During a ceremony at WEFTEC 2022 on October 11, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Stormwater Institute bestowed its eighth-annual batch of National Municipal Stormwater and Green Infrastructure Awards to 13 high-performing U.S. communities.
Also known as the MS4 Awards, the program was developed in 2015 by WEF and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to celebrate regulated Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) who go above and beyond the requirements of their permits to protect human health and the environment. Nominees are either Phase I or Phase II MS4 permittees, who undergo a rigorous review by a committee of stormwater management experts that ultimately selects three MS4 Award winners from each phase: an Overall winner, a Program Management winner, and an Innovation winner. In addition to these six winners, other applicants receive a rank of either Gold, Silver, or Bronze in both Program Management and Innovation, intended to benchmark their operations against other stormwater organizations of similar size.
Anne Arundel County – Phase I Overall and Innovation Winner
This year, the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Bureau of Watershed Protection & Restoration (BWPR) not only achieved the best Overall score among Phase I MS4 permittees, but also placed highest in the Innovation category. BWPR’s accomplishment marks their second-consecutive year as Phase I Overall winners as well as their first Phase I Innovation win.
The judging panel acknowledged BWPR’s sound management of its large service area, encompassing 13 watersheds surrounding the Annapolis metro area. Operating a stormwater utility that charges user fees in addition to receiving funding from local property taxes, in the last decade, BWPR has directed more than $250 million for new water quality restoration projects within its service area as well as $40 million to repair, maintain, or replace existing stormwater infrastructure.
The bureau has also demonstrated its ability to mobilize volunteers, such as via its Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy program, which has equipped more than 180,000 residents with green infrastructure skills and resulted in more than 3,500 new, volunteer-built green infrastructure projects.
Since 2021, BWPR has introduced two new, web-based tools intended to make it easier for residents and local nonprofit groups to earn grants from the county to build or maintain stormwater projects. The bureau first introduced the BMP Credit Calculator, which enables applicants to quickly determine the amount of impervious service restoration or pollutant reduction credits for which their proposed projects will be eligible. Earlier this year, BWPR followed up with the Restoration Estimator Tool, targeting larger projects by nonprofit groups. The tool enables users to conceptualize the interplay of multiple pieces of proposed stormwater infrastructure across a large area, outputting information not only on grant eligibility, but on private landowners who would be affected by the proposal. This allows nonprofit groups to quickly incorporate the cost-effectiveness of landowner outreach into their proposals, facilitating the planning process.
Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise – Phase I Program Management Winner
In the Phase I Program Management category, judges recognized the City of Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise (CSSE) as this year’s winner.
Like many other MS4 communities, CSSE receives funding from a monthly stormwater management fee collected from all developed parcels within its 80-ha (200-ac) service area. However, whereas many parcel fees scale in relation to the amount of impervious area on each property, CSSE simplifies its rate structure by charging a flat $7.50 for all residential units and $43 per non-residential acre. This straightforward approach allows CSSE’s small team of three full-time employees to collect and allocate approximately $24 million each year for stormwater projects.
Approximately $12-14 million of that income each year, according to CSSE’s nomination materials, goes toward roughly 70 new capital projects that may include green and gray infrastructure, emergency repairs, and wetland restoration efforts. The remainder supports a comprehensive suite of programs focused on tracking and eliminating illicit discharges, performing public outreach about the importance of stormwater management and watershed stewardship, inspecting existing stormwater infrastructure, and reviewing designs for new projects, in addition to other activities.
Recently, CSSE introduced an online portal that streamlines the document review, approval, and permitting process for new infrastructure proposals, as well as successfully updated city codes to require green infrastructure in new developments.
City of Frisco Stormwater Division – Phase II Overall Winner
Proper stormwater management is particularly important for the City of Frisco (Texas) Stormwater Division, the agency responsible for protecting the surface water that serves as the primary source of drinking water for approximately 5.5 million people in the greater Dallas area. Frisco’s Stormwater Division won this year’s Phase II Overall MS4 Award.
