Stormwater Magazine

Guest Editorial: The National Municipal Stormwater Alliance

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Stormwater planning has always been a unique challenge for municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permittees. At least some of that blame must fall to the NPDES program itself. Rooted in foundational principles such as maximum extent practicable and best available technology, it is only a framework for a program at best, and defies precise definition. The product of this framework is a relatively reactionary and highly evolutionary approach to implementing the Clean Water Act. Stormwater is unique in that we don’t have a schedule, and we don’t have a budget. Thankfully, we do have goals, which are to ensure that the nation’s waters are fishable and swimmable.

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Unfortunately the regulatory structure is also not a catalyst for industry collaboration. The fundamental requirements are described in the Clean Water Act, but the implementing ­permits are largely written by the states, and the variation of permit approaches within a state can also be significant. This results in a lot of duplication of effort for things such as public education and producing stormwater design manuals, and a lost oppor­tunity for program efficiency.

Municipal NPDES permits require stormwater managers to meet ever-more-stringent requirements that are expensive and offer environmental benefits that can be difficult to measure. But we need public support to move forward. We need a plan that can be explained to the public. And, most importantly, we need to collaborate to develop the plan.

A national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the National Municipal Stormwater Alliance (NMSA), has been formed to coordinate the activities of state and regional municipal stormwater organizations at the national level. While there are multiple organizations working at the national level with an interest in stormwater issues (most notably the Water Environment Federation), there is currently no single organization that focuses solely on the interests of the municipality or public entity charged with implementing an MS4 stormwater program. The MS4 program is relatively young when compared to other regulatory programs, and as it has matured, the complexity and depth of issues involved with this program have deepened. In other words, a lack of national leadership in the MS4 sector in the past may not have been critical, but is becoming so now, as there is a deficit in the development of technical guidance and information specifically for the MS4 sector that can be used to improve stormwater quality and reduce the cost of program implementation. We have an appreciation of work done by EPA and national organizations in this space, but to date this work has been top-down in nature. There is a need to work in a more organic fashion to catalyze change at the ground level. These are the primary drivers for the formation of this alliance:

  • MS4 stormwater programs have issues and concerns that are unique. The local governments that must implement these programs represent sufficient populations and resources to merit an independent organization.
  • A national association is needed to develop technical information that can be shared to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of stormwater programs.
  • The state-level organizations of the MS4 permittees are a strong foundation upon which to build the new national organization.

The vision of NMSA is to provide clean water for the nation. According to EPA, stormwater is one of the largest remaining impediments to achieving this vision. NMSA will work to improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of the MS4 stormwater program. NMSA has been formed

  • To represent MS4 permittees at the national level
  • To lead changes in technology and help move new technologies to implementation
  • To connect and unite stormwater programs
  • To promote stormwater as a resource
  • To improve the public image of stormwater
  • To create opportunities for multi-benefit and multi-use projects and uses for stormwater

NMSA will provide a forum to discuss and act on items of national significance to stormwater programs. It will do this by gathering and assembling critical metadata about the sector, and by helping to shape policies to ensure they are protective of the environment, can be implemented, and provide for stewardship of public funds.

The direction of NMSA will be decided by its members. Similar to a Jeffersonian democracy, the membership is sovereign and will set the agenda for the organization. Membership is currently limited to regional or statewide organizations of MS4 permittees. To date, 12 such organizations comprise the charter membership:

  1. Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition
  2. California Stormwater Quality Association
  3. Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition
  4. Ohio Stormwater Association
  5. Tennessee Stormwater Association
  6. Indiana Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management
  7. Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership
  8.  Virginia Municipal Stormwater Association
  9. Arizona Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities (STORM)
  10. Louisiana Urban Stormwater Coalition
  11. Nebraska Floodplain and Stormwater Management Association
  12. Water Environment Federation

NMSA is composed of voting and non-voting members, with the former being eligible to hold a position on the board of directors (BoD). An executive committee, which comprises the officers of the BoD plus one at-large member, leads the organization by providing strategic direction. NMSA leadership, which is headed by the BoD chair (Randy Neprash, Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition) and vice-chair (Scott Taylor, California Stormwater Quality Association), guide the organization, along with Seth Brown (Storm and Stream LLC), who serves as the liaison to the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

NMSA is officially partnered with WEF through an MOU to leverage common interests in the sector and to utilize the infrastructure supporting stormwater issues that WEF has developed, most notably the new WEF Stormwater Institute. WEF is a valuable ally in the movement to improve water quality and is providing staff support to NMSA. NMSA will also be reaching out to other organizations such as the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, the Association of California Water Agencies, the American Public Works Association, and WEF member associations to form strategic partnerships.

