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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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Stormwater, Religion, and Those Vexing Cost Inflators

I once asked why the religious service I attend regularly was so long.  The explanation: the sages over the years wanted to add new prayers, but didn’t feel authorized to discard any of the old prayers.  Thus, the service just got longer and longer.

I think something similar has happened with stormwater BMP specifications.  Blending religion and stormwater management is probably untoward, but my real point is about BMP specifications and cost inflators.  We have added new standards to the specifications, but not felt authorized to dispense with much of the old stuff.   The upshot is that BMPs have likely become more expensive than they need to be.

In this context, a cost inflator is a design feature, analysis, or material that is required as part of a specification that doesn’t contribute to, or may even detract from, the practice’s performance, but increases the cost of design, installation, or even long-term maintenance.

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Majoring in Minors: Reflecting on Monster Storms & Stormwater Management

Here we are. . .majoring in minors. . .again.

Watching videos of cars, huge chunks of asphalt, street signs, and all manner of debris cascading down Main Street in Ellicott City, MD. . .six to 8.5 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, and just two years after similar havoc along that very same Main Street.    A week or two later, a similar “cell” hit Ivy, VA, just to the west of where I live in Charlottesville.  In both cases, lives were lost, property destroyed, infrastructure disassembled, and economies disrupted.

Each of you can tell similar tales or at least knows someone who can.

These types of storms are not the familiar monsters – hurricanes with boys or girls names that announce their arrival days in advance.  The ones I am referring to are the nameless spawn.  They ride into town on swift steeds, stall out as if targeting a particular neighborhood with malicious intent, unleash their violence, and then depart a few hours later.  These monsters are not new; there just seem to be more of them around these days.

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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.


 

Bioretention Engineered Soil Media – Frankenstein & Sustainability

Victor Frankenstein would feel right at home as a stormwater engineer. His success at cobbling together random body parts to create a living man/monster would put him in good stead to build a bioretention cell – with gravel, underdrain pipes and clean-outs, mulch, and plants all assembled from various origins to create a living stormwater practice. If this stormwater creature had a brain, it would certainly be the engineered soil media, as the media is responsible for processing pollutants, draining properly, and growing the plants.

If this is the creature that is lurking in our landscapes, is it a sustainable one? Put another way, why are we importing large volumes of an engineered soil media into our practices at great cost and use of fossil fuels, and are there alternatives to this approach?

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