watershed-based approach into permitting.

• The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act, introduced in the House and Senate, would require the EPA’s Office of Water to promote and coordinate the use of green infrastructure for stormwater management and accept natural stormwater designs such as green roofs, porous pavements, and vegetated channels and detention areas in its permitting and enforcement activities. The legislation also would establish as many as five regional centers of excellence to spearhead research and development of new stormwater management techniques.

• The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) signed an agreement that allows the PWD to implement a strategy that uses green stormwater infrastructure to substantially reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to its waterways. The plan, called Green City, Clean Waters, lays the groundwork for the PWD to spend approximately $2 billion during the next 25 years to use primarily green infrastructure — such as stormwater tree trenches, vegetated bumpouts, porous pavement, rain gardens, and sidewalk planters — as a means to detain and infiltrate stormwater. The plan also includes wastewater treatment facility enhancements and pipe renewal and replacement. A list of featured projects and information on Green City, Clean Waters is available at

• EPA extended the public comment period for the draft Construction General Permit (CGP) from June 24, 2011, to July 11, 2011. The draft permit, published on April 25, 2011, regulates the discharge of stormwater from construction sites that disturb one acre or more of land and from smaller sites that are part of a larger common plan of development in areas where EPA is the permitting authority, including four states (Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Idaho); Washington, D.C.; most territories; and most Indian country lands.

• Results of a survey by HNTB Corporation ( indicate that more than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) do not recognize that flooding is the biggest natural threat to their home or property; fewer than 1 in 10 (7 percent) have prepared their homes for extensive flooding; and more than 3 in 5 (63 percent) would not put more money toward their annual taxes to help ensure measures are in place to protect their neighborhoods. This is despite more than half of Americans (55 percent) thinking it's likely their area will be hit with an intense storm, hurricane, or flood in the next five years. And close to half (44 percent) of Americans think their area is ill-equipped to deal with potential damage from an extreme storm, hurricane or flood.

• The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a federal union comprised of 11 agencies, is focusing efforts on revitalizing urban waterways in under-served communities. Seven pilot locations are the Patapsco Watershed (Maryland), the Anacostia Watershed (Washington, D.C./Maryland), the Bronx & Harlem River Watersheds (New York), the South Platte River in Denver (Colorado), the Los Angeles River Watershed (California), the Lake Pontchartrain Area (New Orleans), and the Northwest Indiana Area. Lessons learned from these pilot locations will be transferred to other cities in the country. For more information, visit

• The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer systems and treatment plants, at an estimated cost of $4.7 billion over 23 years, to eliminate illegal overflows of untreated raw sewage, including basement backups, and to reduce pollution levels in urban rivers and streams. The settlement reached between the United States, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment Foundation, and MSD requires MSD to install a variety of pollution controls, including the construction of three large storage tunnels ranging from approximately two miles to nine miles in length, and to expand capacity at two treatment plants. The settlement also requires MSD to invest at least $100 million in a green infrastructure program that might include green roofs, bioretention, green streets, rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable pavement.

• Researchers from IBM and the University of Texas at Austin applied advanced analytics to river systems, weather, and sensor data to predict the Guadalupe River’s behavior more than a hundred times the normal speed. Simulating thousands of branches at a time, this technology could help provide up to several days warning of a flood. According to researchers, speed on this scale is a significant advantage for smaller-scale river problems, such as urban and suburban flash flooding caused by severe thunderstorms. Within the emergency response network in Austin, Texas, professors from University of Texas at Austin are linking the river model directly to NEXRAD radar precipitation to better predict flood risk on a creek-by-creek basis.

• A new $1.2 million University of Michigan (U-M) three-year research project called the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities seeks to strengthen the science and decision-making necessary for more effective urban climate adaptation in the Great Lakes region, in both Canada and the United States.

• According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Irene was the first hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Ike struck Texas in September 2008 and was the first storm to threaten the New York City area since Hurricane Gloria in September 1985. On Aug. 27, Irene’s hurricane force winds extended outward up to 90 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 290 miles. River flooding records were broken in 26 rivers in New Jersey (8), New York (14), and Vermont (4). Numerous roads were closed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania due to flooding and downed limbs, including portions of I-78, I-80, I-287, and I-95; 140 roads were closed in Maryland due to downed trees and 46 due to flooding. Hurricane Irene was the tenth billion-dollar disaster in 2011, breaking the annual record dating back to 1980 (

• TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program issued a request for proposals to develop guidelines for the selection and maintenance of highway-related stormwater best management practices (BMPs) based on long-term performance and life-cycle costs. According to TRB, for each broad category of BMP type, while providing flexibility to address the local context (e.g., topography, geology, climate, urban versus rural, soil type, site constraints), it is expected that the final products will provide decision-making guidance on defining long-term performance and selecting appropriate performance measures; predicting long-term performance, service life, and maintenance costs based on the best current information and practice; determining appropriate inspection schedules and procedures; determining appropriate maintenance schedules and procedures; incorporating long-term performance and life-cycle costs into the BMP selection process; ensuring that funding, staffing, and training requirements are understood and considered by all relevant functional areas within the transportation agency for the selection, installation, inspection, and maintenance of BMPs; and identifying life-cycle data collection and analysis protocols to facilitate future evaluation of long-term BMP performance.

