April 25 through May 1 marks Water Week 2021, when water-policy advocates from around the U.S. will meet virtually with federal legislators to garner support for sector priorities. This year, experts from the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Virginia) Stormwater Institute and government affairs team will help Water Week participants conduct successful meetings during a preparatory webcast on April 19 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Webcast speakers will discuss specific actions Water Week participants can recommend to their Congressional representatives that will help facilitate construction and maintenance for stormwater infrastructure, provide more actionable information for stormwater professionals, and develop better strategies for controlling runoff pollutants at their source. Prior to the webcast, registrants will receive a short fact sheet outlining this year’s legislative priorities for the stormwater sector.

Federal Investment Needs

Much of this year’s Water Week recommendations center on the need for new funding streams to support stormwater infrastructure. Results from the WEF Stormwater Institute’s recent MS4 Needs Assessment Survey estimate a total annual funding gap of approximately $8.5 billion for stormwater systems and programs, a figure projected to grow without increased federal assistance.

One way federal legislators can help chip away at the funding gap is by establishing dedicated sources of funding for stormwater infrastructure similar to those already available for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. New state revolving funds (SRFs) for stormwater infrastructure as well as new bond and grant programs can work in tandem with local-scale sources, such as general funds and stormwater fees, to help close the funding gap and improve public health and the environment.

The 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a Stormwater Infrastructure Funding and Financing Task Force, which will soon provide a report to Congress outlining existing stormwater infrastructure funding options as well as proposing new federal funding mechanisms. WEF’s fact sheet calls on Congress to enact the task force’s recommendations, as well as authorize it to continue its work for another year in order to develop funding, financing, and project delivery templates aimed to help utilities and municipalities navigate available financing options.

Centers of Excellence

During Water Week 2021, stormwater advocates will stress needs for dedicated funding streams for stormwater infrastructure, greater attention to stormwater pollutant source control, and local-scale resources to help stormwater managers plan for the effects of climate change. One example is to bolster the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Atlas 14 program, which provides regional estimates of precipitation duration, frequency, and depth. Image courtesy of NOAA

Although the provision was not ultimately included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) passed by Congress last December, the Senate’s version of the bill proposed the establishment of up to five stormwater management “centers of excellence”. These centers would facilitate cooperation between more than 7,500 regulated stormwater permittees in the U.S. by sharing best practices across jurisdictions, researching new types of stormwater infrastructure, and establishing common frameworks for performance verification.

WEF stormwater advocates will stress the importance of these centers of excellence during Water Week, recommending the language’s inclusion in a future water infrastructure, transportation, or environmental bill.

In the same spirit of filling information gaps and providing more actionable data for stormwater managers, WEF also will recommend that Congress allocate additional funding to EPA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other agencies for climate change monitoring and prediction programs. One specific example is to expand NOAA’s regional Atlas 14 studies, which provide information on the changing nature of rainfall duration, frequency, and depth, to a national scale, and update them more frequently as weather patterns change. The recommendation also calls for increasing the studies’ data resolution to provide more relevant estimates for smaller communities.

Focus on Source Control

While better-funded infrastructure and more robust federal leadership would enhance the stormwater sector’s ability to mitigate runoff pollution, advancements in stormwater pollutant source control would minimize the volume of contaminants requiring removal.

For that reason, Water Week participants will advocate for the establishment of a new source control program within the EPA Office of Wastewater Management. The program would fund research into developing eco-friendly alternatives to popular products that can generate runoff pollutants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), microplastics, pesticides, and tire-wear derivatives.

Register for the Stormwater Asks for Water Week 2021 Webcast taking place on April 19. Visit the Water Week 2021 website for details on the event. Read more about the WEF Stormwater Institute’s 2021 legislative priorities at its website.

Top image courtesy of MotionStudios/Pixabay