Stormwater Management Strategies Target Safety and Sustainability

Water management leaders discuss benefits of having an effective plan to manage water.

By Dave Lubach, Executive Editor  

When the city of Milwaukee adopted a sustainability plan in the early 2000s, local government wanted to practice what it was preaching. 

As the leader of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Executive Director Kevin Schafer put a green roof on the downtown city building where the agency is located. 

“No one else was doing this at the time, but I said if I’m going to be promoting it, I want to show that we will do it as well,” he says.  

Green roofs. Bioswales. Gardens. Facility managers and building owners have several options available to them to help manage the rainfall at institutional and commercial facilities. All these designs contribute to the cause of not only protecting facilities from the threat of flooding and the ponding of water to create unhealthy conditions, but now also include sustainability initiatives that can lead to reclaiming rainwater to use for non-potable water uses on campuses. 

Having an effective stormwater management plan can save facilities thousands of dollars in maintenance and replacement costs of components lost due to flooding. Here, we speak with three subject matter experts in this roundtable about the benefits of a strong stormwater management plan. 

Included in this roundtable are: 

Kevin Schafer, executive director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District 

Matt Howard, vice president of water stewardship, The Water Council 

Rae Mindock, director of water programs, Fresh Coast Climate Solutions 

FacilitiesNet: What are the ways to define stormwater management? 

Howard: “When we talk about stormwater management from a facility perspective, we’re talking about managing and mitigating the water that falls on site. Depending on where your facility is located, there may be different types of zoning regulations and other sorts of regulations that you may have to follow as a facility manager in order to manage that stormwater. At the end of the day, the reason we manage stormwater is to ensure that water is infiltrated back into the environment and that it does so at a rate that's relatively natural and not causing flooding. We also want to ensure that any stormwater runoff that leaves our facility property or footprint, that runoff is also of good quality and not contributing poorly or conveying pollutants into the local water body.” 

Mindock: “When I look at stormwater management, it’s anything that’s hitting the roof or the ground that flows away from your facility or area and there are many ways to do that. There are collection systems, bioswales, rain gardens. All of those, there are many opportunities publicly available that you can look at.” 

FacilitiesNet: Are stormwater management programs overlooked

Schafer: “I do think it’s overlooked until that next big storm, until they have some portion of their facility flooded out or some other problem. It’s just one of those things you don’t think about until you have a problem. Stormwater falls in that category that is probably low on the priority list for facilities supervisors or managers. Those are the areas where we really need to look at good stormwater management because in most cases, a lot of them are totally impervious. If there’s a way to help that facility manage the stormwater so that their facilities are sustainable, that’s the big first step for them.” 

FacilitiesNet: What does a good stormwater management plan look like for facilities? 

Howard: “A good stormwater management system is actually the process of understanding your water use’s impacts and risks. We try to back people up and say, ‘let’s start from the beginning. Tell me how your water is coming into your facility. Tell me how you’re using water, talking about the size and scope of your facility. Tell me how you’re using water,’ and then it really gets down to do you have a plan in place to track regulatory compliance as it relates to water use and stormwater management.” 

Schafer: “A lot of it depends on site, but some of the general stuff that you see is trying to remove as much of the impervious cover as possible. Try to bring more natural settings into that property. Take a portion of a concrete parking lot and put in a bioswale. Cisterns are maybe more expensive, but that helps store water as well. That’s something you can use, depending on the building. There are a variety of approaches. It just depends on the manager, the facility, what they want to do and just what their budget is for this.” 

FacilitiesNet: Are facility managers and building owners aware of the water crisis and climate change that is affecting weather patterns. Can they adjust their facilities to the changes? 

Howard: “We’re still managing water based on our past 50 to 100 years of experience. We need to change our mindset to start looking at it for the next 50 to 100 years. We’re at completely different climactic conditions, a completely different relationship with water. Therefore, we need to take a bit of a different infrastructure approach.” 

Schafer: “I think it used to be a bigger challenge, but I do think that people are more aware of all the issues of either flooding or polluted water or lack of water, all those different issues, depending on where they’re at. … Understanding that there’s steps that they can do locally, if they’re not in one of those areas where there’s a catastrophe happening, that there’s things they can do now that would help prevent that from happening in the future. The discussion about the climate is changing. There are things we need to do, and some of them are really small things we can do to conserve water using more wisely in buildings.” 

FacilitiesNet: What are some of the challenges facility managers have with their stormwater systems? 

Mindock: “There are two big challenges. First of all, concrete and rebar are expensive to remove. It’s the cost of actually planning a bioswale or a rain garden that isn’t insignificant. Many times in commercial settings, it’s the amount of concrete that needs to be removed. The other thing is attitudes that people need to understand that this is a change. There has to be communication and really a change of attitude and understand that this is an action being taken and there’s positive ramifications for that action. It’s a matter of working with state and local stakeholders and people using the building to help them understand why this is important. The really positive thing about using rain gardens and bioswales is that they can be very pretty to look at, and people enjoy them. People can also understand the benefit of seeing that and they’ll always want to try some of those ideas.” 

FacilitiesNet: What tips can you provide for facility managers to deal with stormwater issues? 

Howard: “Understand your local conditions and understand what the water-related risks are, and where you are operating. Identify an appropriate mechanism and best management practices moving forward to address any issues. Know local regulatory issues because there is not necessarily a uniform regulatory structure on stormwater management from the federal all the way down to local regulations. Keep an eye on insurance premiums. It’s been quite difficult to get insurance where you’re at. It’s all tied back to climate, so we need to reassess our physical footprint every couple of years on water now, because the conditions are changing so much.” 

Dave Lubach is the executive editor for the facility market. He has more than eight years of experience writing on facility management and maintenance issues.  

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  posted on 11/13/2023   Article Use Policy

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