Stormwater

The Promise of Permeable Pavement

by Jeanna Henry

Permeable pavement products can be used together with other green infrastructure.

When it rains, or as snow and ice melt, I frequently notice streams of water running off of my lawn, onto the street, into the storm sewer, and ultimately to a local waterway. I’ve also noticed an increase in flooded roadways and neighborhoods in my area even after a moderate to heavy rain. Unfortunately, stormwater is not just a localized issue, it is a problem across the country. As the saying goes: when it rains, it pours.

Flooding results in economic costs, human health impacts, and environmental damage in its wake. A major factor in more frequent flooding events is the increasing cover of impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots and rooftops. Since these hard surfaces do not allow stormwater to naturally seep into the ground, most rainfall turns into runoff. With continuing development and growth, what options are available to minimize the effects of impervious surfaces? A more sustainable solution is to replace or substitute conventional pavements with permeable pavements – a green infrastructure tool.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Permeable pavements include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and permeable interlocking pavers that mimic nature by capturing, infiltrating, treating, and/or storing rainwater where it falls. EPA considers these materials a Best Management Practice (BMP) for the management of stormwater runoff. Permeable pavements also provide multiple benefits beyond stormwater management and reducing localized flooding: they also have the ability to improve water quality; reduce the “heat island” effect in urban areas; reduce roadway hazards like ponding water and icing; create green jobs; and can increase the livability and resiliency of communities and increase property values when used with other green infrastructure. In fact, these benefits are already being realized throughout EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

Permeable pavements along with green infrastructure are effective ways to address flooding as well as supporting green, sustainable growth. So the next time it rains, think about where permeable pavements and other types of green infrastructure could fit into your community.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking, or spending a day at the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Storm Water Management Model Gets Climate Update

By Marguerite Huber

Image of a flooded local park

EPA researchers are helping address runoff problems.

EPA researchers are developing strategies and resources to help city planners, managers, and others address stormwater runoff problems, including those related to impervious surfaces and combined sewer overflows. One powerful tool available is the Stormwater Management Model, also known by its acronym, “SWMM.”

EPA’s Storm Water Management Model is a publically-available rainfall-runoff simulation model that provides a suite of information about urban water patterns. It is used for planning, analysis, and design related to stormwater runoff, combined sewers, sanitary sewers, and other drainage systems in urban areas, and is the basis for the National Stormwater Calculator.

SWMM has the ability to estimate the pollution loads associated with stormwater runoff. Various versions of the model have been in existence since 1971, and it has been used in thousands of hydrology and drainage system design projects around the world.

The tool is designed to be customizable, helping particular urban areas meet local watershed challenges. For example, municipalities and communities can use it to design and size drainage system components for flood control, to design control strategies for minimizing combined sewer overflows, and to control site runoff using low impact development practices.

The Storm Water Management Model Climate Adjustment Tool (SWMM-CAT) is a new addition to SWMM. It is a simple to use software utility that allows future climate change projections to be incorporated into SWMM.

Screen shot of EPA's SWMM-CAT tool showing a map with stormwater data

Storm Water Management Model

SWMM-CAT provides a set of location-specific adjustments that derived from global climate change models run as part of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 3 (CMIP3) archive. These are the same climate change simulations that helped inform the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in preparing its Fourth Assessment report.

Both SWMM and the Stormwater Calculator are a part of the President’s Climate Action Plan.

“Climate change threatens our health, our economy, and our environment,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator. “As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, this tool will help us better prepare for climate impacts by helping build safer, sustainable, and more resilient water infrastructure.”

The continued development of predictive modeling tools such as SWMM will provide urban planners and other stakeholders with the resources they need to incorporate both traditional stormwater and wastewater system technologies with the emerging, innovative techniques of green infrastructure. The collective impact will be more sustainable urban areas and healthier waterways across the nation.

SWMM-CAT can be downloaded here.

If you are interested in learning more about SWMM-CAT, join our webinar on 2/25/15 at 12:00 PM ET!

