A recent visit from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) left the state of Georgia with a ‘D+’ in stormwater management. The grade comes from a culmination of several categories, such as condition, operation, maintenance, funding, future needs and safety. Three years ago, the ASCE gave a recommendation for local governments—particularly in older cities like Augusta—to properly fund their stormwater management programs, including inspection and maintenance.
Including that D+, the state’s overall infrastructure rating is a C. The rating as a whole includes energy, solid waste and wastewater infrastructure, as well as stormwater.
Florida Sends Stormwater Underground
In order to avoid flooding and algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River, Florida is in talks to push its excess stormwater below ground. The South Florida Water Management District (WMD) is trying to develop two subterranean options for its stormwater: deep well injection and aquifer storage and recovery.
Deep well injections pump water about 3,000 feet below the surface to the boulder zone, a brackish aquifer that leads to the ocean. Unfortunately, this means that the water cannot be reused.
Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), though, uses a reservoir to store water on the surface and in more shallow, higher quality aquifers. There were talks of using this method a few years ago on the Caloosahatchee, but storage wells were problematic for the area. The WMD hopes that technology has improved enough since then for this to be a possibility.
Snowpack Nearly Double the Average in California
The California drought may truly be on its way out. The California Department of Water Resources reported that snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevadas are the highest they’ve been since 1995 for this point in the year.
Snowpack statewide is at 173 percent of the average, thanks to several storms in January coming one after another. With two months left in California’s rainy season, farmers and city officials are optimistic and requesting more water, after years of conservation and limited use. However, state officials say that Governor Jerry Brown will not release any statement on the drought conditions until the rain and snow season is officially over.
Churches Overwhelmed with Stormwater Fees
Church leaders in Detroit, Michigan, are fighting back against a hike in stormwater taxes. Many churches reported their fees going up by thousands of dollars, which few are able to pay.
Second Ebenezer Church, for instance, said that their rate went from $1,900 to $8,000 per month over the past four years. They are currently installing stormwater infrastructure, but the rate is still impeding their ministry.
To reduce some of the financial burden, the members of the Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity are asking Mayor Mike Duggan to give the churches a year or two of amnesty. While they wait to see what happens, a faith organization panel is finding ways to reduce costs for its poorest congregations.
Garden Slammed with Incorrect Stormwater Fees
A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, garden has been charged nearly $8,700 in monthly stormwater runoff fees. When the Temple Garden Club took over an abandoned lot and turned it into a community garden, the city never updated its status from a storefront property with a parking lot.
The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) determines stormwater fees based on the amount of impervious surface on a lot, so the property was charged for its 16,289 square feet of impervious surface. And, since the water department does not update its stormwater billing map whenever a lot changes its status, the Temple garden was not the only one to be overcharged.
All gardens facing incorrect stormwater fees can appeal for reimbursement before January 2018.
The PWD will then decide whether the garden qualifies for exemption from the fee, as well as determine how much of it can be reimbursed.
Pepco Pays Fine for Anacostia Pollution
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement with the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) for violating the company’s Clean Water Act permit. Pepco, based in Washington, D.C., had gone over the allowed limits for copper, zinc, iron, nickel and total suspended solids that could be released into the Anacostia River.
Pepco will pay a civil penalty of $1.6 million. It will also implement a number of measures to reduce metals in stormwater from entering its draining system, such as improved inspections, booms and filters at each drain, as well as setting up an in-pipe treatment system.
Sewage in Creek May Bring Hefty Fine
The city of Morgan Hill, California, has been charged with improper stormwater management that resulted in raw sewage flowing into Llagas Creek after heavy rainfall. It is the second such spill in just over a year. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board estimates that 204,000 gallons of sewage was released.
An investigation has yet to be undertaken, but it is likely that the courts may impose fines of up to $25,000 per day that the spill continues, and up to $25 per gallon over 1,000 gallons not cleaned up. Morgan Hill is currently installing a second trunk line, in order to increase the city’s capacity to transport raw sewage away for treatment.
Homes Demolished to Build Swale
Two homes in Columbia, Missouri, are being demolished in order to replace the faulty sewer system beneath them. For the past few years, several homes in the neighborhood had been affected by regular flooding. Tom Wellman, project manager with Columbia’s sanitary sewer and stormwater utilities, attributes the problem to undersized sewer and stormwater runoff systems.
“This is a common issue in Columbia’s older neighborhoods,” he said.
“When things were first developed, people didn’t have to do stormwater management.”
The city, which purchased the two homes, plans to replace the houses with grass and a swale, aiming to divert water to nearby stormwater inlets. Officials hope that, in addition to minimizing flooding, this will keep the sewer system from overflowing as well.
