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Greetings respected colleagues: I have started a blog to explore various stormwater and watershed topics. Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts and if you have ideas or topics that you’d like to explore together.


Nixon, My Birthday, and the Clean Water Act that Almost Never Was

The main thing I remember about Richard Nixon is that he ruined my 13th birthday. It was August 8, 1974. My parents took me to a restaurant. TV screens lined the walls, and all eyes were on Nixon delivering his resignation speech. The atmosphere was quiet, somber, decidedly un-birthday-like.  As a 13-year old boy, it was evident that my birthday celebration was being subsumed by more critical events.

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Naughty Nitrogen

Nitrogen didn’t start out naughty. It comes from a good home: a blue planet that I hear is very nice. It constitutes 78 percent of our planet’s atmosphere and enjoys cosmic notoriety as the sixth most abundant element in the universe. Way to go number 7 (check your periodic table). Life wouldn’t be much good without it, and it finds its way into many products: food, fertilizer, explosives, refrigerants, metals, and jet and rocket propellants. If you’ve had the good fortune to witness the aurora borealis, you have Nitrogen to thank, at least in part, for the experience.  Oh. . .but Nitrogen has a naughty side.

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Fallout Shelters, Sea Lever Rise, and Perceptions of Risk

Some coastal communities are grappling with fair weather flooding, when winds, tides, and higher seas conspire to push water overland and up through the storm drain system onto city streets.  I was at a stormwater forum recently where it was discussed whether streets could actually be designed to store water (e.g., have one lane flooded temporarily) as a sea level rise (SLR) adaptation strategy.

This discussion made me reflect on the complex topic of risk: how it is assessed, measured, communicated to the public, and, in many instances, normalized in the culture.

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Vitamins & Minerals for Stormwater BMPs

Vitamins and minerals make us healthy and strong. We’d also like our stormwater practices to be healthy and strong, but they may need some over-the-counter supplements to boost their performance and vitality. Nobody wants a listless BMP in need of a mood adjustment.

Our profession has been continuously improving BMP materials and specifications as we learn lessons from research and practice. What additional innovations may be on the horizon? This article covers just a few types of materials that are slowly (but perhaps inevitably) entering the BMP landscape.

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Big Infrastructure: The Long View or Incrementalism?

Big infrastructure projects tend to be contentious. Over the course of my career, the hottest potatoes have been the expansion of a drinking water reservoir, building a new highway near a drinking water source, a 765kv powerline through the mountains, and the current issue of a proposed natural gas pipeline.

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Obsessed With Phoshorus

I and my fellow stormwater professionals have spent decades obsessed with Phosphorus.  We have developed formulas and spreadsheets that tell us how many pounds of Phosphorus will run off of a parking lot or yard.  We have explained the various ills created by too much Phosphorus flowing to rivers, lakes, and the  Chesapeake Bay.  We build contraptions called BMPs to trap it and disarm it.  The Chesapeake Bay TMDL admonishes us to limit Phosphorus to 12.5 million pounds per year. 

Given all that, I have struggled with actually envisioning Phosphorus.  What does a pound of Phosphorus actually look like, much less 12.5 million pounds?  I can’t look into a river and declare with any certainty, “there goes some Phosphorus” (except of course for the occasional algae left in its wake).  What exactly is this sinister substance called Phosphorus? 

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The Winter Woods are Calling: Channeling Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

(First four lines from “The World is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth, published 1807)

For some reason, this poem has been popping into my head of late. I recall clearly my high school English Literature teacher reciting Wordsworth’s poems and wondering what it meant for the world to be “too much with us.”
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Romancing The River

River: You arrived uninvited.  At first, you were small and unimposing.  Each year, your grew in strange and unexpected ways.  On rare occasions, I have appreciated your presence.  Perhaps I have even come to love you.

City: I came here because of you.  It was your flowing current that allowed my currency to flow. That is what was most important. . .and still is.  I, too, admit to feelings of love, but I think it would be better described as a love-hate relationship.  You have been exceedingly kind and generous over these many years, but I have never gotten accustomed to that temper of yours.

River: At first, your floodplain contained the worst of my emotional outbursts.  Then, you clogged them up with walls, railroad tracks, factories, and concrete.  My emotions did not go away – they just got channeled in different directions, and I believe I took part of you. . .even a part of your soul. . .with me.  I cannot apologize for these outbursts.  They are a part of my nature.

City: Well, I have marveled at your lack of emotional control.  But, who am I to talk. 

River: Point well taken.  For many years, I thought you hated me.  You poured chemicals into my water and concrete on my banks.  You chased away my friends; those with fins and wings.  You turned your back on me, and all I saw was the ugly backside of what you call your “currency.” The most painful was when you plugged up my flow and stole my water.

City: How can I ever make amends for these things except by giving something back to you that was taken.  It is hard to believe with all that has happened that I still love you.

River: And I love you. . .you Scoundrel! 

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My Local River Cries Out, “What About Me?” Following Nutrient Trading Logic Down To The Riverside

The new development down the street on the banks of my local river is discharging untreated stormwater directly into the river.  This river also happens to be impaired for sediment and bacteria.  This is being done in full compliance with my state’s nutrient trading regulations, even though trades are not supposed to imperil local water quality. How did this come about?

To be clear, I was an early (but cautious) advocate of nutrient trading, especially as an important tool to meet pollutant load goals of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  With colleagues at the Center for Watershed Protection, I contributed to a couple of white papers on the topic, led the team that developed West Virginia’s off-site stormwater compliance guidance document (link at end of article), and served on the technical committee assisting Virginia with the regulations for off-site compliance.

The “cautious” part in the lead sentence is that trading is a valuable tool when guided by a regulatory framework that governs the rules of the road.  Such a framework can help determine which sites are eligible for trades and how off-site pollutant reductions are verified.  Among these crucial concerns is how local water quality can be protected when trades are made across a watershed.

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