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?

5 thoughts on “Seeing Stormwater from a Different Grid

  • Barry,

    I think it is a very good abstract and a much needed discussion. I won’t be attending this conference, but hopefully you will offer it somewhere that I can attend. Good job.


  • Thanks Opal. This fall Jesse Poore and I will be presenting a workshop on a related topic near you – collaborative leadership. We’ll be in Vail for the Colorado Association of Stormwater and Floddplain Managers annual meeting in October. Maybe we’ll see you there.

  • Barry:

    Good idea and a discussion we have ben having in California and I have been preaching about for the past several years. Good job.

  • Reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.

    And from my perspective, what we have is not working anymore. I appreciate your approach and your passion. Keep it coming!

  • I don’t see engineers having been left behind so much as unwilling to go along. The context in this instance is the unwillingness of engineers to share responsibility for BMPs with others. One such case in point – private property LID. For years engineers dismissed LID as substandard to pipes, ponds, weirs etc. Then they switched to slagging maintenance of private property LID BMPs. Etc. Left behind… Nope, isolationist.

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