Information-Oriented Watershed Planning
Watersheds almost always cross over many governmental jurisdictions, and therefore planning for watershed issues involves many different agencies or local governments as well as differing interests among individuals. Most municipalities have their own formal plans, including zoning, subdivision, and stormwater ordinances to manage stormwater. Most plans reflect their own interests, including economic, social, and environmental issues. The USEPA and other agencies develop regulations for the protection of surface water quality, such as Phase II of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), and mandate that eligible municipalities follow them.
If we could have a functionally complete regulation with powerful enforcing authority, it would be great for stormwater management. However, this may not be realistic, for at least two reasons. First, there are no completely valid techniques or standards for any kind of human activities. All scientific concepts and theories are limited and approximate (Capra 1996), and science can never provide a complete and definitive understanding. There are approximate and tentative answers only, which do not allow absolute certainty with regard to techniques or policies for stormwater management. Second, as discussed by many planners (Hopkins 2001, NIPC and LEAM 2005), enforcement is not always the best option to achieve a planning goal.
If this is the case, enforcing plans may not be the most efficient approach. Rather, an information-oriented planning approach would be a more feasible option. Regulatory authority may not be necessary for information-oriented watershed planning. Regulation would be the role of local governments themselves. What municipalities need wouldn’t be another regulation but information they could readily reference and contribute. They would want updated references and future images and consequences that could result from existing plans. In June 2004, the City of Chicago hosted the Confluence of Water, Society and Ecological Design conference with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to address the Great Lakes water challenges. The purpose of the conference was to find ways to keep the water and environment of the Great Lakes region clean and healthy for future generations. Among many issues discussed by government officials, engineers, and planners, “establishing a Web portal to serve as an information resource” was recommended as one of the major actions to be launched.
Many municipalities do not have enough budget and staff resources to properly manage stormwater within their municipal boundaries. Consider this example: A small village with a population of 10,000 plans a new stormwater management program encouraging use of decentralized best management practices (BMPs), considered the best onsite solution to prevent surface runoff and nonpoint-source pollution. The practices include rain barrels, rooftop gardens, pervious pavements, and small detention/retention ponds. This program has several funding mechanisms. As one funding mechanism, the village considers a tradable permit system; that is, if a property owner implements BMPs and treats the runoff from his property through his practices, he is exempted from village stormwater management fees. To be eligible, a property owner must prove that his practices treat the runoff properly by using an officially authorized hydrologic model and proper input data. The selection of model is not a problem for the public and governments. However, the problem is how and where the public or local governments can get proper input data for such BMPs to estimate their performance. Currently, there are few model parameters representing behaviors of such best management practices. Practically, most local governments are not able to develop such data, because this would require large budgets and staff resources. Therefore, although the physical performance of decentralized BMPs is accepted, use of such BMPs is not institutionally feasible for local governments due to the lack of information. Some of the necessary data might be obtained from a variety of sources, such as local private engineering firms, research institutes, universities, other higher-level municipalities, or environmental organizations. However, most local municipalities are limited in their ability to reach these resources for reasons including the lack of knowledge, experience, or budget.
If watershed planning focused on collection and interpretation of information through a Web portal, it would be very helpful for local governments, developers, environmental agencies, and the pubic to manage stormwater more efficiently. Information available would include not only data/plan collection, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, forecast, and feedback, but also case studies. The public and local governments would be engaged in this planning process by requesting, retrieving, and contributing information and case studies. Rather than formal, static planning, watershed planning would be active and flexible due to the ease of accessing information. Local governments, environmental groups, or research institutes could have a leading role in this type of planning. In this context, the role of the public would not be limited to meeting participation. Individual agents could actively participate in the planning process by posting and sharing their experiences on the Web portal. Their experiences would become case studies for other agents.
The Planning Process
With information-oriented planning, planning tasks would focus on developing inventories of documents and data, including plans and case studies associated with stormwater management, analyzing the inventories, and assessing stormwater management practices. Feedback would be available on every process through various means, including sharing ideas and experiences and suggesting comments over the Web portal and at public meetings. This process would be cycled and improved when new ideas, data, or findings became available.
