Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Utilities: Solutions to NJ’s Environmental Issues

Flooding, runoff, and storm surges, OH MY!

With increases in each of these occurring now, the imposition of green infrastructure and a stormwater utility fee are viable solutions to reducing their impacts. Plus, with the passing of the S-1073/A2694 bill in early 2019, the introduction of a stormwater utility became legal in New Jersey, making it the 41st state to do so.

On June 19, 2019, The Watershed Institute in Pennington, NJ held the “New Jersey Green Infrastructure & Stormwater Utilities Symposium” to address the environmental problems New Jersey faces and present solutions, including the stormwater utility. The event was geared for municipal officials, engineers, nonprofit leaders, and other interested parties, with an agenda full of expert speakers sharing insights and ideas on topics like the science of stormwater, New Jersey’s proposed stormwater rule changes, why green infrastructure and a stormwater utility fee matter, and possibilities for how to move New Jersey forward.

So, What is Green Infrastructure?

Brian Friedlich, the first presenter and a project manager for Kleinfelder, relayed that according to NJDEP, green infrastructure consists of “methods of stormwater management that reduce stormwater volume, flow, or characteristics by allowing the stormwater to infiltrate, be treated by vegetation or by soils, or be stored for use.” He also explained that green infrastructure can improve the environment and communities by providing community engagement, greening communities, addressing flooding, improving water quality by reducing CSOs, harvesting rainwater, increasing habitat for wildlife, and increasing property values.

After Brian’s presentation, a founding Principal of Princeton Hydro, Dr. Stephen Souza, now CEO of Clean Waters Consulting, urged that we should “turn down the volume,” when it comes to stormwater runoff. He explained that it is not enough to just manage peak flow of stormwater; we must also work to lower the volume of off-site stormwater discharge. So, how can you and your municipality do this? He offered six principles to designing successful green infrastructure projects:

  1. Treat stormwater as a resource
  2. Don’t make stormwater management an afterthought
  3. Attack the cause not the symptoms
  4. Turn your watershed inside out
  5. Think small to achieve big results
  6. Use nature as your model

Not only is successful implementation of green infrastructure important, but communal understanding of it may be more so. That is why Princeton Hydro partnered with New Jersey Future, Clark Caton Hintz, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, FZ Creative, and municipal stakeholders to launch the New Jersey Green Infrastructure Municipal Toolkit. Filled with helpful information about green infrastructure, this free resource is extremely useful for gaining communal understanding, getting started, implementing nature-based stormwater solutions, and sustaining your program.

What is Stormwater and Why Should Municipalities Require a Utility Fee for It?

Before we get into why it is imperative for New Jersey municipalities to implement a stormwater utility fee, it is important to understand just what stormwater is, what it does, and how it affects New Jersey residents.

The name is pretty intuitive: stormwater is the water that comes from precipitation, whether that be rain, snow, or ice melt. With increasing levels of water from climate change impacts (i.e. storm surge, increased rainfall, sea level rise), stormwater management has become an issue for states all across the U.S., whether it’s an over abundance or lack thereof.

So, what’s happening in New Jersey? The stormwater infrastructure that is currently in place (storm drains, sewer piping, etc.) is aging and unable to effectively handle the amount of runoff that has been flowing through the region in recent years. This is causing increased nutrient runoff and flooding all over the state. And, with increasing global temperatures, this trend is likely to continue.

To combat these issues, New Jersey passed the S-1073/A2694 bill in January 2019, authorizing counties and municipalities, either separately or in combination with other municipalities, to begin implementing a stormwater utility fee to New Jersey residents.

The law itself states:

“Every sewerage authority is hereby authorized to charge and collect rents, rates, fees, or other charges for direct or indirect use or services of its stormwater management system. The stormwater service charges may be charged to and collected from the owner or occupant, or both, of any real property. The owner of any real property shall be liable for and shall pay the stormwater service charges to the sewerage authority at the time when and place where these charges are due and payable. The rents, rates, fees, and charges shall be determined in a manner consistent with the stormwater utility guidance manual created by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to section 24 of P.L.