NMSA completed its first practical action by commenting on the MS4 Phase II Remand Rule currently under consideration by EPA. Led by chair Randy Neprash, NMSA is especially proud of the comprehensive set of comments that were distributed in draft form to more than 300 recipients throughout the US. These comments can be found at

Commenting on EPA rulemaking and policies will be an important part of NMSA’s activities, but our primary focus will be to lead change to improve the effectiveness and reduce the cost of implementing MS4 stormwater programs, and to help develop a plan for stormwater. These are some of the initial areas we see that will move the sector in this direction:

National Public Education Campaign. Each NPDES permit requires a public education component. Each permittee or area-wide program develops and implements a public education campaign, with basically the same objective nationally, but using different messaging. NMSA will explore the potential for creating a national stormwater education campaign. The campaign would develop foundational elements of the education program that would be common, but would still allow for local modification. Ultimately, it is envisioned that the program may have a central coordinator, buying and placing national media spots with participating permittees receiving credit toward their public education element. The premise is to reduce the program cost to the permittees while also increasing the effectiveness by exposing the public to a consistent stormwater message nationally.

Public Investment in Stormwater. NMSA is interested in developing information on the public investment in urban stormwater infrastructure. The fundamental information regarding current investment and return on the investment is lacking, as documented in a 2007 Government Accountability Office report on funding needs for MS4 programs. Public support is needed to increase funding for stormwater programs. Information on stormwater program costs and benefits is needed to demonstrate to the public what is being accomplished with stormwater funding, to identify program and funding gaps, and to assist stormwater program managers in filling those gaps. There are multiple goals for this project:

  1. Quantify the public investment in urban stormwater—including capital, operations and maintenance, staff, and other costs. A key reference to this work will be EPA’s Clean Watershed Needs Survey.
  2. Quantify the efforts made by MS4 permittees to comply with the MS4 permits and manage urban stormwater; tell the story of the work being done by MS4 permittees.
  3. Quantify the cost of MS4 permit compliance.
  4. Begin to identify and list the quantified needs in the urban stormwater infrastructure sector.
  5. Through a pilot project in a single state, develop and test a rigorous and replicable methodology to collect and report the information listed above.

State/Regional Stormwater Organization Support/Formation/Establishment. A basic principle of NMSA is supporting the establishment of statewide or regional MS4 stormwater groups by leveraging an existing organization as a preferred first alternative, or through the formation of a new organization if a state- or regional-level organization does not currently exist. NMSA has identified more than 20 such groups currently, with the objective of identifying or helping to create a statewide MS4 group or network of groups in each state. Statewide groups provide a vital role in strengthening the stormwater program through education, technology transfer, and public awareness and education.

Consolidated Training/Credential Program List. There is a growing list of credential programs for stormwater professionals. Some of them are regional and some are national. It is difficult to understand the purpose of each program, how they relate to each other, and their differences and requirements. NMSA is interested in developing a database of such programs to assist its members in selecting credential programs that best meet their professional objectives. It is envisioned that this product would be freely available to the public. WEF is currently in the initial phase of developing a national green infrastructure certification program for construction and maintenance professionals. The proposed NMSA effort would complement the WEF program by highlighting credentialing programs outside the construction and maintenance areas, such as planning, design, and analysis.

sw1611_46Pollutant Load Reduction Crediting Programs. In-lieu and credit programs are beginning to appear in MS4 NPDES permits in various parts of the country. The permits generally provide the opportunity for such programs, but leave the program details to be developed by the permittee. A basic national framework for credit offset/trading/in-lieu programs would be beneficial to eliminate duplication of the resources to create multiple programs. Crediting programs are also being developed to track and report on MS4 permittees’ progress toward meeting TMDL load reductions and waste load allocations. Some of the programs that are currently under development are relatively complex, and it is unclear if this complexity provides an enhanced environmental benefit. Important lessons are being learned about the functionality of crediting programs and information is not being effectively shared across the country. The stormwater program will benefit from a common basis for these programs to reduce development costs and allow for tracking of their effectiveness on a national basis.

There is much work ahead to achieve our vision and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the MS4 stormwater program. If your statewide or regional organization would like to join us in this effort, we welcome your participation. A public meeting is held annually at WEFTEC, as is a meeting of the board of directors. For more information, please go to SW_bug_web

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