• NOAA awarded a contract to build the new NOAA National Water Center on the campus of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The center will integrate and combine the capabilities of multiple federal water partners to expand and improve river and flood forecasting, enhance water resource management, accelerate the application of research to real-world uses, and provide a single portal for water resources information. Among other functions, the center will include a water resources forecasting operations center, an applied water resources research and development laboratory, a geo-intelligence laboratory, and a distance learning center.

• The University of Florida’s Water Institute was designated a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management, becoming the second such institution in the state. Representatives from the EPA Region 4, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the University of Florida signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help communities identify watershed-based problems and develop and implement locally sustainable solutions. Each EPA-designated center actively seeks out watershed-based stakeholder groups and local governments that need cost-effective tools for watershed scientific studies, engineering designs, and computer mapping, as well as assistance with legal issues, project management, public education, and planning. More information about priority watersheds in the Southeast is available at

• The EPA approved New Performance Standards for Washington, D.C. stormwater. The permit requires the District to take sustainable steps promoting green infrastructure including requiring a minimum of 350,000 square feet of green roofs on District properties; planting at least 4,150 trees annually and developing a green landscaping incentives program; retaining 1.2 inches of stormwater onsite from a 24-hour storm for all development projects of at least 5,000 square feet; developing a stormwater retrofit strategy and implementing retrofits over 18 million square feet of drainage of impervious surfaces; developing consolidated implementation plans for restoring the impaired waterways of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, Rock Creek, and the Chesapeake Bay; and preventing more than 103,000 pounds of trash annually from being discharged to the Anacostia River. View the permit, fact sheet, and response to comments at

• Green For All, in partnership with American Rivers, Pacific Institute, and the Economic Policy Institute, issued a report, “Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment.” The report looks at an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure — the amount the EPA indicates would be required to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. That investment would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs, and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending. According to the report, now is the best time in a generation to tackle the water infrastructure investment gap because water infrastructure investments would create jobs now, the cost of financing is at historic lows, and the current economic climate can reduce the costs of infrastructure projects. The report is available at

• The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reached a draft agreement to reduce CSOs into area water bodies. Under the agreement, DEP will use green infrastructure to significantly reduce the amount of stormwater entering the city’s combined sewer system from 10 percent of available impervious surfaces in combined sewer drainage areas by 2030. Milestones to reach this requirement include managing 1.5 percent of available impervious surfaces by 2015, 4 percent by 2020, 7 percent by 2025, and 10 percent by 2030. DEP estimates it will invest $187 million in green infrastructure toward achieving the first milestone scheduled for 2015 and it will require a total of $2.4 billion in both public and private investments in green infrastructure projects to meet the terms of the consent order during the next 20 years. The city also will complete work on approximately $1.6 billion in gray infrastructure projects.

• The USACE opened the National Levee Database (NLD) for public access. The NLD includes attributes of levees and floodwalls relevant to flood fighting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, repair, and inspection. Because the location and characteristics of levee systems can be viewed on a map with real-time data from other sources, such as stream gauges and weather radar, USACE said it is a useful tool for a variety of public agencies and individuals including flood plain managers, emergency management agencies, levee system sponsors, and citizens who live or work behind a levee. Currently the NLD includes information on more than 14,700 miles of levees systems that are associated with USACE programs — just a fraction of the estimated 100,000 miles of levees estimated to be nationwide. The database is available at

• Architect Jeanne Gang, FAIA, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, published the book, “Reverse Effect: Renewing Chicago’s Waterways,” resulting from a year-long collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The study began by looking at the problem of invasive species, but evolved into a call for a revolutionary green re-envisioning of Chicago’s troubled waterways and a roadmap for the nation’s river renaissance. “Rather than seeking to control nature with technology, we will discover instead that in the 21st century, nature becomes technology,” Gang wrote in the book's final essay.

• The EPA announced a commitment to using an integrated planning process to help local governments dealing with difficult financial conditions identify opportunities to achieve clean water by controlling and managing releases of wastewater and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively. EPA said it will work with local governments to review the Clean Water Act requirements that each municipality must comply with and look for opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of solutions developed to meet those obligations. This integrated approach will identify efficiencies where more than one water quality issue can be addressed by the same solution and where competing requirements may exist, including how to best make capital investments and meet operation and maintenance requirements. Read more at

• The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unveiled four bioswales in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn to help reduce and manage stormwater in the area. The bioswales are part of the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, which proposes a total investment of $2.4 billion during the next 20 years in green infrastructure to improve harbor water quality by capturing and retaining stormwater runoff before it enters the sewer system. Under an agreement between DEP, the Parks Department, and the Department of Transportation, Greenstreets crews will maintain green infrastructure built in streets and sidewalks, with DEP funding. The bioswales are 20 feet by 5 feet with a 5- to 10-foot pit. Each one is designed to handle 1,870 gallons of stormwater per storm. Ten other bioswales in Brooklyn are under construction. DEP also announced the completion of a $1 million green infrastructure pilot project in conjunction with the New York City Housing Authority that is expected to capture more than 32,000 gallons of stormwater during a single rain event and includes a blue roof, rain gardens, stormwater chambers, and a perforated pipe system to slow and capture stormwater runoff to avoid CSOs into the Bronx River.

