Other People’s Problems

Speaking of Other People’s Problems here. OK, maybe other people’s dirty water.

I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to mingle with stormwater professionals from all over the country (even with some outside of the country). It is a privilege that I try not to take for granted.

Recently, AASHTO hosted a stormwater practitioners conference for state DOT stormwater professionals in Washington DC. This event comes around once every two years and is one of my favorites. During the many opportunities to share and interact with the other states, I was baffled by my reaction to a particular topic of discussion. It was baffling because I should be over it by now. While the issue isn’t prevalent in my area, the topic comes up often in other parts of the nation.

The discussion involves state transportation departments being held responsible for managing waterborne pollutants that originate upstream then cross DOT rights of way. DOTs across the nation are spending significant cash and time attempting to address nutrients, pathogens, and other nasty constituents that typically have zero relation highways.

DOT transportation facilities typically involve the movement of people and goods via cars and trucks. No industry, no golf courses, no agriculture, no sheep, no cows. No rooftops, no parking lots, no feedlots. Just you, me and the four (or eighteen, or two) wheels that we command.

Granted, some use the road as a trash can and cigarette recepticle, and some critters arrive as carion rather than as checked baggage. And there are some pollutants that typically do begin their journey on our asphalt. These aren’t the pollutants I’m talking about.

Generally not being a part of the source, DOTs often struggle to even put a dent in impairments related to these pollutants. Yet they spend the money anyway. Because that’s what the regulator wants. You accept it, you own it. It’s a weak argument and even weaker approach to addressing impairments of our Nation’s waters.

Listening to the debate makes me wonder, what if all of this energy and money were dedicated to things that actually originate on DOT rights of way? What if even a portion of the wasted money was given toward other efforts that focused on these problems by appropriate people in appropriate areas?

How we implement the Clean Water Act is flawed. It is ineffective, inefficient, and hasn’t brought us nearly close enough to meeting the Act’s goals – which were due 30 years ago, by the way. I see this topic as but one of many approaches to enforcement that are failing us.

Ensuring that our natural resources are protected and restored in the most efficient and effective way possible must be one of the primary goals of regulators, professionals, and other practitioners. The current approach misses that goal by a long shot. The waste, the distraction, the missed opportunities. What we are experiencing and continuing to allow and even promote concerns me.  It seems to be a failed attempt at management when what we really need is leadership.

Environmental challenges keep coming at us, some bigger than stormwater. If we stick to the current implementation model being applied to Clean Water Act, I’m not sure future generations will appreciate us very much.

DOTs do not manufacture poop and plant food as a general rule. But beat them up if you wish. They do have some money left and can take up an amount of slack if you want them to (as long as you are really comfortable with the roads you have now). But know that we can do better. Just recognize it for what it is – scapegoating at its finest.

Left and Right (another angle)

A few weeks back, I shared a thought in a presentation then in a post titled, Whole Brained I talked about  how we sometimes get stuck in left-brained thinking - considering only linear, logical, sequential, black and white options. I made the case for also tapping into our right brains for increased effectiveness. The right side of our brain deals mostly with less concrete things like empathy, big picture, creativity, and true design.

Connecting to the theme of left and right, Claire Quiney, a stormwatertools reader shared the infographic below.  If you are like me and have a lefty in your family you will find the creative collection and presentation of facts interesting (my son happens to write with his left hand but does almost everything else as a right-handed person would – talk about using your whole brain…).  For a direct connection to the original topic, scroll to “Cognitive Benefits” just under challenges. If you are looking for a more brain-balanced employee, you may want to at least consider finding a lefty. Pretty cool.

Click on the infographic to enlarge. Enjoy.


Left in a Right World
Source: SocialWorkDegreeCenter.com

Cheetahs and Hippos

Imagine the cheetahs in our profession. They are a new breed. They possess a sense of urgency. They are generally no-nonsense and understanding of purpose and accountability. They don’t wait for government to do things for them. Water quality and the goals of the Clean Water Act cannot wait on bureaucracy. Advancement of our profession rests on the back of this generation.