Any stormwater service charge imposed pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall be calculated in a manner consistent with the guidance provided in the stormwater utility guidance manual created by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to section 24 of P.L.”

Essentially, this fee charges a chosen type of property owner within a given municipality or region a certain amount of money for the impervious area (mainly artificial structures like asphalt, concrete, stone, rooftops, etc. that water can’t seep through) they have on their property. Just how much that fee is and whether or not there’s a limit on the chargeable impermeable area are dependent on the government agency.

Since the impervious area blocks water from seeping into the ground, it becomes runoff and ends up in the stormwater drain. And, since New Jersey’s systems are growing old and less efficient, it makes sense to implement a fee for their use. Historically, general taxpayer dollars or legislative appropriations have been used to fund updates to aging infrastructure. Implementing a utility fee will create a consistent funding source to update and expand the current aging infrastructure so that flooding will occur less.

Other states, like neighboring Pennsylvania, have been proactive in addressing these impacts by implementing a stormwater utility fee. And, in Maryland, the state implemented a watershed restoration program and MS4 efforts that require stormwater utility fees. These initiatives have generated a job-creating industry boom that benefits engineers, contractors, and local DPWs. At the same time, Maryland’s program is improving the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, and stimulating the tourism and the crabbing/fishing industry.

In relation to how urban cities are affected by stormwater, John Miller, the FEMA Mitigation Liaison, shared this helpful resource, “The Growing Threat of Urban Flooding: A National Challenge” during the symposium. It addresses the extent and consequences of urban flooding in the U.S., while exploring actions that can be taken to mitigate future flooding. Amongst other recommendations made, the research group encouraged Congress and state officials to “develop appropriate mechanisms at the federal, state, and local level to fund necessary repairs, operations, and upgrades of current stormwater and urban flood-related infrastructure.”

A stormwater utility should not only be reviewed in the context of cost, since it meets all three elements of a triple-bottom line: social, environmental, and financial. Other considerations are the fact that allowing stormwater utilities in New Jersey will create jobs, help reduce flood impacts, enhance water quality, improve our fisheries, and preserve our water-based tourism economy.

When it comes to green infrastructure, Princeton Hydro has been a leader in innovative, cost-effective, and environmentally sound stormwater management systems since its inception. Long before the term “green infrastructure” was part of the design community’s lexicon, the firm’s engineers were integrating nature-based stormwater management systems to fulfill such diverse objectives as flood control, water quality protection, and pollutant load reduction. And, Princeton Hydro has developed regional nonpoint source pollutant budgets for over 100 waterways. The preparation of stormwater management plans and design of stormwater management systems for pollutant reduction is an integral part of many of the firm’s projects. So, we are major proponents of implementing stormwater utilities and green infrastructure into our everyday lives.

Do you have questions regarding green infrastructure or stormwater utilities? Contact us here.

 

A Day in the Life of a Stormwater Inspector

Walking through a park isn’t always a walk in the park when it comes to conducting stormwater inspections. Our team routinely spots issues in need of attention when inspecting stormwater infrastructure; that’s why inspections are so important.

Princeton Hydro has been conducting stormwater infrastructure inspections for a variety of municipalities in the Mid-Atlantic region for a decade, including the City of Philadelphia. We are in our seventh year of inspections and assessments of stormwater management practices (SMPs) for the Philadelphia Water Department. These SMPs are constructed on both public and private properties throughout the city and our inspections focus on areas served by combined sewers. 

Our water resource engineers are responsible for construction oversight, erosion and sediment control, stormwater facilities maintenance inspections, and overall inspection of various types of stormwater infrastructure installation (also known as “Best Management Practices” or BMPs).

The throat of a sinkhole observed by one of our engineers while on site.

Our knowledgeable team members inspect various sites regularly, and for some municipalities, we perform inspections on a weekly basis. Here’s a glimpse into what a day of stormwater inspection looks like:

The inspector starts by making sure they have all their necessary safety equipment and protection. For the purposes of a simple stormwater inspection the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) required includes a neon safety vest, hard hat, eye protection, long pants, and boots. Depending on the type of inspection, our team may also have to add additional safety gear such as work gloves or ear plugs. It is recommended that inspectors hold CPR/First Aid and OSHA 10 Hour Construction Safety training certificates. 