1. Development of Inventories
In developing inventories, the public, local governments, professionals, and regional institutions would need to collaborate on an information clearinghouse. Watershed planning requires detailed information about particular watershed components and processes, along with other resource information. Therefore, inventories would be substantially large and would need to be categorized depending on the type of information. The types of inventories are resource, plan, model, and case study inventories.
Resource inventory. A resource inventory stores the most fundamental data required for watershed planning. This information can be further classified into social economic data including population, income, and others; spatially distributed data including land use, zoning, transportation, utilities, soil, elevation, streets, hydrologic boundaries, municipality boundaries, and others; and environmental data including water-quality monitoring, weather, flow, point-source site, hazard site, and others. These elements would be collected in both micro- and macro-watershed scales to be useful for various geographical areas.
Plan inventory. A plan inventory is composed of a set of plans, ordinances, and regulations that affect the watershed. These include formal plans such as government land-use plans and zoning regulations, as well as informal plans such as advisory plans from volunteer groups.
Model inventory. A model inventory describes all available watershed, hydrology, and in-stream water-quality models. Because each model has its own purpose, resolution, and data requirements, when a model is addressed, detailed descriptions including its purpose, data requirement, and complexity should be noted. Since many environmental agencies, including the USEPA, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, have studied and developed several water-quality or watershed models, collection of such detailed descriptions would be possible.
Case study inventory. A case study inventory contains publications or maps associated with stormwater management policies and techniques.
2. Analysis of Inventories
Analyzing the collected information needs to be done both for the parts and the larger whole (Capra 1996). Each single solution should be approached contextually, because the properties of parts are not intrinsic properties. The properties can be understood properly within the context of the larger whole. To solve a problem of the parts, it is beneficial to understand all others. For this reason, analyzing various levels and types of recommendations, policies, and regulations is helpful to find essential problems that prevent proper stormwater management in a watershed. For example, a city located downstream of a watershed might expend great effort to protect the quality of a nearby stream by implementing extensive stream buffers. However, if most developing areas outside the city limit within the watershed do not have extensive water-quality management practices, not surprisingly, the stream water quality will become degraded, because the stream buffers have limited capacity to manage surface runoff and nonpoint-source pollution from the entire watershed. In this case, focus on the city downstream wouldn’t provide the answer to the degraded water quality, but looking at the phenomenon on the watershed scale would.
Glossary. Developing a glossary is considered an important part of many formal and informal plans. Clear definitions should be provided to avoid confusion. Most municipalities do not clarify terms in their plans because they may not realize the subtlety of terms. For example, they might enforce a buffer strip of a certain width, but they often do not specify stream type, which prevents not only proper plan implementation but also water-quality maintenance. Streams can be classified as perennial and intermittent watercourses (Dunne and Leopold 1978), as well as according to other parameters. Municipalities must specify which types of stream should be buffered, and the source of the definition should be noted.
Targets to be controlled. Through the interpretation of stormwater management regulations, all necessary targets to be controlled should be addressed. In most cases, governments extensively regulate peak discharge for stormwater management. However, they do not always regulate total runoff. For the hydrologically functional landscape to prevent water-quality degradation, four elements should be considered: volume, frequency, recharge, and pollutant load. These can be managed by curve number, travel time, and storage (Coffman 2000).
In addition, some governments do not consider first flush effect—the initial period of stormwater runoff during which the concentration of pollutants is substantially higher than during later periods (Delectic and Maksumovic 1998). The first flush effect is different depending on precipitation characteristics. For example, if rainfall intensity is low and duration is long, the first flush effect might be insignificant. Thus, the effect of first flush and its variability need to be provided. In addition, it is necessary to identify types, sources, and adverse effects of various nonpoint-source pollutants.
Management techniques and policies. This section will contain the most readily usable information for local governments and the public. Based on the analysis of plans and case studies, various techniques and policies for stormwater management are addressed here.
Best management practices should be addressed from a technical perspective, describing their advantages and disadvantages for the public and municipalities in an unbiased way, with use of illustrations. Limitations of BMPs should particularly be mentioned, because, for example, not all sites are suitable for infiltration techniques. Allowing infiltration in certain circumstances might result in groundwater contamination (USEPA 2000). Enforcing homogeneous and general control techniques without fully considering site characteristics can be harmful to water quality.
