Managing Stormwater in an Arid Climate – 5 Takeaways

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I spent some of last week with the Nevada DOT Stormwater Team – what a good bunch of folks. I delivered a 2-day workshop on post-construction stormwater. The workshop included a field trip to Reno visiting implemented green infrastructure, a stormwater panel discussion featuring perspectives of design, construction, and maintenance leaders, and plenty of great discussion. I enjoyed my time there and learned a tremendous amount myself preparing for and delivering the training. I’ll share some observations and reminders below.

Below are five takeaways from my trip. Some were revelations, and others served as simple reinforcements of lessons I had already learned.

  1. The general principles of low impact development are just as applicable in arid climates as in greener parts of the world. Mimicking predevelopment hydrology through a volume-based approach is beneficial and possible, even in the desert.
  2. Green infrastructure does not have to be green in color. Natural processes and natural materials utilized when creating green infrastructure should be context sensitive. Green infrastructure belongs in green environments. Brown or tan infrastructure belongs in areas where that is the color of the natural environment.
  3. What Nevada green infrastructure lacks in lush and plentiful vegetation, it more than makes up with in infiltrative soils and manageable rainfall (not discounting challenges associated with the presence of clayey soils in some parts, and occasions of intense rainfall with sometimes highly concentrated first flush).
  4. Urban stormwater is unique among types of runoff; transportation stormwater is unique among that of other types of land use; Nevada DOT is unique among DOTs; Nevada DOT districts are unique among themselves. An approach to stormwater management (regulation and/or practice) that ignores location-specific needs and limitations may never be as effective as it should be.
  5. Contractors can do just about anything we need them to do as long as we: 1)tell them upfront; and 2)are willing to pay them. Communication is still THE best management practice, followed closely by managing behavior, or the work.

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A few more personal observations that are less technical are included as a bonus.

  1. Nevada is in the Pacific Time Zone. My wife texted me at 4:21 am the first morning asking for my favorite hot sauce. She was compiling a grocery list in the Central Time Zone. I struggled to spell Cholula at that hour.
  2. Nevada is pronounced Nevaada, not Nevahda. The DOT folks usually let outsiders go on for a few days before correcting them. I was kindly informed at the first break.
  3. Carbon copy credit card payment slips are still a thing. I’m not sure about the old sliding impression machine – my cab driver in Carson City used a quarter from her pocket to rub over my card.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the good people at the Nevada DOT. I am a better stormwater professional for having met them. Thanks to the International Erosion Control Association and the Nevada DOT Stormwater Program for inviting me out.

Special thanks to Theresa Jones of the City of Reno and Terri Svetich of Stantec for guiding the Reno field trip. I recommend both for LID expertise and information if you have a need in the area.

Love NV Waters!

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