Now the hippos – the ruling elite. They have seen it all, but are stuck where their thinking resides today, or yesterday. They complain. They are static and stagnant. They benefit from the status quo and are content. They are fat and happy. They may be icons and sought after by those needing to just get by, but they can represent risk to our profession.

Hippos and cheetahs may be old or young in age and attitude.  In some areas they may be endangered, in others either may be valued and thriving.

It’s easy to want to take the analogy beyond my basic knowledge of the two, almost cartoon like creatures in my mind. It gets more complicated if we do. In fact, if we look deeper, both species play important roles in ecology. Both have value and both are endangered. Just like in nature, the analogous animals face very different threats.

Stormwater hippos feel threatened by the cheetah, and in some aspects they are. However, what will eventually be their demise is change, their ignorance of it, and their resistance to it. The stormwater cheetah points to the hippo as being the problem. But in reality, she is often her own enemy. She is challenged by her initiative and desire for change. But in her urgency, she runs in short bursts before tiring, which is frustrating and inefficient. She leaves all the hippos behind, missing out on their experience and knowledge.

By definition, leaders must have followers. Effective leaders inspire their followers in a positive direction. A leading hippo is missing a terrific opportunity if he isn’t mentoring and tempering young cheetahs. Hiding his own cynicism is the greatest challenge for the leading hippo. And while life may not be passing the cheetah by, cheetahs must be sensitive to the fact that they could be passing life by. A leading cheetah must have the self-awareness to pace themselves and to know the limits of their own endurance and knowledge. The young cheetahs behind them need to be shown why we are running so fast and shouldn’t be burdened by having to recreate the experiences and knowledge of the hippo.

Young cheetahs should be encouraged, informed, and guided. Young hippos may need to be directed to another profession.



Behind the scenes: Inspiration for the post came from an interview with Ghanaian economist George Ayittey discussing his TED Talk on corruption in Africa. He referred to two types of leaders there – Cheetahs and Hippos. While the topic is much different, extending the metaphor to stormwater wasn’t that difficult. I stopped short of his characterization of hippos as, “the blind leading the clueless.” It felt familiar but went a little far for my vision of the overall stormwater profession.

Stormwater in the Mainstream July 2014

It’s been hard to keep up with celebrity stormwater during this busy July. However, it appears that stormwater doesn’t take a Summer break.

Enjoy a few  stories found in the mainstream from StormwaterTools.com and Google News below.  Here’s an interesting headline and story to start you off…


Why NC water-quality plans must include therapy, like SolarBees, as well as

News & Observer  
Reservoirs such as the 14,000-acre Jordan Lake are built to control water quantity, not quality. Developing a cost-effective plan to improve Jordan’s water quality requires addressing these questions: What is federal policy? Is it working well? If not

New Paving Project Will Help Philadelphia Manage Stormwater

CBS Local  
KYW’s Pat Loeb reports it’s paved a parking lot with materials that will let rain drain directly into the ground. “We’re not going to have a traditional ribbon-cutting today, instead we’re going to have a water-pouring,” Water Commissioner Howard

Durham Works to Mitigate Stormwater Issues

TWC News  
DURHAM– Some business owners along University Drive in Durham say flooding has been an issue in the area for years. At Nana’s Restaurant, there have been times when the flooding was so bad they had to close their doors to customers.

Bethel: Green infrastructure grant addresses flooding, storm-water runoff

BETHEL – The Town of Bethel in Sussex County is getting help to reduce flooding, manage storm-water runoff and improve the water quality of Broad Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Miami Beach leaders proposing a hike in storm water fees to deal with threat

Written by

Christina Veiga

Miami Beach is proposing an 84 percent increase in storm water fees – the cost of keeping rising seas at bay – with more rises in the future.

Strongsville increases no-bid contract for stormwater repairs by $100000

The Plain Dealer  
STRONGSVILLE, Ohio – On Monday, City Council increased a no-bid contract for emergency stormwater repairs from $100,000 to $200,000.

Stormwater project in Clarksville causes concern among neighbors

Evening News and Tribune  -
The existing pump station can only handle a fraction of the water that needs to be moved to the storm water lines, which currently necessitates the use of a mobile pump station to supplement the one that’s permanently affixed.

