Jan. 13, 2014 03:33

Stormwater News

Hearing Set on Stormwater Proposal

In the City Hall Council Chambers of Huntington, West Virginia, the city’s Stormwater Commission met to review and hear public input on a proposed stormwater fee. The fee is projected to bring in more than $1,200,000.

Huntington is the only city in West Virginia that has been fined for not developing a plan to resolve its stormwater problems. The EPA fined the city $156,000 in 2011 for failing to comply with its Municipal Separate Storm Water System permit. That penalty was reduced all the way down to $15,000 after the city agreed to a handful of small projects to reduce stormwater runoff, but the city risks being fined again if it chooses to do nothing.

DEQ Fines Corporation for Violations

An $11,722 penalty was issued to Savage Services Corporation for stormwater violations by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The DEQ says that the company failed to monitor stormwater discharge at the corporation’s Union Pacific R ailroad Albina yard facility.

They also failed to prepare corrective action reports about water quality benchmark exceedances and impairment pollutants that may harm water quality. Without that data, the DEQ can’t analyze the facility’s impact on the Willamette River and the surrounding environment.

Extra Year Wanted for Starting Stormwater Programs

Many local governments in Virginia want the General Assembly to move the start date for their required programs back one year. As of now, the programs are scheduled to take effect on July 1.

Starting this year, Virginia is mandating local governments to run programs to reduce pollution caused by rain. Local stormwatermanagement systems would be more stringent than the current ones. Counties, municipalities and cities are asking for the pushback because of concerns about costs, and about whether they can have the programs running by mid-2014.

Bioswale Project

Last month, Maple Valley, Washington-based Goodfellow Bros. started construction on a series of bioretention swales on 15 blocks in West Seattle’s Sunrise Heights and Westwood neighborhoods.

The $5.1 million job is King County Wastewater Treatment Division’s first green stormwater infrastructure project. Bioswales are being built on planting strips to help keep runoff out of the sewer system.

The project is funded in part by state revolving monies that may contain funds from the EPA. Its Fair Share Goal is 10 percent to minority-owned contractors/firms and 6 percent to female-owned contractors/firms.

Environmental Groups Hint at Fight on New Tunnel

Officials in Winnetka, Illinois, are expected to hire a firm to design a tunnel under Willow Road to discharge stormwater into Lake Michigan. However, environmental advocacy organizations have expressed concerns that the $34.4 million project might fall short of federal requirements and regional guideposts.

A letter by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council said that they were concerned that pollution discharges into Lake Michigan from the Willow Road Tunnel wouldn’t meet Clean Water Act requirements.

It is unlikely that objections from outside environmental groups will single-handedly derail the village’s plan to build the stormwater tunnel. But still, some local residents said village officials should heed the advice of environmental groups before taking any further steps.

Grant Used to Plant Trees Along River

Ogdensburg, New York, will use a $50,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to plant trees at two Oswegatchie River locations to increase its tree numbers, which will lessen stormwater runoff and improve water quality.

“Stormwater runoff is the number-one cause of stream impairment in urban areas,” said Andrea L. Smith, city planning and development director, in a prepared statement. “Trees not only help slow down and store runoff, which can promote infiltration and lessen risk of erosion, but certain tree species can even reduce levels of pollutants entering our streams and rivers.”

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant will also be used to design and construct bioretention areas on the west bank of the river.

Property Owners Begin Paying Fees

Residents in West Lafayette, Indiana, will see an $8 a month charge on their bills. The fee is being assessed on homes and businesses to address stormwater issues, such as flooding and pollution runoff to the Wabash River.

The new fee began with the New Year. Properties other than residential will pay a rate based on their “impervious surface area,” the size of any buildings and parking lots. The fee is expected to bring in $1.3 million a year.

Mayor John Dennis said that the fee is needed for them to meet federal and state environmental requirements. And the county will still try to cover as much of the cost as possible without a new fee.

Stormwater Fees to be Debated

There are signs of serious debate regarding Maryland’s new stormwater management fees. Senate President Thomas Miller said he wants to change the law to make its implementation more uniform where the fees are in effect.

House Speaker Michael Busch says while discussions are certain to take place, the 10 jurisdictions were allowed under the law to form their own plans for assessing the fees. Busch also points out that the fees are part of the state’s effort to comply with federal water quality standards.

Opponents hoping to repeal the fees call them a “rain tax.” But the presiding officers agree the fees are here to stay.

Pollution-Fighting Mushroom

The future of stormwater pollution remediation might be growing in your backyard right now. It’s a mushroom called Stropharia rugosoannulata, commonly known as the Garden Giant.

Paul Stamets, a mycologist (that’s a scientist who studies fungi), discovered the mushroom’s beneficial properties back in the mid-1980s after he was fined for discharging fecal coliform far beyond the legal limit from his Washington State farm. The effluent was polluting shellfish beds in southern Puget Sound.

Given a year to fix the problem, he created a 200-foot bioswale on the edge of his farm. He filled it with Garden Giants and wood chips. A year later, water quality inspectors were amazed to find more than a 99 percent reduction in the farm’s fecal coliform content, despite the number of animals on the farm having doubled.

It’s not the 8''-tall mushroom with its foot-wide cap itself that does the work. It’s the fungi’s mycelium, the microscopic, cobwebby, root-like threads it sends into the ground.

Recently, Stamets’ company, Fungi Perfecti, received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test various mushrooms’ ability to filter bacteria in urban environments. The agency wants to see if this technology has any viability as a realistic urban stormwater management practice. The Garden Giant emerged again as the most efficient species at removing E. coli bacteria.

Supporting research has shown that mycelium can convert harmful pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into beneficial carbohydrates and soil nutrients. They may also help absorb heavy metals. Fungi Perfecti is looking to partner with small businesses, municipalities and rain garden installers for the next step, conducting controlled field tests with urban microfiltration.

Fatal Accident Led to Stormwater Improvements

A deadly accident almost ten years ago led to improvements in stormwater management in the city of Fort Worth, Texas. A notoriously flood-prone intersection took the lives of a woman and her two toddler sons when her car was swept away by high water.

Tragedy nearly happened again, just two months later. Another vehicle was swept away, but fortunately, the driver left the vehicle before it became stuck in a drainage system.

“Before this event, we didn’t have resources dedicated to addressing stormwater issues in a large way,” said Greg Simmons, assistant director of the city’s Transportation and Public Works’ Stormwater Management Division.

The roadway where the three people died in 2004 was recently reopened after extensive reconstruction. It’s now four feet higher, with additional box culverts that lets water pass beneath the roadways. There’s also a bypass channel to take floodwaters south of the road.

Since 2007, the city has spent $104 million on stormwater projects. The improvements at that intersection alone cost $1.75 million.

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In many ways, we are fortunate that, in our chosen profession, we are able to help people when certain disasters occur: the tornadoes in Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Georgia, the flooding in Louisiana, the snows in the northeastern part of the country, the rain in California, and the snow in Colorado....

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