Once they have their gear, our inspection team heads to the site and makes contact with the site superintendent. It’s important to let the superintendent know they’re there so that 1) they aren’t wondering why a random person is perusing their construction site, and 2) in case of an emergency, the superintendent needs to be aware of every person present on the site.

Once they arrive, our team starts by walking the perimeter of the inspection site, making sure that no sediment is leaving the project area. The team is well-versed in the standards of agencies such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and local County Soil Conservation Districts, among others. These standards and regulations dictate which practices are and are not compliant on the construction site.

After walking the perimeter, the inspection team moves inward, taking notes and photos throughout the walk. They take a detailed look at the infrastructure that has been installed since the last time they inspected, making sure it was correctly installed according to the engineering plans (also called site plans or drainage and utility plans). They also check to see how many inlets were built, how many feet of stormwater pipe were installed, etc.

If something doesn’t look quite right or needs amending, our staff makes recommendations to the municipality regarding BMPs/SMPs and provides suggestions for implementation.

One example of an issue spotted at one of the sites was a stormwater inlet consistently being inundated by sediment. The inlet is directly connected o the subsurface infiltration basin. When sediment falls through the inlet, it goes into the subsurface infiltration bed, which percolates directly into the groundwater. This sediment is extremely difficult to clean out of the subsurface bed, and once it is in the bed, it breaks down and becomes silt, hindering the function of the stormwater basin.

To remedy this issue, our inspection team suggested they install stone around the perimeter of the inlet on three sides. Although this wasn’t in the original plan, the stones will help to catch sediment before entering the inlet, greatly reducing the threat of basin failure.

Once they’ve thoroughly inspected the site, our team debriefs the site superintendent with their findings. They inform the municipality of any issues they found, any inconsistencies with the construction plans, and recommendations on how to alleviate problems. The inspector will also prepare a Daily Field Report, summarizing the findings of the day, supplemented with photos.

In order to conduct these inspections, one must have a keen eye and extensive stormwater background knowledge. Not only do they need to know and understand the engineering behind these infrastructure implementations, they need to also be intimately familiar with the laws and regulations governing them. Without these routine inspections, mistakes in the construction and maintenance of essential stormwater infrastructure would go unnoticed. Even the smallest overlook can have dangerous effects, which is why our inspections team works diligently to make sure that will not happen.

Our team conducts inspections for municipalities and private entities throughout the Northeast. Visit our website to learn more about our engineering and stormwater management services.

 

PHOTOS: #BagThePhrag Update from Roebling Park

We’re gearing up for another invasive species treatment event at Roebling Park!

Located in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, Mercer County’s John A. Roebling Memorial Park offers residents in the surrounding area a freshwater marsh with river fishing, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-watching. The park contains the northernmost freshwater tidal marsh on the Delaware River, Abbott Marshland. Since the mid-1990s, many public and private partnerships have developed to help support the preservation of this important and significant marsh.

Our Field Operations Team was recently at the project site assessing present invasive species and re-evaluating access points for our treatment equipment. Check out these photos from their visit!

 

For more information on this marsh restoration project at John A. Roebling Park, visit our original project blog:

Restoring the Northernmost Freshwater Tidal Marsh on the Delaware River

Volunteers Spruce Up Rain Gardens at Clawson Park

Volunteers recently gathered together at Clawson Park in Ringoes, NJ to install native plants in the park’s large stormwater basin and overhaul two of the park’s rain gardens, removing invasive weeds and planting beneficial native species.

By definition, a rain garden is a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses and positioned near a runoff source to capture rainwater. Rain gardens temporarily store rainwater and runoff, and filter the water of hydrocarbons, oil, heavy metals, phosphorous, fertilizers and other pollutants that would normally find their way to the sewer and even our rivers and waterways. They are a cost effective, attractive, and sustainable way to minimize stormwater runoff. They also help to reduce erosion, promote groundwater recharge, and minimize flooding. Planting native plants helps to attract pollinators and birds and naturally reduces mosquitoes by removing standing water thus reducing mosquito breeding areas.

