Stormwater Management at a Watershed Level
When the skies open up and stormwater leads to flooding, there’s a gamut of emotions felt by homeowners, emergency management, municipal staff, and elected officials. There are painful emotions associated with property damage and financial constraints, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Stormwater management isn’t about big dams, long concrete flumes, and water racing away from the community anymore. Every day, we use water. It’s an integral part of us. We use it to cook food for our families, grow our crops, recharge our aquifers, and complete biological processes, which are essential to sustain life on Earth. Stormwater management is a powerful component of quality of life for communities. Yet we often take it for granted.
“The old mentality of stormwater management was out-of-sight, out-of-mind. This way of thinking has damaged our waterways from both a water quantity and water quality perspective,” explains Jeff Walters, Principal Environmental Scientist for Snyder & Associates. “Best management practices [BMPs] for stormwater now call for controlling and treating it at the source using a watershed perspective.”
Water Knows No Boundaries
Changes to the landscape are reflected by the reaction of water in the watershed, which is the basis for planning at the watershed level. Stormwater doesn’t follow the jurisdictional lines between two communities, nor does it care about rural versus urban settings. It follows the path of least resistance. As a result, cities, counties, and landowners should address stormwater management together to ensure their efforts are in concert. Through collaboration, we can plan and work toward an environmentally and economically healthy watershed, creating benefits for everyone.
“Water infiltrates the ground and flows into rivers, lakes, and streams. This means the challenges we face in terms of water quality and flooding aren’t limited to any particular political boundary,” says Walters. “Communities may find the best thing they can do for local water bodies is to contribute to improvements in other community locations within their watershed.”
Watershed planning involves a number of activities, such as:
- Promoting involvement from affected and interested parties
- Developing a baseline by reviewing watershed characteristics
- Creating watershed goals that unite communities and partners
- Identifying and targeting priority problems within the watershed
- Developing solutions to problems through expert assistance and the authority of multiple agencies and organizations
- Implementing practices that meet plan goals and resolve watershed issues
- Monitoring and gathering data to evaluate results
Benefits of a Watershed Management Authority
A Watershed Management Authority (WMA) is made up of local cities, counties, and soil and water conservation districts that reside in a watershed. Originally established to address flooding issues beyond the means of a single jurisdiction, WMAs provide a collaborative approach to planning for the whole watershed. Planning typically includes local and state entities, often in partnership with private partners, to develop strategies for policy changes and BMP implementation that improves stormwater management.
The overarching benefits of a WMA include:
- Reducing flood risk while increasing flood resiliency
- Improving water quality
Making the WMA Plan a Reality
Through collaboration, communities often gain a deeper understanding of how decisions and policies related to water resources can have a lasting impact locally, regionally, and beyond. Communities that adopt a watershed perspective for stormwater management and water quality related issues team together to solve challenges within their watershed. Snyder & Associates has experienced firsthand the benefits of utilizing a watershed approach to planning through our work with Watershed Management Authorities.
“During the time we assisted the Fourmile Creek WMA, many successes were achieved,” shares Walters. “They’ve completed a plan that outlines goals, policy changes, future action items, and funding opportunities for projects within the Fourmile Creek watershed.”
Fourmile Creek WMA policy changes are guiding implementation efforts aimed at reaching restoration goals for the watershed. Improvements have resulted that allow residential buyouts in Des Moines where flooding frequently disrupted families. Channels are also being reshaped and stabilized to prevent downstream sedimentation for areas north of Des Moines into Polk County. The Snyder team is reviewing future watershed projects in and around Ankeny with a focus on improved stormwater management to improve the quality of life and water for area residents.
“Having guided the development of four watershed management authorities, we’ve gained a deep understanding and appreciation for what it takes to bring jurisdictions together and achieve results,” says Walters. “Developing a strong watershed management plan, while securing funding for the implementation of stormwater BMPs, positions WMAs for success. This success resonates throughout communities. Residents appreciate the flood reductions from BMPs integrated into the natural enviorment that also improve community quality of life.”