North Carolina’s Revolutionary Stormwater Action Plan
by Anna Espenhahn, Marketing Coordinator
“When you take a drink, swim or eat seafood, you share my concern for clean water” - Executive Director of North Carolina Coastal Federation, Todd Miller
It is known that significant changes to our climate are currently underway, influencing local weather, precipitation levels, and the frequency of severe storms. Climate change, on top of changes in local hydrology due to urban development, has increased the threat of flooding from stormwater runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicts the average 100-year flood plain, the flood equivalent of a 100-year storm or a flood plain with a one in 100 chance of being matched or surpassed, will increase 45% in the next 80 years. Recognizing this threat, the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) proposed an action plan to address increased volumes of stormwater runoff by implementing management practices that mimic natural hydraulic cycles.
The NCCF’s 2021 Action Plan for Nature-Based Stormwater Strategies laid the groundwork to pioneer statewide nature-based stormwater strategies. Understanding different land uses have distinct stormwater requirements. The NCCF broke North Carolina’s land use into four primary workgroups: new developments, existing communities, roadways and transportation infrastructure and working rural lands, including agriculture and forestry. Industry professionals, regulators, and members from each workgroup sat down and identified six guiding principles:
- There are fewer flooding incidents and better water quality within watersheds where natural hydrology is protected, restored or simulated.
- Nature-based stormwater strategies are a cost-effective and sustainable way to reduce flooding and improve water quality when sited and designed correctly.
- Nature-based stormwater strategies provide social and economic benefits while reducing flooding and improving water quality.
- There is an opportunity for the state and communities to thoughtfully site and design nature-based stormwater strategies to address racial, income and other inequalities.
- State and local governments must lead by example in supporting nature-based stormwater strategies in ways that protect public health, safety and welfare.
- A comprehensive volume reduction-based watershed management strategy, implemented consistently and systematically across North Carolina, would inform and support the cost-effective application of nature-based stormwater strategies at community and regional scales.
Considering the principles outlined for nature-based stormwater principles, the four workgroups then began to identify primary reasons this stormwater management strategy has not been implemented historically. In total, the workgroups identified six barriers, universal and workgroup specific that have - and would - prevent the use of nature-based stormwater strategies:
- Lack of awareness and education: Unfamiliarity or overall knowledge of nature-based stormwater strategies by landowners, developers, regulators and other stakeholders.
- Inflexible Planning, Regulation and Policy: Policies created before nature-based stormwater strategies may not encourage, be prepared for, or in some cases even hinder nature-based stormwater strategies.
- Design Challenges: Developers do not consider stormwater early enough in the design process to adequately utilize management strategies. Limited space, geology, and local climate may discourage designers from using nature-based strategies.
- High Cost and Gaps in Funding: The common misconception that nature-based strategies are more costly than conventional measures often prevent stakeholders from considering the option.
- Inadequate Operation and Maintenance: Understanding operation and maintenance responsibility and availability of resources for all stormwater systems are currently insufficient.
- Lack of Monitoring and Evaluation: Oversight and standardization of nature-based stormwater monitoring should be developed.
With a clear understanding of the critical principles and hindrances of the major NC workgroups, the NCCF developed four recommendations for implementation at the state, local and project-specific levels.
“Nature-based stormwater strategies are not only an investment in cleaner water, reduced flood damages and safer communities, but also in parks, preserving rural character, job creation, local businesses and economic development.” -Action Plan for Nature-based Stormwater Strategies.
State and local governments need to lead by example and encourage the use of nature-based stormwater strategies and implementing them widely.
The state and local government must encourage nature-based stormwater strategies by setting an example in new constructions and investments and developing supporting policies and education programs. Stormwater management leaders like AQUALIS can work with governments to engineer stormwater installations and retrofits at new and old developments to encourage nature-based stormwater strategies by example.
Increase education, outreach and professional training for nature-based stormwater and watershed management strategies.
The NCCF identified state and local leadership, associated professionals and educational organizations as the three central academic personnel that must promote stormwater education, emphasizing the workgroup six principles. Understanding the importance of education, AQUALIS is proud to use our voice to encourage stormwater education through our webinars, blogs, and programs offering educational credits. With a vast array of certifications and relationships with local regulators, we are dedicated to staying up to date with the latest stormwater knowledge to protect our watersheds best.
Create a Nature-Based Stormwater Steering Committee to ensure continued stakeholder engagement and leadership to support long-term, meaningful progress.
A diverse group of stakeholders must come together to promote, organize and steer the Action Plan’s execution, eventually expanding to include trade associations that encourage nature-based stormwater strategies.
Statewide effective watershed management focuses on protecting, restoring or mimicking natural hydrology to reduce flooding and improve water quality concurrently.
Developing a comprehensive watershed planning program that addresses water quality and quantity concurrently would put North Carolina as a national leader in water resource management. It is crucial to managing stormwater at the watershed level to develop holistic approaches that protect all areas, up and downstream. AQUALIS understands that the hydraulic cycle does not follow the property, municipality, or state lines and instead works on a larger scale. This is why AQUALIS is the leading nationwide stormwater and lift station provider dedicated to managing water and water quality across the nation.
North Carolina is not the only state addressing the threats climate change and stormwater are posing currently and in the future. There will continue to be changes in stormwater perception, regulations and implementations to protect our watersheds at all levels, from local to global. Addressing the changes to our environment is dire and being proactive is the only way to prepare urban landscapes for increased storms, precipitation, and runoff. There are two options: prepare or flood. Luckily, regulators, industry professionals, and the public are making efforts to protect our cities and our water. We are finally coming together as the blue planet to preserve our defining feature: water.