The judging panel lauded Frisco’s proactive approach to protecting the surface water within its service area, beginning in 2006 when Frisco’s population was about 90,000. Despite relatively little development activity at that time, the City of Frisco Stormwater Division implemented an ordinance mandating the use of green infrastructure to treat runoff from all new and redeveloped parking areas. Today, following an unprecedented population boom, Frisco’s population is approximately 216,000. According to nomination materials, roughly 59% of parking areas within the city were built since the 2006 ordinance, all of which prominently feature green infrastructure. The city strengthened its green infrastructure requirements in 2019, requiring developers to treat 100% of runoff generated on new or redeveloped parking areas.
The City of Frisco Stormwater Division also recently installed a first-of-its-kind structure — developed in-house — that targets floating debris in local waterways. After conceptualizing several solutions to remove floating waste, the division found that most conventional designs would raise the city’s vulnerability to flooding during heavy storms. City engineers constructed a new device, known as a “swinging trash rack,” that attaches to an existing concrete apron above a local river. It features several debris nets equipped to collect trash and other debris. When the river’s waterline rises above a certain point, however, the structure opens like a gate to keep the river from overflowing. Since its installation in November 2020, Frisco’s swinging trash rack has collected and removed approximately 3.3 tons of debris, according to nomination materials.
St. Louis MS4 Co-Permittee Group – Phase II Program Management Winner
With approximately 1.3 million people living in its 1,360-km2 (525-mi2) service area, the St. Louis MS4 Co-Permittee Group received this year’s Phase II MS4 Award for Program Management due in part to its extensive and innovative outreach activities. The St. Louis MS4 Co-Permittee Group is a special-purpose agency under the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSLSD), which operates both a wastewater and stormwater utility serving the city.
Because the MSLSD service area is so expansive, nomination materials describe the agency’s decentralized approach to watershed management, focused on mobilizing residents to play a role in protecting local surface water and incentivizing landowners to construct and maintain small-scale stormwater projects.
MSLSD collaborates with a range of unconventional partners to further its decentralized strategy. These include, for example, partnerships focused on conservation and anti-littering outreach with the St. Louis Aquarium and St. Louis University, as well as a grant program to provide financial assistance for parcel-scale green infrastructure projects introduced alongside Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Much of MSLSD’s day-to-day work focuses on inspecting stormwater infrastructure built on private lands in addition to maintaining its roughly 15,500 km (9,600 mi) of collection systems, nearly 300 pumping stations, and seven full-scale water resource recovery facilities. In 2021, the agency completed more than 1,600 inspections on private property and surveyed approximately 450 km (280 mi) of streams in its service area to identify illicit discharges, stream erosion, debris buildup, and flooding vulnerabilities.
City of Richmond Stormwater Utility – Phase II Innovation Winner
Since 2013, the City of Richmond, Virginia, has operated a stormwater utility as part of a multi-pronged approach to fulfill the city’s obligations under EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL. The utility, which won this year’s Phase II MS4 Award for Innovation, was quick to form bonds across the municipal government as well as local nonprofits and universities. It played an instrumental role in convening Richmond’s RVAH2O stakeholder group in 2014, which focuses on developing innovative strategies to protect local surface water and reduce flooding.
Today, Richmond’s Stormwater Utility personally oversees more than 30 capital improvement projects throughout its service area with a total value of over $65 million, according to nomination materials, in addition to taking steps to facilitate the construction of decentralized stormwater projects by both public and private property owners.
One example is the utility’s Greening Richmond Public Libraries initiative, introduced in 2015, which involves partnering with local nonprofit groups to install expansive green infrastructure measures across the city’s nine public libraries. After successful implementations at one library, the initiative gradually spread to three other libraries, with plans to continue the initiative citywide. The campaign also includes free rain-barrel workshops at all nine libraries.
The utility also recently introduced a green infrastructure “ranking tool,” enabling property owners in Richmond to identify the most cost-effective green infrastructure interventions for a specific area of focus based on broader goals such as water quality, social equity, and flood prevention. The new tool is part of a broader Green Infrastructure Master Plan developed by the utility alongside the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (Washington, D.C.) in 2019.