Once a rain garden has been established, it is low maintenance and typically only requires occasional weeding to remove any invasive species that may have cropped up. The recent volunteer effort, lead by Jack Szczepanski, PhD, Senior Aquatics Scientist, was an important step in maintaining the health and native diversity of Clawson Park’s rain gardens.

An informational sign was also installed at the park. Designed by Princeton Hydro and installed by the East Amwell’s Department of Public Works, the sign describes the benefits of stormwater management and planting native species.

The park’s rain gardens and stormwater basins were originally designed and implemented by Princeton Hydro. Back in 2016, Eagle Scout Brandon Diacont had an idea to beautify Clawson Park and improve the park’s stormwater drainage issues. Princeton Hydro supported his vision by developing, permitting, and implementing a stormwater management project plan, which included the installation of multiple rain gardens throughout the park. In October of 2016, under the guidance of Princeton Hydro’s Landscape Designer Cory Speroff, MLA, ASLA, CBLP, a great group of volunteers gathered together and got to work bringing the project plan to life!

 Photos from 2016 volunteer event:

The Princeton Hydro team has designed and constructed countless stormwater management systems, including rain gardens in locations throughout the Eastern U.S. Click here for more information about our stormwater management services.

Thank you to Patsy Wang Iverson for providing the photos for this blog.

Senior Engineer Kevin Yezdimer Appointed to Chief Operating Officer

We are thrilled to announce a new executive position in the firm, Chief Operating Officer (COO), to which Kevin M. Yezdimer, P.E. was appointed effective July 1, 2019. Most recently, Kevin served as the Director of Geoscience Engineering and Office Manager for the company’s Sicklerville, New Jersey location since joining the firm in 2016.

Princeton Hydro has grown from a small four person idea operating out of a living room to a 65+ person qualified Small Business with five office locations in the Northeast region. Last year, the firm realized record revenue and is projected to continue notable growth due to its strong position in the marketplace of providing innovative and “value-added” ecological and engineering solutions. With Princeton Hydro’s steady growth, this new executive position is essential to optimize operational processes across the firm’s technical practice areas and geographic locations, as well as to best implement their strategic growth plan within the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

We are all excited and happy to have Kevin join the Princeton Hydro Executive Team. He has demonstrated leadership and success in executing strategies that are key to our success. Kevin has proven himself to have an intuitive understanding of technical and business practices, and can communicate these often complicated issues into meaningful and comprehensible conversation. Most importantly, Kevin is a true mentor to staff and will be able to support them in his new role,” said Princeton Hydro’s President Geoffrey Goll, P.E.I am proud that we were able to internally find someone to fill this position, and am confident that Kevin will be a great fit. As a firm, we are committed to maintaining the mission and values envisioned by the firm’s founders, including supporting our diverse clientele in the commercial, NGO, and government industries, while maintaining a personal touch and small business culture. This new position is vital to maintaining the stability and continuity of our mission and values.

Kevin is a multidisciplinary professional civil engineer with degrees in both Geology and Civil Engineering. With 14 years of experience as a design consultant and project manager, Kevin has proven his ability to lead others. His move to COO is a testament to all of Kevin’s continued success. In his new role, he will be working hand-in-hand with each practice area, the administration, and the principals to propel the firm forward. He will also work to ensure that the company culture remains driven towards excellence in innovative and integrated science and engineering. As the company continues to grow and mature, Kevin will ensure that the firm remains well-balanced and provide a positive working culture for all employees.

Our firm’s executives have afforded me with a tremendous leadership opportunity; I am truly humbled, honored, and ready to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer for Princeton Hydro,” said Kevin Yezdimer, P.E. “In this new position, I will have the ability to empower our passionate staff to achieve their full potential, unify operational practices, and assure that our business goals and mission are achieved. I’m looking forward to further implementing the vision of the firm’s founders as we continue to grow and evolve.

Kevin resides in Hockessin, Delaware with his wife Kristen, three children, and newly rescued dog Lizzy. Outside of the office, you can find Kevin running, swimming, playing disc golf, performing home improvement projects, following all Philadelphia sports (especially the Eagles), developing his faith, and striving to make the most of each and every day.