Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cheaper Stormwater Management?

Stormwater management is, hands down, the most expensive per unit of pollution removed method of nutrient control now being pushed as part of the 'Chesapeake Bay Diet', the long-term, multi-billion dollar plan to reduce pollution in the Bay to "tolerable" levels by 2025.  A conservation group in Virginia is proposing a change in strategy for stormwater control that may reduce the costs by as much as 90%.
The James River Association, a Richmond-based conservation group, hired the Center for Watershed Protection, a Maryland-based nonprofit, to conduct the study. It was released Wednesday. Among other things, the report found that restoring urban streams is a better, cheaper way to cut pollution than building detention ponds. “As localities start looking into this, we believe there are a lot of cost savings that can be achieved,” said Bill Street, CEO of the James River Association.

Jeff Corbin, the Environmental Protection Agency’s senior adviser on the bay cleanup, called the report’s findings “pretty startling... Of all the possible issues that could be seen as a thorn to localities with regards to the bay restoration, 99 percent of what we hear about are the costs associated with meeting stormwater goals,” Corbin said. An 85 percent cut in costs could be optimistic, Corbin said, “but I’ll take a 50 percent reduction happily.”

The report said, “Initial cost estimates for addressing stormwater pollution in Virginia are approximately $10.5 billion — over half the total cost of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.”

Those costs can be cut significantly if localities focus on restoring urban streams, repairing sewer line leaks and creating programs to get people to pick up after their pets, the report said.

Restoring urban streams involves measures such as regrading their banks and installing rocks to limit erosion. A stream restoration costs 44 cents a year on average per pound of pollution removed, the report said.

On the other hand, building detention ponds, which are designed to slow the flow of rainwater, can cost $157 a year per pound of pollution removed, the report said. And some programs aimed at reducing fertilizer use on private land can cost $1,500.
Shockingly, I'm in general agreement with Corbin on this.  I doubt that the level of improvement being touted by the  James River Association will be achieved in practice, but the expense of stormwater management is so out of line with respect to other methods of pollution control that reductions of cost of 50% or more are likely, and more to the point, highly desirable.

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