Mayors Water Summit Reviews Flood, Nutrient Policy
By Rich Anderson
December 20, 2010
The Mayors Water Summit convened December 8-9 in Washington (DC) to discuss emerging regulations (see related article); urban flood management policy changes; new tools for optimizing infrastructure investments, public private partnerships; the potential for public pension funds to support public infrastructure investments and city efforts to address long term control of sewer overflows. Mayors Water Council Co-Chairs Pleasanton (CA) Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Schenectady (NY) Mayor Brian U. Stratton led the Summit.
Emerging Urban Flood Management Policy
Des Moines (IA) Mayor Frank Cownie commented on a major flood in Des Moines in 1993, when the levee system protected the city but the insufficient pumping capacity and the non-federal levees failed to keep the floodwaters from damaging parts of the city. In a 2008 flood event, the river crested but a structural flaw in a levee resulted in the flooding of homes and businesses. Another event in 2010 involved riverine flooding and local rainfall of more than nine inches over a three-day period.†The cumulative impact of successive heavy rain events caused eight of the city's 28 storm water detention facilities to overtop.
The city initiated flood protection activities after the 1993 flood event involving $77 million investment in levees along the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers to reduce flooding. The city currently has 32 storm water pumping facilities with two additional pump stations scheduled to be completed in 2011.
The 2010 flood event, said the mayor, underlined the importance of continuing to be proactive. Des Moines is now engaged in planning for greater pump capacity; separating combined sewers; and, strategic acquisition of floodway property through eminent domain. He also acknowledged that a significant part of the Des Moines problem is upstream development that the city has no authority over to mitigate risk. He pointed out a dilemma that local government faces when they try to return floodwaters to their natural course. As more and more property is bought out and deed restricted and returned to the flood plain, it adds more and more property that a city owns and must maintain, while further reducing taxable property values.†Federal policy should consider a means to offset the local impact of purchase/maintenance of city-owned flood plain.
Napa (CA) Mayor Jill Techel has recently overseen a program to eliminate the levees protecting downtown Napa from flood events. The program seeks to allow flooding waters to return to their natural course. Techel remarked on the use of flood mapping data, bridge replacements and land terracing techniques to accommodate the floodwaters. She said that Napa was prepared with "shovel-ready" plans take advantage of the ARRA funds, and was awarded $99 million to convert structural controls to this green infrastructure approach. And while the program is not yet fully implemented the city has benefited from less downtown flooding.
Roy Wright, Deputy Director for Risk Analysis at FEMA, provided information concerning flood mapping efforts and anticipated changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Wright explained that FEMA has been conducting outreach for some time with local government with suggestions on low-cost approaches to mitigating flood risk. He stated that FEMA's Risk Map approach is designed to coordinate geophysical information with risk management information to better communicate with local government about risk mitigation. Wright also stated that the NFIP today services some 5.6 million policies and has revenues around $1.6 trillion, but the frequency of flooding events requires payouts that exceed revenues. Therefore, FEMA is considering changes to the program because it is currently unsustainable.
Alex Dornstauder, Flood Risk Management Program Director at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, agreed with Wright about what is at stake regarding risk. The Corps looks at flood management in a life-cycle mode. Beginning with an actual flood event, the life cycle includes response, recovery, and mitigation followed by preparation and local training. Through a series of steps including placement of structural controls, nonstructural controls, watershed planning, land use controls and building codes, local government can work with the Corps to "buy-down" the cost the insurance.
Betsy Otto, Vice President of American Rivers, stated that during the past century overall precipitation is up seven percent, and the heaviest downpours are up 20 percent. She stated that annual flood damage to property has increased from $6 billion to $15 billion. Otto said that the continual development in floodplains only exacerbates the long-term problem. She described an alternative scenario based on work in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County (NC). In this risk mitigation program, the local government spent $3 million in floodplain remapping. Following this, 225 high-risk homes were relocated; 3,000 acres of floodplain were protected; and 30 miles of trails in 14 greenway corridors were established. Real-time results of this program were demonstrated in a 2008 storm where 125 previously flooded homes spared in 2010.
Larry Larson, Executive Director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, provided an insightful wrap-up of the panelists- remarks. He stated that floodplain managers do not have a perfect record in predicting flood events. They do, however, have good ideas about how to prevent damage to people, property and natural resources. Their ideas require cooperation between all levels of government, and the use of good planning to move people out of harms- way.
