It’s been off and on for me in the past, but recently the question of what we’re really trying to achieve has been front and center. I am struggling on one particular project with exactly what our water quality goals should be. We’re trying to find a balance between checking the box and going overboard to simply make a show for others to see.
I’m not a fan of mere compliance, but even if I was, what would that look like? Do we work to the letter of the law? Seriously? Have you read those letters? I appreciate the flexibility of interpretation that most regulation provides… until the interpretation goes against me. How do we prepare for that?
So, do I work toward the interpretation that I think the regulator will choose, or choose my interpretation and dare anyone to question it? Do we only shoot for meeting the state water quality standard, or for staying out of the news, or civil court? Should we take as much care with the unregulated neighbor’s yard as we do the priority stream? How about the discharge point that drains through a freshly harvested clear cut?
And forget about “maximum extent possible.” That popular clarifying term has never really impressed me. And what about our duty to be stewards of our clients’ and employer’s money? We have some obligations there also. Right?
And all that’s just living at mere compliance. What does being committed look like as compared to compliant? I’m really struggling with the details lately.
As I write, I’m being drawn back to starting with WHY. Why is it that we even bother to struggle with these questions?
We are stormwater professionals. We are paid to answer these difficult questions. We draw the lines and set the standards.
We must seek balance between water quality protection and cost; level of effort against quality of receiving streams; priority against risks. On every project. At every discharge point. Every day.
The truth may be that there is no set standard and maybe there shouldn’t be. Maybe the difficult answer is that we must set that standard every time we are called upon to serve.
Maybe if this world of dirt and water were an easy one to standardize, and prescribe, and measure, and easy to master, and regulate, there would be no value in those who sometimes make the difficult look easy.
Rather than being frustrated by all of the unanswered questions and inconsistency in regulatory and social expectations, maybe I should be celebrating.
What are your planning and design goals? Just how clean does your runoff need to be before you call it good?
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