Olsson Associates

Articles

Meet drainage funding challenges by preparing a water quality plan

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Carter Hubbard, PE, CFM, Water Resources

Dry detention pond in Hartington, NebraskaMany communities currently face drainage and flood control problems. The problems can vary widely and can include factors such as unstable drainage channels, undersized drainage structures, erosion and scour issues, or flooding. Some of these problems may have been around for decades, waiting for the right combination of awareness, support, and, most importantly, funding to emerge to solve the issues. In the past, communities may have addressed these problems with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds or with disaster-based funding such as Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds. These programs provide excellent opportunities to address community drainage issues. However, communities don't always qualify for these funds, and disaster-based funding is only available after a disaster is declared in your state. Further, the application process for these funds can be time-consuming or difficult in some cases.

Because of these challenges, a new means of funding that addresses drainage and flood control problems has been developed. The approach involves focusing on water quality planning and leveraging multiple funding sources to implement the proposed measures. 

Drainage and flood control problems are rooted in water quantity and runoff rates, not water quality. Thus, it may seem counter-intuitive to address these problems by developing a water quality plan for your community. However, water quality and water quantity can both be addressed if a comprehensive plan to address water quality is developed. For example, detention cells can be modified to slowly release runoff during smaller, more frequent events. This slow release improves water quality by allowing sediment and pollutants time to drop out in the detention pond. If we expand the detention pond to provide slow release for larger events, we can improve the water quality of the runoff for those events. We can also provide drainage and flood control benefits downstream of the pond. Upstream measures to stabilize the drainageway can prevent sediment and pollutants from entering the pond. Downstream measures can protect the drainageway from scour or instability, preventing the addition of more pollutants to the runoff. In the watershed, we can implement measures to slow down the runoff and reduce the volume of runoff. All of this reduces the stress on our drainage systems and allows the systems to handle larger, less frequent storms.

We focus on water quality because clean runoff is important, but also because more funding sources are available to address water quality issues. The State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), which was traditionally used for wastewater treatment plant construction or improvements, can also be used for water quality measures that reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff. The SRF program is typically administered by the state department of environmental quality or health. The program provides long-term, low interest rate loans to communities to help them pay for projects. Typical loan terms may include a 20-year repayment plan with a three percent interest rate. Depending on income levels in the community, a portion of the loan may be forgivable. The loan pays for design, permitting, and construction, and repayment begins after construction is complete. The loan comprises the community’s contribution toward the overall water quality plan and pays for one or more measures within the plan. The remaining water quality measures are paid for by a grant based on Section 319 of the Clean Water Act (a 319 grant). Normally, 319 grants include a 40 percent, non-federal contribution as a match to the federal contribution. In this case, the measures are all part of the larger water quality master plan, and the SRF loan payments count as the community's contribution to the project. If the SRF loan is at least 40 percent of the project value, then the community does not need to contribute any additional funds to the project. 

By combining the SRF and 319 grant funding sources, Olsson can knock out both the quantity and the quality issues of stormwater runoff in your community. Best of all, our staff members can provide and implement a comprehensive plan for your community that helps identify and prioritize drainage and stormwater needs. The application process in Nebraska is fairly simple (for either funding source), and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has provided excellent guidance to applicants and is available to provide information at every step. This process is working really well in such cities as Hartington, Nebraska, and we strongly encourage more communities to consider developing a comprehensive plan to address water quality and stormwater drainage issues.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 402.474.6311 or chubbard@olssonassociates.com.

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