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Oyster Bay Goes Green with New Rain Garden

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

By Amy Mandelbaum and Mark A. Tedesco

Did you ever stop to think where water goes after it leaves your downspout? If you’re like most people, once stormwater is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Most likely, the stormwater rushes down your driveway, onto the street, and to the nearest storm drain. If you don’t live in the Big, I mean, Green Apple, then that drain goes directly to your local waterway, whether it be a lake, creek, river, bay, estuary, or even the ocean. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, that stormwater isn’t so clean by the time it makes it to your local waterway, as it picks up litter, nutrients, and plenty of other things along the way. This polluted stormwater runoff goes directly into the water without having a chance to be cleaned.

So, what can we do about it? That’s where green infrastructure comes into play. Green infrastructure is essentially mimicking what nature did before we started building gray infrastructure, such as gutters, roads, pipes, etc. Out of the many green infrastructure practices, one of the best for filtering polluted stormwater runoff is a rain garden: a shallow, vegetated basin that captures, treats, and infiltrates polluted stormwater runoff within a day. It is designed to treat the first inch of rain, which is the most polluted, and the plants, soil, and mulch filter the polluted stormwater runoff before it enters your local waterway.

The Town of Oyster Bay realized the need to redirect the polluted stormwater runoff from the roadway along the waterfront before going into nearby Oyster Bay, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, and eventually Long Island Sound. The Town sought and received a Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant to install a rain garden, all while educating the local community. The rain garden was installed in October, with assistance from other local organizations and volunteers. As part of the project, a corresponding rain garden training program is also offered for homeowners, municipal officials, and landscape professionals. This rain garden now serves as a demonstration to the local community and its visitors of a green infrastructure practice that can be easily incorporated into the landscape.

So, the next time it rains, I hope you take a closer look at your downspout.

If your town would like assistance mitigating the effects of stormwater runoff, contact your local Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) office in New York or Connecticut.

About the Authors: Amy Mandelbaum is the New York Outreach Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for New York Sea Grant in Stony Brook, NY. She received her Ed.M. in science education in 2012 and a B.S. in environmental science in 2007 from Rutgers University.

Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Partners in Preventing Pollution

by Ms. Kyle J. Zieba

 

MS4 Training Exercise

MS4 Training Exercise

 

It was truly rewarding watching professionals from Prince William and Fairfax counties in Virginia help lead our recent training exercises in how to ensure towns follow the rules when it comes to preventing municipal stormwater pollution.

Our EPA team worked with these counties to strengthen their stormwater programs following compliance inspections in 2011. And now here they were at the front of the class showing others how to do the job right.

Stormwater runoff is a leading cause of pollution in our rivers and streams. Over the last few years, EPA has worked with many municipalities and counties in the region to improve their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) compliance. As a result, many local governments have stepped up to better their operations.

Today, Prince William and Fairfax counties are proactively managing their MS4 compliance obligations, and sharing their experiences.

The counties recently hosted, and joined EPA, in leading the training sessions for state inspectors from throughout the mid-Atlantic region on how to check for stormwater violations. They explained some of their model procedures and led the trainees through mock inspections, a demonstration in detecting illicit discharges, and other activities.

One of EPA’s priorities, launching a new era of local partnerships, is on full display in our MS4 compliance work with Fairfax and Prince William counties. By working together, we’re demonstrating a new paradigm for how compliance assurance activities to protect human health and the environment can lead to long-term collaboration and shared accountability.

 

About the author: Ms. Zieba is an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Enforcement Officer in the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Decade of Partnership for the Nation’s River

: A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

by Vicky Binetti

This year, members of the Potomac River Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership are marking the tenth anniversary of their 2004 partnership resolution. I recall the excitement as water utilities from the middle Potomac, and federal, interstate and state government representatives signed a giant version of the partnership’s framework document at Little Seneca Reservoir in Maryland, pledging to work together to protect the quality of the Nation’s River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people.

On that September day, our aspirations were high: to develop a unified voice for the protection of drinking water sources, provide a forum to enhance understanding of important water quality issues, and build a team to coordinate action on priority concerns. Over the past 10 years, partnership members have joined forces to conduct unique sampling studies for pathogens and emerging contaminants. We’ve conducted workshops on runoff of salt-laden stormwater from winter storms; on the potential risks posed by newly recognized contaminants, and ways to reduce their presence in water supplies; and on the potential for nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban sources to contribute to harmful algal blooms. We’ve developed coordinated early warning systems and emergency response strategies; conducted exercises to simulate real disasters; and shared lessons learned and contingencies planned in dealing with floods, droughts and power failures. We’ve examined the success and value of land conservation efforts in the basin, and probed the simple elegance of how forested lands protect downstream water quality.