Stormwater Master Plans at Work
Stowe Elementary School in Stowe, Vermont, is doing its part to prevent stormwater runoff pollution. For the past few years, the fifth-grade class has worked with conservation district director Kimberly Jensen to identify the stormwater infrastructure on campus, such as catch basins and drainage into the wetland.
The class also got the opportunity to suggest which best management practices to use in the future. Together, they developed a plan to install rain barrels at gutter drains, a rain garden, and grass swales at several locations around the school.
The Stowe School Board approved of their plan and is seeking an engineer to design the new stormwater measures. Next, it plans to ask the municipality for support so it can implement the designs on campus.
Green Goo Mystery Solved
The mysterious ‘green goo’ that was found in a Springfield, Missouri creek has been identified as a nonhazardous fluorescein dye. Apparently, a worker at Mercy Hospital Springfield used the dye to determine where patio drains were connected.
Since using fluorescein dye in the stormwater system is a violation of the city’s stormwater code, the hospital has received a notice of violation. Fluorescein dye, which is used in groundwater studies, should only be used when the tester is certain that the water is going to the sanitary sewer system.
“This is a great reminder that anything you put in a storm drain ends up in the nearest creek,” said water quality coordinator Carrie Lamb. “Although this substance is not harmful, it caused a visual impact to the creek and caused alarm.”
Largest Stormwater Detention System Built
A new 195-acre development in Lake Forest, California, has recently installed the largest stormwater detention center to date. The detention center has ten separate basins, which gives it a total detention storage volume of 820,886 cubic feet.
The first of the basins installed, Basin No. 5, can detain up to a 10- year storm event. It uses an internal orifice to discharge the water quality volume to a downstream bio-filtration system. It has an inside height of 14 feet and can withstand 16 feet of backfill over the entire system.
Work Halted Due to Asbestos
A stormwater treatment project in Burnsville, Minnesota, needed to be temporarily stopped when workers came across an old farm dumping site. The crew found soils with fuel in them and, more concerning, old building materials containing asbestos. State guidelines on asbestos dictated that the work needed to be stopped, and the exposed materials were covered up.
One thousand tons of asbestoscontaminated materials were removed from the area. Luckily, since the building materials remained intact, there was no risk of airborne asbestos exposure, and the crew was able to continue its work without further issues.
Invasive Species Helps Dunes
Asiatic sand sedge, common to the East Coast, is known for being an aggressive invasive species, and, prior to this study, many land managers have tried to eradicate it. But their tune is changing now; a recent study has shown that sand sedge is better at protecting dunes from erosion than the native American beachgrass.
The researchers, led by Bianca Charbonneau, a doctoral candidate from the University of Pennsylvania, found that three meters more dune was lost in native grass stands, as compared to the invasive sedge. After the study, Charbonneau suggests that, with more severe storms hitting the East Coast, leaving sedge lie might be the best option.
“If you value the natural composition and habitats afforded by native plant diversity, you should be trying to control this invasive,” she said. “But if your priority is protecting houses on the coast, you might consider letting it lie.”
Trial and Error in the Panama Canal
Though the Panama Canal expansion project was finished in June 2016, the difficulties of how it was completed are just coming to light. The $5.25 million, six-year project was so large that it needed to be divided into five separate construction projects, with a heavy focus on avoiding soil erosion in a country with an eight-month rainy season.
“It was important to stabilize the surface of the excavated slopes quickly, to prevent erosion and sediment that would have settled in the canal waters,” says Maximiliano De Puy, geotechnical section general manager for the Panama Canal Authority (PCA).
The first crew opted to cover all hydroseeded areas with erosioncontrol blankets, to avoid washout.
Unfortunately, this method was incredibly costly and time-consuming. So, for the second round, they used Flexterra, a biodegradable solution that bonds instantly to soil and promotes vegetation growth, as well as controlling erosion on slopes as steep as 90 degrees.
The product stayed in place without the use of blankets. The PCA then insisted that Flexterra be used for the four remaining phases of the project.
“With the approach we used, vegetation has been permanently established, soil loss has been minimal, and we have avoided the costs and complications of having to dredge sediment from the canal.”
Red Dye Kills Fish
Hanes Dye & Finishing Company is in hot water after a dye spill that killed 100 to 200 fish in a nearby creek. The company, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had a leak in one of its holding tanks, which sent 267 gallons of red dye into a storm drain and down into Peters Creek.
The ‘red sheen’ reported by residents reached as far as one-and-ahalf miles away, down the creek.
While the dye has now been assimilated, state regulators say that fines can reach up to $25,000 for this kind of stormwater violation. Hanes Dye has not yet responded to the incident.