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Stormwater Management Tips for Municipalities

Stormwater Management for Municipalities
Cynthia Cline
Cynthia Cline
March 4, 2022

When an effective stormwater management system is in place and doing its job, excess water runoff is an asset. When stormwater percolates into the ground through grass or gravel and other porous surfaces, it can replenish groundwater, becoming a valuable resource.

However, the remaining stormwater picks up oil, fertilizers, trash, leaves, fertilizer, dirt, and other debris, and carries these pollutants through the sewer system, often untreated and unfiltered. The water then makes its way into lakes, rivers, and oceans, becoming a major source of pollutants. The result is a significant, negative impact on water quality.

Managing polluted stormwater runoff is an ongoing problem, but these stormwater management tips for municipalities can help make some changes in the right direction.

TIP: Know Where the Municipality’s Stormwater System Begins and Ends

Water system end

It’s difficult to successfully manage all aspects of a stormwater management system without clarity about exactly which components fall under a given municipality’s area of responsibility.

Stormwater systems contain many different components that vary based on location, the category of water flowing into them, ownership, regulatory mandates, and the structure or type of system. Diagrams of cities, called parcel maps, can help. These diagrams can display stormwater devices and features under the municipality's responsibility area and clearly define where the responsibility stops.

Municipal diagrams can also highlight problem areas with flooding, overflows, and other undesired spills of untreated stormwater directly into the environment, thus creating a starting point for the next tip, a detailed stormwater system maintenance plan.

TIP: Have a Well-Defined Stormwater System Maintenance Plan

Historically, stormwater maintenance programs have been fragmented, poorly defined, and mainly reactionary. Improving the system's quality starts by improving the quality of the maintenance program. Divide maintenance duties into four separate categories, and then balance and blend these into a workable program. Use the following categories to define the tasks.

Reactive maintenance: Responses to emergencies and complaints. This assumes that damage has already taken place. This method is often the only type of maintenance municipalities perform due to gaps in funding or the lack of a clearly defined program.

Periodic maintenance: Routine and periodic activities, scheduled regularly. Includes items such as cleaning out catch basins once per year or mowing three times during the vegetation growing season. This approach can work well if staff understands the system well and has good data on the system’s performance. It can go poorly if the cyclic maintenance does not align with the timing of the stormwater management system’s needs.

Predictive maintenance: An inspector periodically examines parts of the stormwater management system using specific metrics designed to detect problems before they cause damage to surrounding property or become very expensive to fix. For example, a ditch that is more than 30% full would trigger a work order for cleaning. Repair frequency should be balanced against the risk associated with deferring maintenance.

Proactive maintenance: Uses background research and studies to discover the root of a system’s chronic problems. The resolution could involve changing design standards, types of equipment, development policies, or maintenance procedures. For example, a study might show that specific pipe material performs poorly. Banning this material and finding better alternatives could save thousands of dollars in costs to replace pipes.

TIP: Look for New Ways to Control or Decrease Costs

Water System Maintenance

Stormwater management is often underfunded, which cripples municipalities and makes it difficult to comply with various regulations and keep water pollution to a minimum. Although easier said than done, cutting costs in some areas can provide the means to reallocate funds to other pressing needs in the stormwater management system. Start by examining various maintenance programs and policies and compare costs, revealing any opportunities for savings.

Save money on new development and rework existing stormwater drainage areas using LID (Low Impact Development) stormwater management principles. LID techniques often stay above ground, so they cost significantly less. LID is a way to mimic natural hydrology by designing landscaping features that:

  1. Slow stormwater down, so pollutants settle out before the flows reach rivers, lakes, and the ocean
  2. Spread stormwater out over large, permeable surface areas to let plants and soil filter pollutants from the water
  3. Sink the stormwater into the soil, which provides water for area plants while also replenishing and refreshing groundwater

Achieving and staying in compliance with water quality regulations can save costs by preventing penalty assessments. Part of MS4 compliance involves community outreach, and residents can do their part to minimize pollution and place less of a cost burden on municipal systems.

Community residents can contribute by:

  1. Switching from fertilizers and pesticides to environmentally friendly lawn and household products. This move keeps runoff from polluting groundwater and streams.
  2. Recycling oil and other automotive products or collecting and disposing of them through hazardous waste programs
  3. Washing cars on the grass or taking them to a carwash, so that detergents don’t end up in storm drains. When detergents percolate into grassy soil, it filters and “treats” the water naturally
  4. Cleaning up pet waste to keep it out of storm drains and prevent polluted runoff from going into streams
  5. Practicing water conservation, especially during rainy weather. This places less of a burden on stormwater systems that may already be overtaxed.

How CatchAll Can Help

Catch-All® Storm Drain Insert

These stormwater management tips for municipalities offer some steps to improve your system, but we have so much more. The CatchAll® system includes our proprietary Catch-All® Storm Drain Maintenance Insert that makes cleaning catch basins inexpensive, fast, and easy. We can also provide a professional inspection of your stormwater management system.

We offer preventative, proactive, and, when needed, reactive cleaning and system maintenance. Our experienced engineers can help design, rework, or provide engineering oversight for stormwater system improvement projects. Lastly, we can help sort through state regulations and speak with municipal inspectors on your behalf and take care of all the municipal paperwork and reporting.