Stormwater signage to be unveiled in Nampa

Idaho Press-Tribune  - ‎6 hours ago‎
“Most people don’t realize that they can help keep stormwater pollution out of our water bodies,” said environmental compliance superintendent Cheryl Jenkins.

Walton County Commissioners Try to Resolve Storm Water Issue

WALTON COUNTY– There is no doubt that after heavy rains, all of Walton County deals with significant amounts of storm water. During last week’s budget meeting, County Commissioners spoke about finding a way to make some room in next year’s budget …

Hazmat crew removes motor oil dumped into Lebanon’s stormwater system

Lebanon Daily News  
City of Lebanon fire crews and the Lebanon County Hazardous Material Team lower booms into the storm sewer on Cumberland Street at 10th and Cumberland streets to clean up motor oil that was dumped into the stormwater system. … for several years to

Stormwater task force says fee ready to be judged by voters

Colorado Springs Gazette  
The Colorado Springs City Council will consider a resolution Tuesday on whether it wants the city to be part of a regional stormwater effort and form an authority with El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain. The authority

City creates funding mechanism for stormwater project

Tahoe Daily Tribune  
South Lake Tahoe has created a community facilities district for properties to help pay for operation and maintenance of the $15 million Bijou Erosion Control project and meet their own stormwater requirements. South Lake Tahoe City Council … The

EOMAP, Landgate Launch New Water Quality Monitoring Tools

Dredging Today  
German and Australian scientists today launched state-of-the-art water quality monitoring tools that will enable anyone in the world to zoom in on what is stirring up under the surface of Australian waters.


Bethel: Green infrastructure grant addresses flooding, storm-water runoff

newszap.com  - ‎12 minutes ago‎
BETHEL – The Town of Bethel in Sussex County is getting help to reduce flooding, manage storm-water runoff and improve the water quality of Broad Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The town is receiving $100,000 in grant funds from the U.S

Hudson River water quality falls short, Riverkeeper says

Kingston Daily Freeman  
OSSINING >> The group Riverkeeper’s recently released water quality report shows Hudson River water quality falls short of the goals of the organization. Riverkeeper Paul Gallay said the results were somewhat disheartening. “Twenty-three percent of our …

Entering the Fray

There is worse than not being helpful. It’s called being harmful.

First responders are trained to run to the fray – to hear the gunfire, smell the smoke, see chaos, and run towards it. They arrive to make things better.  Not to join one side or the other or to add fuel. First responders are our heroes. We value their training and expertise. We value their dedication. We value their willingness to help when we need them.  They are indispensable. But again, they haven’t declared loyalty to any of us or to our particular movement.

It’s a pretty cool concept if you think about it – someone, likely a stranger, is willing to risk their life to help me without knowing me, knowing anything about my personal preferences, or why I happen to be in the circumstances I am in. They help regardless of fault or responsibility, even when I may actually deserve my predicament.

In many respects, stormwater professionals also serve as first responders. If we are what I think we are, we run to the messes. We see turbid waters, and careless actors, and battles between opposing views, and if we are truly dedicated to water quality, we run toward the chaos. Not to sidle up to those with views that might match our own or to take up arms for ones cause, but to make things better.

Stormwater can be a turbulent topic. Regulation is changing. Interpretation of that regulation is changing. Expectations of regulators, contractors, developers, our neighbors, and our society are changing. Professionals who can make sense and create calm in the face of disorder and mayhem are valuable – and in many cases can be true heroes.

By now, you know that I am all for causing a ruckus. So it may be a bit confusing to you that I would recommend staying neutral as we aim to serve and protect. But there is a big difference between causing a ruckus as a servant and joining one as a professional. Which is still different than being calm and helpful during war between others.

All three types of engagement have the potential to create heroes. The leader understands which role is appropriate as each opportunity is presented.

It’s not about riding fences, taking advantage of unfortunate events, or piling on. It’s about discernment and about being professional. It’s about taking responsibility for doing what we need to do when we need to do it.

Think about your role as a peacemaker (not for the sake of peace, but for the sake of water quality). And think about your role as advocate (not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of water quality). And think abut your role as professional (not for a salary, but for water quality).

And if you still want to be a part of a fray, think about creating a ruckus of your own.

