/ Articles / Water Works: Bench Strength: Can We Do More To Prepare the Next Generation of Stormwater Professionals?

Water Works: Bench Strength: Can We Do More To Prepare the Next Generation of Stormwater Professionals?

Derek Berg on May 9, 2024 - in Articles, Column

On the surface, baseball and stormwater management are not intricately linked; but, as dedicated stormwater and water-quality professionals, we may be well served to look to America’s pastime as we work to restore receiving waters. No, I’m not suggesting we’re going to brush back water-quality issues with a “high heater,” but we would be wise to ensure we’re developing young talent to fill our ranks in the future.

Most would agree that a critical component of a consistently successful baseball team is a strong farm system to develop young players, where they’re educated on the game’s finer nuances and given plenty of hands-on opportunity to hone their skills so they’re ready to step up and contribute when needed. A recent experience interfacing with aspiring engineering and stormwater professionals left me wondering if we’re doing enough to give those entering our own ranks a running start.

Put to the Test

In 2023, I served as a judge for a stormwater design competition that my organization hosted for undergraduate students in engineering programs and related sciences. Participating teams were given details for an urban-development project constrained by limited land area and poor soils, along with generic stormwater management regulations. The teams were tasked with designing the site’s stormwater infrastructure.

While by no means a statistically valid survey or indicative of all programs across the country, some common themes in many of the submissions suggest that many of our undergraduate students aren’t necessarily well versed in the particulars of stormwater management. Most had a decent understanding of common calculations such as those used to determine runoff volume as well as awareness of stormwater control measures (SCMs), but few teams seemed to have much insight into the pros and cons of different types of SCMs, how site constraints can dictate which solutions are viable for a given project, cost considerations or where to find more details on these topics.

Quite a few teams leaned heavily on Google to find potential solutions without regard for proper sizing or the appropriateness of the SCM for the site. For example, many teams tried to manage stormwater from the site with bioretention despite not having the space to do so and soils not suitable for infiltration. Positively, it seems we’ve gotten the word out on biofiltration and the benefits of retaining water onsite, but we seem to be falling short in providing the foundational knowledge to vet different practices based on site constraints or where to find crucial design and sizing criteria.

Narrow Understanding

Teams also had limited knowledge of the breadth of the stormwater toolbox, with most teams only considering a small subset of SCMs in their proposed solutions. Innovative manufactured systems; underground infiltration systems; and older, traditional land-based practices seemed mostly overlooked because they didn’t show up as often in general online searches for “stormwater.”

Many teams seemed to have limited exposure to stormwater handbooks and design manuals, which are critical for meeting local stormwater requirements and include essential detail on the available tools. Ensuring students know how to find and utilize the manuals for a given geography should be essential learning.

Similarly, exposing students to the full breadth of the stormwater toolbox would go a long way in expanding their options to overcome constraints on challenging sites. Finally, pairing broad foundational knowledge with insight on where to look for more detailed information on different stormwater topics also would help students branch out to find invaluable resources not always included in topline Google results.

Preparing for the New Season

We’re in the planning stages for our 2024 stormwater design competition, so I encourage anyone reading this with an interest in participating to “dig deeper” into the world of stormwater. The web is a treasure trove of information, but it can help to know where to look beyond general searches. Make a point of digging into stormwater design manuals to learn more about many different types of SCMs, local design criteria and example designs.

There’s also a wealth of SCM performance data available on sites such as the international BMP Database (bmpdatabase.org), where you can review individual studies or curated summary statistics for different SCMs and much more. Similarly, the Washington State Department of Ecology’s TAPE website (bit.ly/43fzNTyand the NJDEP MTD Certification website (bit.ly/4c884rP) house abundant information on manufactured treatment devices and test protocols; and both programs maintain robust stormwater design manuals.

Manufacturers’ own websites also contain useful information on their respective technologies. State agencies/stormwater programs also typically maintain websites with all the relevant details on local permit requirements, design manuals and submittal requirements. There are plenty of other resources online as well—the point is to dig beyond the surface.

There’s a lot to cover in any given undergraduate program, and students are unlikely to graduate as fully trained stormwater professionals, but it’s important we expose students interested in stormwater to a broad spectrum of information and teach them to dig below the surface when they need to get into more detail. Those of us working in stormwater management now—not to mention our receiving waters—will be better off for it down the road.

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About Derek Berg

Derek is currently a Regulatory Manager at Contech Engineered Solutions where he spends much of his time interfacing with public agencies on stormwater management matters. Derek is a Certified Professional in Stormwater Quality (CPSWQ) with over 12 years of experience in various technical roles specific to stormwater management, including new product development and BMP performance evaluation. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in applied ecology and a minor in biology as well as an MBA from the University of Southern Maine.

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