After a decade in partnership, our experience tells us that even as our understanding has increased, challenges remain. As our population has grown, and land and water use have become more intense, the need for safeguarding sources of our water supply remains a priority. Whatever challenges lie ahead, this partnership will build upon a foundation of strong science and collaboration.

So, in this same year that we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s also raise a toast – with tap water, of course – to 10 years of protecting the Potomac River.

 

About the author: Vicky Binetti is Associate Director of EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division, with responsibilities including public drinking water system compliance, source water protection and underground injection control in the mid-Atlantic states. At home in southern New Jersey, Vicky is a member of the Environmental Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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An Internship that Wasn’t a Waste

By Sarah Martynowski

During the summer, EPA hosts several events to provide interns with enriching experiences in the D.C. metropolitan area. Last summer, we visited the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, located along the Potomac River. Designed to treat an average daily flow of 370 million gallons of wastewater per day, Blue Plains is the largest treatment plant of its kind in the world. It’s known globally for its state-of-the-art technology and innovative research.

We began the tour at the point where 1,800 miles of pipes bring both raw sewage and stormwater into the plant from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The first step screens and removes grit. Then the wastewater moves through primary and secondary treatment. Primary treatment is a physical process that removes floating materials, while secondary treatment is a biological process that removes organic matter. And while most treatment plants stop after primary and secondary treatment, the advanced system at Blue Plains continues the process to remove nitrogen and phosphorous that can hurt local waterways. The treated water then passes through filters and is disinfected before flowing into the Potomac River.

Blue Plains is currently constructing an anaerobic digestion facility and a thermal hydrolysis process to further treat the solids that are removed in the treatment process. The digesters will produce enough biogas to generate 10 megawatts of electricity: enough to provide one-third of the plant’s own power requirements. The thermal hydrolysis process will create “Class A” biosolids that can be safely applied to land as a fertilizer.

DC Water is also working to improve treatment of its “combined sewer system,” meaning that storm water and wastewater come together when it rains. A massive tunneling project called “the Clean Rivers Project” will capture excess flows. Currently, many of these combined sewers become overloaded during storms and raw sewage overflows into local rivers. When the tunnel system is complete in 2025, most of these excess flows will be captured and conveyed to Blue Plains for treatment. As a result, DC Water expects to reduce overflows by 96 percent.

Our tour was an excellent opportunity to learn about wastewater treatment plants, beyond just the information found in my environmental textbooks. I may never operate a wastewater treatment plant, but I think it’s important to understand how they work and their vital role in keeping our waters clean and healthy.

About the author: Sarah Martynowski is a senior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in environmental studies and political science. She was an intern for EPA’s Office of Water during the summer of 2014.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Join us to Chat About Green Infrastructure

By Aaron Ferster

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain + pavement = stormwater runoff.

Rain can fall as a drizzle, a steady patter, or a deluge. It can bring life to crops, recharge aquifers, and douse wildfires. But in many instances and places, it can also bring trouble.

Stormwater—particularly flowing over urban and suburban landscapes with their abundance of pavement, roofs, and other impermeable surfaces—is a major source of pollution reaching the nation’s waterways. As it flows from the land and into storm drains, such runoff absorbs excess nutrients, oils, and other contaminants. Large storms and Spring melt events can also overwhelm municipal sewer systems, leading to overflows that include not only tainted runoff, but raw sewage as well.

The end result can mean impaired water bodies locally as well as far downstream.

EPA scientists and engineers are helping. Their research is advancing low-cost, innovative solutions, “green infrastructure,” that communities can tap to improve stormwater management and protect the health of their waterways.

Green infrastructure refers to techniques that enhance or mimic nature to absorb, pool, slow, and cleanse stormwater where it falls. It can take many forms, from rain barrels and local rain gardens to watershed-scale strategic plans that identify collective actions of “best practices” to employ across communities.