Skillful Design

I am clearly a proponent of attempting to predict the outcome of our work. I believe we should have a pretty clear picture of why we do what we do, know what our objective is, and understand how we plan to get there. I also think we should have a clue about what’s going to happen when we arrive.

I have analytical tendencies, but I also feel a need for real action.

…Models are not right or wrong; they’re always wrong.

Gavin Schmidt made this profound statement in his TED Talk about the emergent patterns of climate change.  He said that models are always approximations. They are never perfect. It yields an interesting perspective when we decide that “all modelers are liars.”

He said, “But there’s one key reason why we look at models, and that’s because … if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models. But unfortunately, observations of the future are not available at this time.”  We don’t and can’t know what will happen in the future, exactly. But can we benefit from the process of guessing? Schmidt also said,

…if a model tells you more than you would have known otherwise, it is skillful.

Skillful – having, showing, or involving skill

Skill – the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well

The Clean Water Act set forth a very real expectation that we get better – to be skillful.  There are modeling, predicting, and estimating tools available to you today.  RUSLE2, MUSLE, GSSHA, SCS, Rational, SWMM, SLAMM, WMS, etc.  Unfortunately, many of us choose to not utilize them to better inform our work - many times because they are “flawed.” If you chose to take advantage these mostly free but imperfect “models,” could you have more information than you would have otherwise? Could modeling, predicting, and virtually tweaking your BMPs prior to ground disturbance give us a better product?

Design – to plan skillfully.

Professional – relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.

Are you a design professional? Are you interested in becoming skillful?  Try modeling. Then do something with what you’ve gained.

After all, “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” – Sherwood Rowland, Nobel Prize winner


I went to a bite-fight the other day and a soccer game broke out.

In case you haven’t been paying much attention, a soccer tournament bigger than our World Series or Super Bowl, according to some, is currently being played out. Some call it football. Its not! Well maybe it is, but not at all like our football, the real football, where we use our hands more than our feet.

A few weeks ago, Luis Suarez, playing for Uruguay, bit a player from the opposing team. Yes – with his teeth! Granted the other guy didn’t lose an ear or anything. But this is soccer, not boxing.

The story gets more bizarre. This was his third biting offense. He has now been suspended by FIFA (not sure what that stands for) for four months but has kept his spot on the team, his paycheck, and even his coach’s loyalty. His boss is extremely incensed by FIFA’s sensitivity according to this story.

I learned all I know about the rules of biting from my oldest daughter.  She faced a permanent booting about fifteen years ago for her habit. Seems her day care didn’t care how well she could kick a ball. That kind of behavior could not be tolerated. It potentially hurt the reputation of the organization, it introduced unnecessary risk, and it left painful marks on the other players’ little soft arms. Turns out, many day care rules, like no-biting and no-hands, are also good for business (and for soccer).

I’m wondering, how should we manage an excellent performer who happens to also be a biter? Thinking about someone who is good for the bottom line or good for “compliance,” but leaves a wake of regret, mistrust, and virtual teeth marks behind them. Do we ignore them? Make excuses for them? Try to change them? Remind them of general rules of social behavior and public health? Or do we give them the old three-strikes rule when it comes to violating our team or organizational values, regardless of their technical competence?

What would one of your star players have to do to be dropped after one strike, or two, or ten? The violation of established core values (you have some, right?) does more than cause your team to be in the news every once in a while. It can erode hard earned positive cultural elements inside your company. It can cause other star players to question you - the leader, and your motives. It can erode trust in critical relationships both inside and outside of your company. It can cause the credibility of a whole profession to lose ground. It’s a big deal.

How have you dealt with over-achieving bad apples?


Behind the scenes – my six year old and I coined the term, “bite-fight.”  It’s a little game we like to play at bed time (really calms her down after a busy day). Even though the game stops well before drawn blood, the older ones and the wife really don’t much care for it.

Stormwater in the Mainstream June 2014

Some interesting accusations being fired back this month from the LA Times in defense of EPA.  Like EPA, Congress is now also being accused here of underhanded and sneaky rulemaking concerning the definition of US Waters.  It seems if Congress can block the implementation of EPA’s rule, they could also create a suitable definition, if that was truly their desire.

