Let people know about water quality improvements

July 2007 » Editor's Comment
Civil engineers need to spread the word about the measurable stormwater quality goals that have been achieved.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

Storm drain stenciling projects took off in the ’90s as environmental groups, students, and communities participated in outreach efforts to educate people on the importance of allowing "only rain in the drain" and to help combat non-point source pollution. To me, these stamps are a symbol of our nation’s collective efforts to improve water quality.

Because of federal, state, and local regulations, many people who never concerned themselves with stormwater management are actively engaged today. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires public participation/involvement as a minimum control measure for operators of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II regulated small municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s).

According to the EPA’s NPDES Phase II Fact Sheet on Public Participation/Involvement Minimum Control Measure, an active and involved community allows for broader public support of programs; shorter implementation schedules; a broader base of expertise and economic benefit; and a conduit to other programs, especially watershed-based community and government programs. MS4s are encouraged to consider hosting public meetings/citizen panels, promote volunteer water quality monitoring programs, conduct workshops and staff education special events, sponsor community clean-ups, organize citizen watch groups to identify polluters, and promote "adopt a storm drain" programs.

On permitted construction sites, workers incorporate best management practices (BMPs) into their daily tasks—for some it’s becoming second nature, for others it’s the only way they ever knew to go about their work. Times have changed.

While those of us well-schooled in the effects of BMPs know undoubtedly that these controls will—or hopefully already have—improved water quality, I wonder if the public is feeling the payback. While we’ve actively engaged participation, I wonder if we have done enough to spread the word about the measurable goals we have achieved. Are you or your clients sharing the fact that monitoring records show fewer pollutants, less suspended solids, more aquatic life, or fewer fish kills or beach closings than before we started all of these extra efforts?

I can tell you, like most people, if someone shares with me the benefits or advantages that my efforts contribute, I’m motivated to continue that activity with even more gusto. In other words, show me in terms I can relate to my return on investment, and you’ll get a better return yourself.

While preparing the NPDES Update Special Report for this issue, I spoke with Philip Handley, construction compliance supervisor with the San Antonio Water System, San Antonio, Texas, about this point, and he concurred. What’s more, he told me how his community is seeing benefits of NPDES firsthand, as aquatic habitat in the San Antonio River and potable water quality in the local aquifer are improving, and they are talking about it. What a great message to share with the public and the development and construction communities to keep them motivated; even stormwater professionals appreciate and benefit from hearing the good word.

Learn about the San Antonio Water System, new guidance for MS4 audits, and stormwater products in our NPDES Update Special Report.


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