Stormwater Summit 2022 — a Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) specialty conference covering the latest trends and technologies driving innovation in the stormwater sector — took place June 28-29. In an opening address to kick off the event, WEF Immediate Past President Lynn Broaddus welcomed attendees to her hometown of Minneapolis and offered a unique perspective on why the work of the stormwater sector is perhaps more important today than ever before. A month after the conference, Broaddus elaborates on her remarks and reflects on the highlights of Stormwater Summit 2022:
When asked to give opening remarks for Stormwater Summit 2022, my answer was an easy and enthusiastic “yes”.
Knowing that the summit’s technical sessions would be chock full of experienced experts sharing their how and what of stormwater, I used my remarks to reflect on the why. Why is our expertise needed? Why does our work matter? Yes, there are regulatory ultimatums and contract obligations that drive us, but taking a page out of author Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, I wanted to ground the conference within the bigger “why” of what we do.
We’ve long known that water and climate are inextricably linked, and now we are living the reality that the changing climate is transforming our water landscape. Rainfall that once was naturally absorbed by vegetation, wetlands, and in-tact soils now races from hardened landscapes, eroding soils, picking up pollutants, and merging into floods that increasingly destroy property and take precious lives. With cruel irony, new weather patterns simultaneously create prolonged drought that leave communities scrambling for water supplies.
Importantly, we must ensure that our solutions do not make the problem even worse. It wasn’t that many years ago when American cities “solved” stormwater problems by straightening streams and turning them into lifeless, concrete channels. Like the hydra of Greek mythology who grew multiple heads to replace each severed one, channelized streams exacerbate downstream flooding and pollution while also destroying the wetlands and hyporheic zones that recharge aquifers and naturally remove pollutants. As if that weren’t enough, we now know that the concrete manufacturing process is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Hercules slayed the hydra by cauterizing the wounds of each destroyed head before new ones could proliferate. He stemmed the problem at its root. If stormwater is our hydra, we need to find ways to manage it as locally as possible, replenishing groundwater and using green solutions that can absorb carbon dioxide rather than emit it. We need to treat it as the resource that it is rather than send it immediately downstream where it becomes someone else’s problem. And we need to recognize the role that stormwater management, if done with foresight, can play in mitigating climate trends.
And just like water is woven into all aspects of climate change, it is also part and parcel of a wide array of social challenges that on their face might seem like they would have nothing to do with water. Of the United Nations’ seventeen sustainable development goals, only two are explicitly about water, but further examination quickly reveals that water is woven into all seventeen. For this reason, in 2019 WEF endorsed the full suite of sustainable development goals.
Of course, our work doesn’t end with the summit. I hope that each of us, whether we attended the summit or not, will continue to advance the practice of sustainable stormwater in our own communities and within the broader ecosystem of actors and influencers. Share the upcoming revamp of WEF’s Rainfall to Results report with elected officials. Participate in the 2022 MS4 Needs Assessment Survey when it comes out this fall. And join us for WEFTEC in New Orleans this October. I’ll be there and I hope you will be too!
Interested in a deeper dive into the Stormwater Summit 2022 experience? Here are a few of my takeaways.
Top image courtesy of Bianca Pinto/WEF
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynn Broaddus, Ph.D, M.B.A., formed Broadview Collaborative Inc. in 2014 as a platform for advancing sustainable, resilient practices in the water sector. She serves as a strategic adviser and facilitator for private-sector, nonprofit, and philanthropic clients throughout North America, and is known for bringing new ways of thinking to the crucial environmental challenges of our day. Broaddus is a member of the WEF Board of Trustees and served as 2021-2022 WEF President.