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Sustainability and Stormwater Management: Moving Towards a Sustainable Framework

For more information, contact Lesley Brooks.

Traditional planning and design of stormwater management systems focuses on minimizing construction costs and maximizing developable land. Decades of using the traditional method and micro-designing stormwater management systems has created a chaotic network of pocket detention ponds and stressed pipe and channel systems, which municipalities are struggling to obtain sufficient funding to repair. The impacts on these systems are further exacerbated by increases in projected population and the onset of more stringent federal stormwater regulations for improving water quality. Thus, municipalities are moving away from traditional planning and design and towards creating a more sustainable stormwater management framework.
 

What is Sustainability?
The term “sustainable” is often interchanged with the terms “green” or “environmentally friendly”, but implementing specific best management practices to achieve stormwater quality and quantity goals does not necessarily make a system sustainable. Sustainable stormwater management systems must be planned and designed according to “green” principles, but the economic and social viability goals of the system must also be met.
 

Meeting your Environmental Goals
Environmental goals are categorized according to stormwater quality and quantity. Low-impact development stormwater quality controls are more readily applied to larger undeveloped tracts of land. These can also be applied to developed areas by retrofitting existing systems and implementing appropriate measures in redeveloping areas. Stormwater quantity controls can be refined in the same manner. They can be selected by identifying existing flooding and erosion problems related to insufficient conveyance capacity of existing systems.
 

Keeping Economics in Check
Economically sustainable systems can be planned and designed with the aid of a life cycle cost analysis. This analysis determines whether the proposed system would maximize design elements that reduce long term maintenance costs and maximize the life expectancy of the system. It is important to consider all potential cost items when conducting a life cycle analysis on a proposed system. For example, an often-overlooked cost benefit is the potential for innovative stormwater management designs to improve the value of the properties served by the system.
 

Maintaining Social Viability
The obvious social advantage of sustainable stormwater management is reduction of flooding potential to roadways and structures. However, there are other often-neglected social benefits, such as recreation and education, which require careful planning and communication with project stakeholders. Stormwater management projects can provide accessibility to an abundance of recreational activities within park lands that typically exist within a floodplain. Educational opportunities abound with successfully implemented stormwater quality and quantity controls, such as the creation of emergent wetlands combined with interpretive signage and low impact trail systems. The public then can observe created wildlife habitats in an urban environment and learn about natural processes that improve the quality of the water their community depends on. 
 

Sustainability Benefits Everyone
A sustainable stormwater management program ultimately benefits everyone. Careful planning and innovative design practices can provide municipalities and entire regions with a roadmap to implementing stormwater management practices that improve water quality, relax financial burdens and provide recreational and educational opportunities.

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