We are also seeing our own legislative “muddying of the stormwaters” here in Alabama.

Enjoy this month’s Stormwater in the Mainstream from StormwaterTools and Google News.  (The news is light this month mainly because the search term “runoff” is busy doing election primary duty.)


Winnetka property owners have opportunity to earn stormwater credits

Winnetka Talk
Property owners in Winetka can earn stormwater credits, which are credits to be used towards paying for a new storm water utility fee for the …

EPA raps Ivory Homes for stormwater pollution

Salt Lake Tribune-by Brian Maffly
“The agreement resolves alleged storm-water permit violations discovered through inspections of Ivory Homes’ construction sites in Utah,” the …

EPA orders stormwater release fix for communites in Luzerne and

Scranton Times-Tribune-
The Environmental Protection Agency ordered more than a third of communities in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties to address the release of …

UMaine program focuses on stormwater runoff


ORONO, Maine (AP) — High school students and teachers and representatives of tribal communities are gathering at the University of Maine to …


Increased costs prompts formation of Berkeley County stormwater

Charleston Post Courier-
Berkeley County Council gave second reading Monday to an ordinance that could cost homeowners an additional $24-50 in stormwater fees ...


Runoff, reimagined: Grants bolster new ways of storm water

Santa Cruz Sentinel-
Across the county, nearly $3 million in projects are on tap that aim to manage stormwater better than funneling it into the sea, including keeping ...


Woo-hoo, stormwater meetings!

Colorado Springs Independent (blog)-

No wonder the city and county have hundreds of millions of dollars in backlogged stormwater projects. It’s just hard to get excited about …


Groundbreaking scheduled for Santa Rosa Co stormwater project

A ground breaking ceremony for a storm water project is taking place in Santa Rosa County this week. The ceremony for the Gulf Breeze Storm … The project will help improve water quality for the Santa Rosa County area. The restoration funds come from

Drilling industry, watchdogs: Testing water quality is good

Santa Fe New Mexican.com  -
The industry trade organization is encouraging oil and gas well developers to get permission from water well owners to test as a way of proving that drilling and fracking are safe and won’t hurt water quality. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association

Gulf Breeze Storm Water Project groundbreaking

A ground breaking ceremony for a storm water project is taking place in Santa Rosa County this week. The ceremony for the Gulf Breeze Storm … The project will help improve water quality for the Santa Rosa County area. The restoration funds come from

Lake sediment could be used for highway projects

Sandusky Register  
John Kasich – kicked off the series Thursday to primarily discuss two main themes: lake dredging, and phosphorus farm runoff. Dredging in the Western Basin remains a critical topic of discussion for Butler’s department, he said, since the area is one

Erosion concerns resurface in Kalispell

KAJ18 Kalispell Montana News  
KALISPELL – Residents in one Kalispell neighborhood have been on edge about on-going erosion problems near their homes for years.

Seeing Stormwater from a Different Grid

Accepting Bob’s invitation from last week, I decided to submit an abstract for the 2015 International LID Conference to be held in Houston next January.  This is shaping up to be an excellent learning opportunity and being selected as a speaker might just be the nudge I need for travel approval.  Since the abstract is about the size of a StormwaterTools blog post, I decided to share it with you before submitting.  I would love to get some feedback on the topic, on the content and on the title (I was once described professionally as being “on a different grid.”   I’m still not sure if it was accolade or insult.)  Let me know what you think.


Our National Water Quality goals were set by Congress over 40 years ago. Thirty years after the deadlines for our goals passed, well over half of our waters are still too polluted to meet their designated uses. Many of our water quality problems are directly related to how we manage stormwater runoff. Not only is the natural environment being impacted by how we manage runoff, but our infrastructure itself is also crumbling under the weight of stormwater stresses brought on by community development.

A different kind of thinking by a different combination of people is required if we plan to meet those goals.

Civil Engineers used to own infrastructure outright. It’s what we planned and designed; it’s what we built, protected, and preserved. We did it our way – the right way, without much help or input from others. We used concepts and design principles tested and refined over hundreds of years of transportation, mining, and military works. We dealt with water early on. We saw potential in tamed rivers and recognized harmful effects of unwanted used and unused water. Hard armor would become the surface and lining of choice.

