Counties Facing Changing Stormwater Paradigms

A Forester Magazines article (2016-07-26) article discussed the changing trends and paradigms in stormwater management practices.  The article’s author, Andrew Reese, revisits a 2001 article he wrote called “Stormwater Paradigms” and examines which of these paradigms remain true and which ones are supplanted by emerging trends. From the article:

A “paradigm” is everything I believe to be true and all that I know about a certain subject arranged into a framework. …

The table below lists those nine paradigms [from my 2001 article], including one predicted but not yet realized back then—the rise of green infrastructure. Lucky guess. I have also added a new one now emerging.


Reese then argued that stormwater management practices needed to “grow up” and offered nine emerging themes that should be incorporated into an entity’s stormwater management framework:

Stormwater has always seemed like that youngest wild child who dropped out of college, hitchhiked across Europe, studied with Nepalese Buddhist monks, and smoked questionable vegetation. In all of these discussions, and in working across the country, one overall theme emerged: it is time for “stormwater management” to grow up (get a real job, get married, have kids, and buy a house). We are in a phase, culture, and financial milieu where the maturation of stormwater programs will be a necessary precondition for future success.

What does “grow up” look like? Here are nine statements of thought shifts—of disruptors to “business as usual” that have happened, or are happening—in the leading programs around the world. I’ll simply list them and then translate them into brief descriptions of some best practices for the next paradigm—which I have yet to figure out a name for.

  1. Water As a Resource: Water is precious. Rain is the only input into the hydrologic cycle. What we do with it matters.

  2. Stormwater As a System: Like water and wastewater, stormwater flows within a defined system and should be treated as such. The idea that it is a scattering of unrelated structures and segments, many of which are unmanaged, must change.

  3. Stormwater As a Business: Inefficient and ineffective stormwater management cannot be standard practice in this time of shrinking budgets, aging infrastructure, and increased citizen expectation. We must take on a business mindset.

  4. Infrastructure As an Asset: If stormwater is a system, then we have a set of assets we need to manage efficiently and effectively. Even if they are natural assets.

  5. Funding As a Change Agent: The way we structure the funding of stormwater needs to be supportive of the other key aspects of the program.

  6. Sustainability As a Standard: Long gone are the days when it was permissible to “use things up.” We humans must adopt renewable, sustainable practices in all things, including stormwater.

  7. Resiliency As a Policy: Extreme weather is a growing fact of life. Droughts and floods appear more frequently and more severely. We must change stormwater management to accommodate these realities.

  8. Citizens As Customers: If stormwater is a business, then it has customers. We need to assume a customer mindset.

  9. Technology As Normative: Given the above, the use of advanced technology in all aspects of stormwater management is an imperative.

Finally, Reese detailed 10 best practices for stormwater management that can be used by local governments, including: (1) system thinking; (2) business thinking; (3) water resource organizations; (4) asset management; (5) “triple bottom line” thinking; (6) resiliency planning; (7) innovative partnerships; (8) modified rate structures; (9) strategic public engagement; and (10) go high tech as a policy.

Useful Links

“Stormwater Paradigms” Article (2001)