The following article was written by Devon Alexander, Stormwater Coordinator for the City of Piqua. This article was published in the January 2015 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, official publication of the Ohio Water Environment Association.
Introduction – Located in western Ohio, just 30 minutes north of Dayton, Ohio, the City of Piqua is the picturesque image of a river town along the Great Miami River with a steady population of just over 20,000 residents. Like most small MS4’s, the challenges to meet and exceed the EPA requirements and internal expectations are always a challenge. On one hand we have our guidelines that are handed down through the Ohio EPA with the NPDES permit requirements. On the other hand we have an aging infrastructure, with limited dollars, and a belt that can only stretch so far. These are the challenges that I would assume some if not all municipalities in our size range are encountering in their push to meet their permit requirements. Thankfully, here in Piqua we have our own Storm Water Utility which generates roughly $900,000 a year. That sounds like a lot for a small program, but as I said before, aging infrastructure, permit requirements, and other administrative cost can really make that go away in a flash! So let me pose a question to all the readers. What is really obtainable when it comes to covering all the bases of Storm Water, with a limited budget?
Current Structure – Being the Storm Water Coordinator since 2010, I have always taken a approach that we have a two part system here in Piqua. We obviously have our annual NPDES permit requirements to meet, but we also must give attention to the system itself, and the aging infrastructure. Some might agree or disagree with this method, but for the past 5 years it has worked well for Piqua.
Meeting our NPDES requirements is not a difficult as one may think. We love outreach here in Piqua. Public relations are the funniest and easiest way to get information out to the community and see the biggest impact. We do articles in the quarterly flyers, we have an annual educational program with the Jr. High school that interacts with the students, we have the ability of local access cable shows, we have informational flyers for the public, and we have an open door policy for individuals to come in and meet us face to face with any questions they may have. With the ability to communicate to the public, it also leads to the ability to have them be our eyes and ears since the storm water department has a staff of one individual, that being I.
We are always addressing any spill or illicit discharge with the same level of concern regardless of the size or severity of it. Doing pre and post construction review of new developments to insure that proper protocol by contractors is being adhered to for storm water site preservation. Just as important is holding those same standards for our own city employees and the projects they are doing as well. Going out on site to see the projects, and seeing firsthand what is happening is key to controlling a successful storm water program.
The other side of the equation is dealing with an aging storm water infrastructure system, and maintaining it to a healthy standard. When the storm water program began our first goal was to get an accurate map of the system. We had an old drawn paper map that dated over 50 years old and frankly, we just really were not sure how accurate it was. Like most other cities, our old map was severely out dated and was in need of a revamp. So we went out, hired a consultant, and over the course of almost 2 years they mapped every storm water structure (man holes, catch basins, storm pipes) as well as recorded other essential data and implemented it into a new GIS system for us. The results were staggering. For example we originally assumed that we had between 2000-2500 storm water structures. When the new GIS map was completed it was realized we had almost 8000 structures. The key point that I am trying to convey is that it is extremely important to know what you have.
Knowing what you have will let you then target what needs to be addressed, and in what order it needs address. As mentioned above, limited budgets mean picking and choosing which project will have the biggest impact and best result for the city.
We strive to focus on making sure that damaged or dilapidated catch basins get repaired when needed. We also have our underground utility crews do annual cleaning and televising of the system to check for the integrity of the pipes. We also coordinate a lot of the repair to go along side the City’s annual paving schedule. Going in beforehand and making the repairs, replacing catch basins and storm pipe before the street is redone.
To wrap up the structure portion, I think it is important to realize that planning is everything when it comes to Storm Water. In 2012 we set out to do an in-depth master plan for the City. We realized that to set goals, and know what direction we wanted to go, it was the necessary step needed. Without a master plan it would have had us shooting off in different directions with no real sight of where we were heading. The master plan is still a work in progress today. We have completed a general overview of the city, targeted areas that we felt were of the most concern, and have set out a 10 year plan. Also, we are evaluating annually new areas of concern so we are continually building the master plan.
The Future – As the old adage goes, “If the wheel isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Ideally, I think that’s the general premise of how I would like to see our storm water program continue. Now, keep in mind I am not set in my ways, and I do believe that innovation and new methods are just as important. It has to be a healthy combination of all aspects meshing together. We already know that every five year permit cycle will come and go, and with that will be new rules and regulations. MS4 communities will adapt to those changes and meet compliance, but the key is to stay within your means, and not shoot for the stars. Understanding the reality that you have to work with what you have.
I foresee that here in Piqua we will continue to focus meeting our annual permit requirements while trying to manage and repair and aging infrastructure system. We have in the past, and will in the future continue to look for other avenues when it comes to funding projects. There is a vast world of grants that can be obtained to help ease that financial burden.
In closing, I would like to divulge what I personally feel is the greatest tool that stormwater professionals have at their disposal. Public education is a huge part of it. Reaching out to the young school aged kids is a great start. They take information home to mom and dad, and that information spreads.
It might be the hardest to convey, it might be the biggest challenge we will meet in our careers, it might be the most unlikely. The most single import tool that we have at our disposal is the people who live in the community we work for. Regardless of their age, or life path, the people of the community are our biggest assets. As I said before, they are our eyes and ears when we can’t be everywhere to see every problem. They are the information givers who warn their next door neighbors that they might be effecting the environment by over applying yard fertilizers. They are the real award winners because they live, breathe, and sleep in the community that you are trying to make a better place for them. They are the single most important asset that we have.
I really hope that this brief overview of the City of Piqua storm water program can give you insight and possible ideas for your community. I always engaged for new ideas, and love sharing our process. I would encourage any reader that has questions to contact me, and see what new ideas can come. Realize there is no perfect formula. There is just the reality of what works for you in your community.