Stormwater Management SolutionsWater: Such a seemingly simple element, yet one that’s critical to life — and surprisingly complex to control.

In the case of wastewater and stormwater, that control is becoming increasingly important in light of cost management, environmental and quality of life issues. The two aren’t meant to be related; wastewater is typically diverted through a treatment plant and then discharged into the water system, while stormwater has not historically been treated for water quality, says Leon Staab, Burns & McDonnell’s chief stormwater engineer.

Although wastewater and stormwater remain separated, guidelines to manage the two are becoming increasingly intertwined, exposing a need for improved stormwater management, as well as a better understanding of how different types of water are related.

“Increasingly, our job is to understand and manage the movement of water from the moment it falls from the sky, to the pollutants it collects as it runs off surfaces on the ground, to how it’s collected, treated, distributed, consumed and treated again before repeating the cycle,” Darin Brickman, water practice manager for the Northwest, states in “Smoothing Troubled Waters,” a story published by Burns & McDonnell about integrated water management.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Act and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System have been key factors in creating regulations and framework that encourage the optimal management of stormwater. Cities are also taking a more proactive approach, incorporating best management practices into projects that create a solid foundation for growth and success. This ongoing evolution represents a departure from past tactics that focused on more limited options.

“Until a few years ago, clean water standards were driven by the limitations of technologies available for treatment,” John Mitchell, Burns & McDonnell’s wastewater practice director, says in  the article. “Clean was as clean as the technologies of yesterday allowed. Today, clean water standards are driven by maintaining water quality.”

Different locations present different issues and regulatory guidelines. Consider Burns & McDonnell’s home city of Kansas City. Older neighborhoods within the city were often built with infrastructure that combined stormwater and sanitary waste into a single collection system. During heavy rains, the volume of water often exceeds the capacity of the pipe in which it’s carried, resulting in an overflow of raw sewage to the environment.

“Over the years, municipalities have implemented the programs and infrastructure to separate the two systems, or at least treat the daily flow,” Staab says.

Depending on the project, possible solutions include reducing the quantity of water entering the stormwater system or creating a rain garden or retention basin. We’ve incorporated these features into various projects. Not only do they represent our commitment to improving stormwater quality and management, but they also boost the sustainability of the impacted area, introducing environmentally friendly solutions to what could be an incredibly harmful problem.

Another key piece of stormwater and wastewater management is consumer education.

“It’s much easier to understand that dumping wastewater into a creek or river creates a source of pollution,” Staab says. “But now that stormwater has moved to the forefront, it can be more difficult to understand. Think of it in these terms: When you wash your car in the driveway, where does that soapy water go? Or when roads are salted in the winter, where do those chemicals go? As a society, we continually contaminate our watersheds and streams with pollutants without realizing what we’re doing.”

That education also extends to a younger audience. We’re in the midst of Learn Green. Live Green., a 10-year environmental partnership between Burns & McDonnell and Kansas City’s Center School District. Project components include the creation of an outdoor rain garden that helps students understand and research the water cycle, as well as a community garden irrigated by harvested rainwater.

Although it makes sense from an environmental standpoint to improve stormwater management, wastewater and stormwater improvements have far-reaching impacts on quality of life initiatives and the general attitude toward a community. Consider a local trail system that might have trails along a stream corridor. Trail visitors “don’t want to see a bunch of trash while they’re walking, or pollution flowing down the stream,” Staab says. “People enjoy clean environments and clean waterways, and these elements add intrinsic value to our lives.”