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Post by Omid Barr, Project Director and Evan Kirk, Acting Senior Project Director at the UNC EFC

Sea level rise and heavier rain fall events driven by climate change are causing more frequent and severe flooding events. More than ever, communities need solutions to mitigate and prevent the impacts of stormwater flooding. But stormwater management is a costly problem and communities often have many, potentially competing, Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory requirements. Traditional enforcement may compel communities to meet their CWA requirements leaving insufficient funding to address flooding.

EPA’s integrated planning framework

Recognizing the need for increased regulatory flexibility, the EPA developed a framework for integrated planning as an approach for allocating financial resources for wastewater and stormwater management. Rather than requiring multiple CWA requirements to be met individually, integrated planning identifies efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater regulatory programs, prioritizing capital investments. This approach increases the likelihood that a community can meet CWA regulatory requirements and still be able to address flooding challenges in ways that provide triple bottom line environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Staff at the EFC are conducting community interviews to learn how integrated planning has helped at the local level. Leaders involved with integrated planning efforts in Portland, ME and Wisconsin’s Kickapoo River Watershed have contributed to this research.

Integrated planning has allowed Portland to mitigate the impact of flooding

Past environmental programs in Portland, Maine have been focused on meeting bacteria limits in the watershed and improving the wastewater and septic systems. These programs have been managed separately using the specific regulatory guidance for addressing each issue. Yet, despite infrastructure improvements resulting in pollutant reduction in Portland’s waters, flooding issues were a growing problem.

The integrated planning framework allowed the city to listen to stakeholder concerns and improve its climate change response plan. Through community workshops in the development phase of the integrated plan, the city brought a range of stakeholders to the table, including Portland citizens and environmental groups. These stakeholders introduced different issues into the project prioritization process, such as climate change impacts on upstream communities and the impacts of flooding on waterfront businesses. Factoring in stakeholder concerns with a holistic approach brought community consensus to the types of projects that were being considered. Portland is now able to meet both their CWA requirements and address citizens’ climate change concerns.

Kickapoo watershed-based plan allows communities to mitigate climate impacts and reduce carbon footprint

The Kickapoo River Watershed’s unique geological formation and steep slopes combine with frequent heavy rain to create repeated flooding events for surrounding communities. In addition, intense agricultural land usage contributes to a large amount of nutrient runoff. The combination of high nutrient pollution and flooding affects the communities’ drinking water. Runoff also reduces future agricultural production, as water with high phosphorus loads can result in slow crop growth and disease propagation amongst livestock.

Working with the region’s communities, EPA Region 5 developed an integrated watershed-based plan that introduces a water quality trading program as an alternative option for complying with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater discharge permits. This program provides flexibility and reduces overall compliance costs by allowing the communities to pay for agricultural best management practices, such as converting corn crops into prairie grass which reduces soil erosion, instead of more costly wastewater treatment plan upgrades. An integrated planning approach with stakeholder input results in a healthier watershed that reduces flooding and serves as a carbon sink, increasing the soil’s ability to sequester carbon.

Additional integrated planning resources

Stay tuned to learn about how integrated planning has helped communities incorporate environmental justice concerns into water resource planning. Do you think integrated planning might be a good fit for your community? The EFC is offering free direct assistance to communities getting started with integrated planning. You can find out how to contact us about direct assistance and explore additional EFC integrated planning resources, including two recorded webinars on integrated planning topics, on our website.

 

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