Why did Seattle choose an integrated planning approach?
There had been a lot of news about stormwater and about how the Puget Sound was in trouble. The remains of orca whales were so toxic that we had to dispose of them like hazardous waste. A reporter for the Seattle Times, Lynda Mapes, really shed a lot of light on the stormwater issue and people started asking questions.
The City of Seattle negotiated a consent decree with EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology for compliance with a wastewater permit that included the option to submit an Integrated Plan. Part of this decree is to develop a long-term control plan designed to implement programs and projects to meet the state standard of one overflow per year per outfall by 2030.
While the consent decree was being negotiated, various entities, including the Department of Ecology in Washington state, were saying that stormwater is the No. 1 threat to Puget Sound. The city decided to request inclusion of integrated planning in the consent decree so that sewage overflows and stormwater discharges could be considered at the same time.
This allows Seattle to direct efforts and resources toward improving water quality through a process of comparing CSO and stormwater projects to determine the proper sequence of projects to achieve greater environmental benefit. The benefit of the integrated plan is that all city CSOs are controlled to the stated standard and three water quality projects are implemented to reduce pollution from stormwater.
What is the status of the planning effort?
The draft integrated plan has been submitted to EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology for review and comment. We expect their review will be complete in August. The next steps will be to address their comments and work with SPU management, City Council and the mayor to select a preferred alternative for submission to EPA and DOE in May 2015. If the preferred alternative is the integrated plan, the stormwater projects will be incorporated into the Long-Term Control Plan. This plan would identify CSO projects that will be completed by 2030, CSO project deferred until 2035 and the schedule for the stormwater projects.
What's been the biggest challenge of the program?
The biggest challenge was catching up to the Long-Term Control Plan's efforts. The consent decree gives us until 2018 to submit the integrated plan. However, given the interest by the public, the city determined that it would be better to conduct the planning for the LTCP and integrated plan and submit them to EPA and DOE at the same time (May 2014) so that the public and the regulators can consider and compare the costs and benefits of the two plans.
Because of this, the integrated plan team had to complete the project in a short time period, which was challenging because there were no examples or templates that could be used to meet the consent decree requirement, to estimate the pollutant reductions and compare stormwater treatment to CSO projects. The team worked hard and we were able to catch up to the Long-Term Control Plan team and finish on time.
What lessons learned and advice would you give to other communities?
The City of Seattle made a conscious effort to engage the regulators and include them in discussions with a panel of experts that was advising the team on our use of data and methodology for determining if the stormwater projects provided significant benefit over the CSO projects. Having the regulators involved allowed them to better understand our approach and hopefully give them some assurance that our approach was sound. We felt that this was important because the regulators have to not only approve the integrated plan but support their decision and work with other communities that may want to follow our lead.
Tell us about the next steps you see ahead.
We have been engaging the public through meetings, our website and community guides to get input on the project and make sure the public understands the benefits of the integrated plan approach. We will be working to finalize the documents and submit them to EPA and DOE in May. Once approved, implementation of the projects would begin in 2016. In addition, we intend to use the methodology developed for the integrated plan to help plan future stormwater retrofit efforts in Seattle.
What do you do for fun?
My wife and I like to camp and road bike. Right now we are doing Big Ride Across America. It's 3,300 miles, 13 states and 48 days. There are 12 of us riding and it benefits the American Lung Association.
What drew you to the water and environmental industry?
I grew up in a family that did a lot of hunting and fishing and camping, and my grandfather owned a sporting goods store, so I always liked being outdoors. A family friend who was 10 years older got a degree in soils, and she told me that she gets paid to work outside and do something for the environment. I thought that sounded pretty good.
What advice would you give to young professionals?
There's a lot of people retiring right now and I think it's important that young people talk to them, invite them out for coffee and ask them about their experiences. Find out what works and doesn't work. Learn what you can and get that information before it walks out the door.