In addition, it is necessary to address the effects of decentralized and centralized BMPs. For example, a huge outlet store is generally required to have a retention pond to store runoff for the mitigation of peak discharge through increasing lag time. One large pond may store runoff and reduce the concentration time, but it may not be helpful to reduce the amount of total runoff generated from the site. The regulation requiring a retention pond might result in discharge of more water to streams, and increased water volume might disturb the chemical and physical stream parameters. Consequently, additional management efforts will be required. The stormwater management responsibility will be transferred from the polluting store to others without the equitable payment by polluters.
From a policy perspective, advantages and disadvantages of flexible zoning need to be highlighted. It is also important to introduce alternative control schemes for stormwater management. In addition, available pollution control mechanisms should be addressed. For example, it is necessary to address the advantages and disadvantages of incentive instruments, such as taxes, subsidies, and tradable permit and command-and-control instruments, including performance and design standards.
3. Assessment of Stormwater Management Practices
Based on the analysis of plans and case studies, stormwater management practices should be simulated to validate certain techniques or policies. For example, the effects of decentralized and centralized BMPs can be simulated on a watershed scale. Economically optimum levels of BMPs can be explored. Once simulation explains the issues in question, the results will be interpreted to identify further issues including model limitation, parameter, and management issues.
4. Analysis of Issues
After the modeling tasks, further issues must be addressed, resulting from the modeling process, use of model parameters, or scenario-comparison methodology. For example, if modeling results indicate that localized stormwater management is not a feasible approach, then this finding will be a management issue to be explored further. Also, it becomes new information to be stored in the plan inventory. If the modeling process does not properly simulate behaviors of hydrology/instream water quality, the limited function of model algorithms would be new information to be managed in the model inventory. This limitation will be an important issue to be discussed and solved for the government or private agents that maintain the model. If the lack of proper model parameters representing behavior of decentralized BMPs is the most difficult issue, it becomes the limiting factor to be considered.
In the absence of regulatory authority, information-oriented planning does not directly affect multiple jurisdictions in enforcing their plans. However, this type of planning may indirectly affect municipalities’ stormwater management policies. Such indirect intervention is the result of information. The authority of the various municipalities will be retained. The intention of information-oriented planning is that it affects the choices of decision-makers through accessibility of information.
Information-oriented planning is not static and can be continually modified. Because it doesn’t require public support or legal process to change information, it is relatively easy and flexible. In local governments, ordinance modification involves a formal process. It often makes the planning process too rigorous to adapt to the community’s changing needs. Sometimes, a better fit leaves less room for change (Bueren and Heuvelhof 2004). For this reason, it is often preferable for local governments to reference a stormwater management manual rather than specify detailed design criteria in their ordinances. By doing that, we can change specific design information over time without going through the formal process that is required to change ordinance codes.
Information-oriented watershed planning should contribute to surface-water-quality improvement in watershed. If there is no water-quality improvement in a watershed, there may be two possible reasons. One is that local governments do not reference the information available. The other is that local governments use it but it doesn’t work. In any case, the parts and the whole of this process should be re-examined to see whether there is a possibility of improving the planning approach, or whether another approach should be sought.
The purpose of planning is not only for goal achievement but also for process. However, in a practical sense, surface-water-quality improvement is an important indicator for the success of this watershed planning. Both goal achievement and process should be considered in evaluating its success. We can say that this planning is successful if both water quality improves and there are signs of positive process. The positive signs are that the collected and interpreted information is frequently referenced by the public and governments, and that the quality and quantity of the asset increases as a result the public’s and governments’ demands and their contributions. If there are no positive signs, this planning process may be considered neither effective nor successful even if water quality improves.
Information-oriented planning can provide more opportunities for the public and governments to consider hydrologic variability and to avoid general rules that not only are inefficient but also may be harmful for water-quality improvement. For this reason, in any given time, the rapidly growing evidence of successful stormwater management, design case studies, standards, and specifications should be compiled. Planning shouldn’t be confused with the existence of a formal plan.
Author's Bio: Sangjun Kang is with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a research assistant with the East St. Louis Action Research Program.