Today, the more natural Low Impact Development approach to design and less rigid elements of Green Infrastructure appear to be addressing many of the issues associated with water-related infrastructure resiliency and water quality restoration. But much of the conversation is taking place without civil engineers. At a time and in an area where civil engineers should be contributing, and are supposed to be leading, we don’t seem to be making a very strong showing.

We haven’t been asked to leave the effort, it has simply left us. We solved water issues long ago and decided to sit there, safe and secure. Fixed. Done. We checked out in spite of the obvious value of infrastructure expertise to any stormwater team.

In this presentation, the engineer-minded will be encouraged to think differently about stormwater. Linear, logical, left-brained thinkers will be encouraged to tap into their more intuitive, innovative, and creative right-brains. In addition to encouraging a brain-balanced approach as a part of our individual efforts, the case for multidisciplinary collaboration will also be presented.

ASCE’s Vision, Goals, and Strategic Priorities will be offered as a reminder and example of what infrastructure leadership is expecting from those who design, build, and maintain the foundation of our society.

The presentation will speak to the beginner and the maven; the skeptic and the believer; the civil engineer and the landscape architect. Participants will be inspired and equipped to think, innovate, create, and build differently as the way we used to do it simply isn’t getting us to where we need to be.


Are you planning to attend the International LID Conference?  Would you want to attend this presentation as described?  What could make the description or topic more effective?


Having lovers and friends is all good and fine, but I don’t like yours and you don’t like mine. – Eric Clapton

The last post, Whole Brained was based on material from a presentation I delivered recently titled The Art of Managing Construction Stormwater. During the presentation, I made the case that we sometimes are too confident in our checklists, specifications, and prescribed ways of doing things. I reminded the audience that meeting the goals of the Clean Water Act requires a different kind of thinking – using our whole brain rather than leaning so heavily on the left hemisphere. I was speaking to a group of fairly technical people – engineers, educators, researchers, and other stormwater professionals.

The presentation was a part of the Auburn University and IECA Education Partners Innovative Erosion and Sediment Control Research and Field Day event. It was an excellent meeting that highlighted the state of regulation, the state of research, the state of practice, and a reminder from me that traditional erosion and sediment control practices alone simply aren’t good enough (an inspirational downer, as I like to call it). We also saw some excellent demonstrations on the second day at the Auburn University Erosion and Sediment Control Testing Facility.

I met a landscape architect at the testing facility that had attended the previous day of seminars. He shared with me that while this particular group and segment of the profession may have too many left-brainers, his circles are tilted a bit too far to the right. (reminder – we’re not talking politics here.  The left brain houses most of the logical, sequential and computer-like thinking.  The right brain is more holistic, deeper thinking and creative.)

I have seen his concern being played out. Many LID practices promoted in handbooks are pretty - too pretty.  Pretty things make ultra-practical people nervous. Instead of seeing hardy drought or water loving plants capable of sucking up pollutants and maintaining soil structure, we see increased costs and non-stop weed pulling.  We perceive a lack of scalability and therefore a lack of sustainability. For a group that loves the virtual security and bland colors of riprap and concrete, colorful structural elements with names like, Sweetspire, Summersweet, Joe Pye Weed, and Possumhaw simply don’t inspire the confidence we’re looking for in how we manage our hydrology. But a conversation between the left and right brained could quickly get to a balance between anthophobia and cacophobia (the fear of flowers and the fear of ugly things, respectively).

Not only should we be using both sides of our own brains, we need to tap all of many people’s brains. We hear about the benefits of and need for multidisciplined teams; I’m personally participating in the promotion of the collaborative leader (along with many others); working with others has become a regulatory requirement in every MS4 permit in the US.  I’m embracing these concepts because they make me better and they cause us to become more effective.

Zooming in then out - all the way inward then 50,000 feet out, its easy to see that I need to grow and that we need to grow… together. It’s very clear that I can’t do it all myself, and others can’t do it completely without me (and you).

Are all of your friends, mentors, teachers, and role models of the same persuasion? Or, could some variety in your life, in your learning, and in your thinking spark a new solution for you (for us)?