EPA researchers are providing the data, knowledge, and tools needed to advance green infrastructure for healthier, more sustainable communities. They are leading the effort to identify and quantify the beneficial impacts of green infrastructure and share what they learn with Agency partners.

Rain garden

EPA researchers are studying green infrastructure, such as rain gardens.

To learn more about green infrastructure and ask questions, please join our researchers tomorrow (October 29, 2014) from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter. Questions should be sent to #EnvSciChat.

You can also read more in our latest EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research.

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Green Infrastructure Helping to Transform Neighborhoods in Cleveland and Across the Nation

By Alisha Goldstein

By Alisha Goldstein

Every community wants clean water. And most communities would like more green space that allows residents to enjoy the outdoors and makes neighborhoods more attractive. Green infrastructure – a natural approach to managing rainwater with trees, rain gardens, porous pavements, and other elements – can help meet both these goals. It protects water quality while also beautifying streets, parking lots, and plazas, which attracts residents, visitors, and businesses.

This week, we are releasing a new report, Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure, that can help communities develop a vision and a plan for green infrastructure that can transform their neighborhoods and bring multiple benefits. It can be useful to local governments, water utilities, sewer districts, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and others interested in innovative approaches to managing stormwater to reduce flooding and bring other environmental, public health, social, and economic benefits.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Greening America’s Capitals: Protecting Water, Boosting Resiliency, Strengthening Economies

Protecting water quality from polluted runoff is just one of the challenges many towns and cities face. Since 2010, our Greening America’s Capitals Program has helped 18 state capitals and the District of Columbia create sustainable community designs that incorporate green infrastructure. These projects can help clean the air and water, increase resilience, stimulate economic development and assist economically distressed neighborhoods, and make existing neighborhoods more vibrant places to live and work.

Today, we announced five new recipients of this technical assistance: Austin, TX; Carson City, NV; Columbus, OH; Pierre, SD; and Richmond, VA. Along with benefiting these communities, the projects are intended to serve as models for other communities that are trying to grow in sustainable ways.

A 2008 EPA study put the national cost of water infrastructure for managing combined sewer overflows and stormwater at more than $105 billion. As communities make choices about infrastructure investments in the face of growth and shifting climate patterns, green infrastructure offers a beneficial and cost-effective alternative. Green infrastructure can complement gray infrastructure by reducing and treating stormwater at its source while delivering a variety of environmental, social, and economic benefits.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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A Commitment to Keep Our Waters Clean and Safe

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility to protect public health and the environment from pollution stemming from farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We take this charge seriously and have dedicated one of EPA’s six National Enforcement Initiatives to preventing animal waste from CAFOs from contaminating water. If not managed properly, animal waste can impair drinking water sources, transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, and pollute the rivers and lakes on which we all depend.

In 2011, an EPA review of a poultry CAFO owned by Lois Alt in West Virginia determined that when it rained, manure and other pollutants were discharging into a nearby creek that flowed into the Potomac River. The discharge required a permit under the Clean Water Act which would have defined safeguards to minimize pollution.

EPA issued an administrative order to address this pollution. The Alt CAFO then clarified existing management practices and adopted new ones in its operations to reduce runoff of manure, and then challenged the order in court. After EPA’s follow-up inspection and correspondence with Ms. Alt confirmed that the changes would reduce pollution, EPA withdrew the order and requested the court to dismiss the case because the dispute was over. It was time to move on and focus on more pressing issues of environmental and public health protection.

The district court nonetheless heard the case. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the district court issued a decision that offers an overly broad view of the Clean Water Act’s exemption for agricultural stormwater.

Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country.

The briefs we filed in this case – and many others – state that Congress established CAFOs as point sources, and that when CAFOs discharge pollutants from the production area into waters of the United States, as the Alt operation did, the law requires permit authorization.

EPA stands by this position.

Pollution from CAFOs flowing into local waterways when it rains is an environmental and public health risk. The law gives EPA the authority to require that agriculture operations with large numbers of animals in a small area that discharge pollutants to U.S. waters obtain a permit, to reduce their environmental impact. EPA remains committed to working with the agricultural community to ensure compliance with this legal requirement and to pursue enforcement when necessary. One district court decision does not change either the law across the country or EPA’s commitment to protecting water quality.

A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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