Chesapeake Bay Clean Up
The U.S. EPA settled a lawsuit that requires implementation of watershed plans to establish a pollution diet that limits discharges of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediments. The pollutant diet establishes Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen and phosphorus that cannot be exceeded. The six states containing the 64,000 square miles of watershed discharging into the streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay are required to develop and implement watershed plans that will force communities to take dramatic efforts to reduce nutrient discharges. Clifton Bell, an expert from Malcolm Pirnie, who has been involved with the Chesapeake Bay initiative, outlined several steps that cities will have to take in order to comply with the new state watershed plans. Bell stated that cities would have to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants. They are responsible for some 22 percent of the nitrogen loadings. Cities will also have to meet strict new stormwater controls. Stormwater adds another 8 percent of the nitrogen loadings in the form of urban runoff. Agricultural source nitrogen, said Bell, contributes 44 percent of the problem, but these sources are not controlled by cities. Thus, says Bell, cities will have to engage in very expensive nutrient reduction efforts while it is much less expensive to reduce the 44 percent of pollutants from agricultural sources. For example, a pound of phosphorus reductions from: agricultural sources ranges from $5 to $150; $15 to $200 for wastewater treatment plants; $3,000 to $20,000 for urban stormwater runoff retrofits.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presented information on the city's water and wastewater challenges, including the Chesapeake Bay clean-up initiative. Baltimore treats and distributes an average of 220 million gallons of potable water a day to 1.8 million people in the Baltimore region, with high quality raw water from three city-owned reservoirs. The mayor added that the need to cover the finished water reservoirs at a cost of $189 million and make improvements to the water treatment systems results in an anticipated six-year total investment need of $980 million.
Baltimore also operates two major regional wastewater treatment plants and has borrowed heavily over recent years to upgrade these facilities in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act. The city's total debt doubled between 2004 and 2008. The mayor stated the cost for these upgrades and other related actions at more than $900 million.
The city is currently in the midst of a comprehensive sanitary sewer rehabilitation program under a 2002 Consent Decree. The Consent Decree requires the city to evaluate the condition and performance of the entire sanitary conveyance system and to implement necessary improvements to eliminate all Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) by 2016. Over the past ten years, the city has invested in $362 million worth of capital projects, eliminating 60 of the 62 known SSO locations. It is estimated that it will cost the city another $100 million in operational improvements and between $526 million and $850 million to complete the Consent Decree requirements.
The mayor pointed out that EPA expects cities closer to the Chesapeake Bay must do more than the more distant cities. Baltimore is an economically disadvantaged community, but is being required to shoulder a disproportionately larger share of the financial burden for the Bay clean up. The mayor stated, "If our federal and state partners expect to hold some jurisdictions to a higher standard in implementing Bay TMDLs, then a mechanism needs to be in place to temper the resulting disparity of costs those citizens will have to bear."
Lake Barrington (IL) Mayor Kevin Richardson made comments on the costs and methods of protecting water supplies from nutrient pollution, especially nitrogen fertilizers. He remarked that you cannot overstate the importance of watershed management plans in this respect. Based on local experience a consultant study was commissioned to determine the sources of nitrogen loadings. As expected, agricultural sources were by far the highest contributor to water body loadings. However, the common attitude by many is to consider outright bans on residential landscape fertilizer applications. And here, Richardson emphasized, is exactly where the watershed plans adopted by communities makes all the difference in the world. He said that trained and certified fertilizer applicators do not contribute to the problem. Indeed, the average homeowner, and the small time fertilizer applicators are responsible for part of the problem because, unlike the professional applicators, the others do not follow agronomic application rates, and seldom apply their fertilizer according to best practice protocols.
He cautioned his peer group mayors not to get into going only for the low hanging fruit by banning landscape fertilizer activity. It is probably not an effective way to address the larger problem, and it will likely result in job loss for the professional applicators, an increase in surreptitious application activity, and potentially greater sediment pollution by making the landscape less stable.
Sandra Ralston, Senior Associate at Malcolm Pirnie, commented that the Chesapeake Bay initiative that EPA and the states and communities are engaged in has national implications for other states and communities. She stated, however, that the initiative is not necessarily the only way to ensure the integrity of water quality through the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulatory mechanism. For example, she is involved in an effort in the Savannah River basin in Georgia that is taking a much different approach. In that case, the cities and the local environmental groups are working closely with the Regional EPA officials to build a consensus solution.
A more detailed report on the Mayors Water Summit will appear in the next edition of the Mayors Water Council Newsletter expected to be in print in January 2011.