Why did Richmond choose an integrated planning approach?
The city is located on the falls of the James River, the river that played a pivotal role in the birth of America. The James flows through the heart of Richmond with half of the city north of the river and the other half south and empties in the Chesapeake Bay. Richmond was founded in the 18th century and has been a thriving and growing city ever since, with the James River serving as transportation, a method for trade and the city's source for its drinking water. In recent years, the river has become a recreational destination, with bike races, X-Terra championships, kayaking and other outdoor pursuits.
The city takes the role as steward of the river very seriously and is committed to protecting and enhancing water quality in the James River. The city provides sewer and drainage services through a combined sewer system and a municipal separate storm sewer system. Over the past 30 years, Richmond has taken a number of steps to reduce water pollution reaching the James River, constructing stormwater control projects and CSO projects under a Long-Term Control Plan.
While much progress has been made, more remains to be done. We believe addressing stormwater pollution may benefit water quality beyond that which would be achieved by the LTCP. The Integrated Planning Process outlined by EPA in 2010 lays the foundation for an approach that would both control CSOs and comply with state and federal requirements while at the same time protecting the James River. The Integrated Plan provides a flexible framework that will allow the city to address pollution from stormwater as well as from CSOs and will provide greater pollutant load reductions, water quality benefits and protect public health and safety and the environment.
What is the status of the planning effort?
We began the formal process in the fall of 2013 and are looking to have a completed plan by the time of our next NPDES and MS4 permit renewals in 2018. We are in the data gathering phase right now. We've been advocating a watershed approach to permitting since 2005.
What are the biggest challenges of this approach?
I think there are three big challenges: input data, compiling and coordinating all that data and finally, communication. The Integrated Planning process is data dependent. The quality of the data inputs will determine the quality of the final plan.
For a medium sized municipality, that means gathering data from several different departments – Public Works, Planning, Utilities, etc. Coordination of those efforts can be time consuming and have differing levels of quality control. It is critical to the success of the plan to be able to tell both internal and external customers why this approach will benefit water quality, which is important to citizens, and help localities meet their environmental and compliance targets.
What advice would you give to other communities?
Make sure you have good maps!
Tell us about the next steps you see ahead.
Our approach incorporates a plan for Watershed Management within the Integrated Planning framework. We think this will give us a tool to manage water quality on a watershed level, making the plan more relatable to our stakeholders and more environmentally sound.
Our timetable calls for us to have an assessment of any data gaps and a plan to address them by early this fall. We will then begin focusing on our existing system infrastructure, characterizing water quality data and reviewing our internal models. Once we understand the stressors on water quality in each of our watersheds, we can propose the projects to address them with our stakeholders.
We look forward to the benefits integrated planning will bring to improving the James River in Richmond. We expect our citizens to continue to kayak, swim, fish and get their drinking water from the James River, therefore we want to ensure the quality of the river meets those goals.
What attracted you to the water industry?
I began my career studying water quality impacts on benthic macro-invertebrates. That led to working to prevent pollution at the source, which lead to safe drinking water and the wise use of water.
What advice do you have for young professionals?
Gain knowledge and expertise in many technical disciplines within your field of interest and avoid becoming a one-trick pony. Also gain expertise in financial management, both public and private sector.
What do you do for fun or in your spare time?
Spend as much time on or in the water as I can.