• Hatch Mott MacDonald joined 26 other firms and organizations as an Industry Partner in the Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWit). The ERC, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is led by Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, the Colorado School of Mines, and New Mexico State University. The vision of the ERC is to develop sustainable and cost-effective urban water infrastructures through technological advances in natural and engineered systems. Industry Partners provide guidance, participate in research efforts, and provide insight into real-world applications of new technologies. The ERC website is

• Scientists reported that New York may suffer disproportionate effects of climate change in coming decades, compared with other regions, due to its geography and geology. New York City and Long Island are at greatest risk from rising sea level and more severe storms. For instance, the report said that by 2020, nearly 96,000 people on the barrier island of Long Beach, off Long Island, could be at risk from rising seas, at a potential cost of $6.4 billion. The report recommended expanding flood zones, shoreline setbacks for new construction, and flood walls. It also recommended that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority invest in more pumps to vacuum water from New York’s subway system, and barriers to keep water from raining through sidewalk grates and other openings. In New York City, there are already plans to build berms to divert water away from highway tunnel entrances.

• The EPA released a new DVD called “Reduce Runoff: Slow it Down, Spread it out, Soak it in!” that includes four educational videos that provide an introduction to controlling runoff in urban areas. According to the EPA, the videos can help fulfill the outreach requirements for EPA’s Stormwater MS4 program as well as helping with outreach for other purposes. The videos also are posted in small-screen format at; the website provides an FTP link for broadcast-quality videos.

• The U.S Department of Transportation announced that it will provide more than $215 million from its emergency relief program to 34 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and federal lands agencies to reimburse them for repairs to roads and bridges caused by storms, flooding, hurricanes, and other natural and catastrophic disasters. Among states that will receive funding, California will receive $43.4 million for flooding and earthquakes, North Dakota will receive $31.5 million for flooding in the Devil’s Lake region, and Vermont will receive $15.4 million for flooding and damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

• The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) announced it will conduct a public comment period, Jan. 1, 2012 through Feb. 15, 2012, on three updated standard guidelines. The updates are for Standard Guidelines for the Design of Urban Subsurface Drainage, a companion to the Standard Guidelines for the Installation of Urban Subsurface Drainage and Standard Guidelines for the Operation and Maintenance of Urban Subsurface Drainage. It updates ASCE/EWRI 12-05 Standard Guidelines for the Design of Urban Subsurface Drainage, ASCE/EWRI 13-05 Standard Guidelines for the Installation of Urban Subsurface Drainage, and ASCE/EWRI 14-05 Standard Guidelines for the Operation and Maintenance of Urban Subsurface Drainage with material developed within the last five years.

• The California Department of Water Resources, EPA, Resources Legacy Fund, and USACE released “The Climate Change Handbook for Regional Water Planning” to assist water resource managers. Extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation and runoff patterns, temperature changes, and the resulting changes in water quality and availability all have potentially significant implications for water management. Drinking water and wastewater utilities, irrigation districts, local land use planners, and flood control agencies are beginning to evaluate how these changes might affect their missions and their future investments. The handbook provides a checklist for identifying and prioritizing the vulnerability of local watersheds. It is available at

• The EPA, the Department of Justice, and the state of Illinois announced a Clean Water Act settlement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to resolve claims that untreated sewer discharges were released into Chicago-area waterways during flood and wet-weather events. Under the settlement, the MWRD will work to complete a tunnel and reservoir plan to increase its capacity to handle wet-weather events and address CSO discharges. The project will be completed in a series of stages in 2015, 2017, and 2029. MWRD also is required to implement a green infrastructure program that will reduce stormwater runoff in areas serviced by MWRD by distributing rain barrels and developing projects to build green roofs, rain gardens, or use pervious paving materials in urban neighborhoods.

• Unless new investments are made, by 2020, aging, unreliable, and insufficient water infrastructure will cost the average American household $900 a year in higher water rates and lower wages, and American businesses can expect an additional $147 billion in increased costs, according to a new ASCE report. The report, “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure,” shows that a modest investment in drinking water, wastewater, and wet-weather management can prevent these economic losses. The analysis showed that by 2020, the gap between what is being spent on water infrastructure and what is needed to meet the nation’s needs will reach $84 billion. The report is available at

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