Stormwater system management and funding are integral to changing weather conditions
Over the last decade, North Carolina has experienced an increase in extreme rainfall events. In 2018, the state recorded its wettest year to date in 125 years of record keeping. Ranging from severe thunderstorms to powerful hurricanes, these occurrences have posed a serious challenge to the resilience of the safety measures our communities have established.
It’s only natural to be worried about flooded streets, property damage, and the safety of others when one of these events occurs. But how often do we think about the vital role that stormwater systems play in protecting us? Commonly, stormwater systems take a back seat until problems arise, and by then, it’s often too late to rectify the situation. Neglecting effective stormwater management practices poses a serious risk of compounding issues in the long term.
“Stormwater systems are an important part of our public infrastructure,” states WithersRavenel’s Stormwater Senior Project Manager David Perry, PE, CFM. “When you have storm events, rainfall runs off impervious surfaces and it has to go somewhere. If we don’t have a system that manages that, both in terms of handling the quantity as well as the quality of that runoff, then we end up putting the public infrastructure at risk.”
Keeping costs, function, existing infrastructure, and the environment in mind, WithersRavenel works with municipalities across the state to balance vision and budget within regulatory constraints to build and maintain stormwater systems.
To empower communities in addressing stormwater-related challenges, many states over the past several years, North Carolina among them, have taken proactive steps to establish funding programs that assist in the planning, construction, and repairs of these systems. These initiatives not only provide essential financial assistance but also emphasize the criticality of the collection and analysis of pertinent data. By doing so, these programs equip communities with the tools and knowledge necessary to prosper and withstand adversity in the ever-changing landscape of stormwater management.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what stormwater-related funding programs are available for North Carolina municipalities.
The North Carolina Stormwater Funding Program
In 2022, the North Carolina Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) introduced the Stormwater Funding Program and the Local Assistance for Stormwater Infrastructure Investments Program (LASII), which are designed to offer grants for stormwater project planning and construction activities to support the development of resilient communities. The DEQ recognizes the need for robust stormwater infrastructure to combat the growing threat of intense storms and flooding.
With this understanding, LASII is designed to assist local municipalities with projects that will improve or create infrastructure for controlling stormwater quantity and quality. The program focuses on providing grants specifically designed for stormwater infrastructure improvement, setting it apart from other water and sewer infrastructure programs, such as Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Asset Inventory and Assessment (AIA) programs.
Preparedness is an essential key to success
LASII funds are allocated through the DEQ’s competitive funding process, where only a limited number of communities and counties are chosen in each semi-annual application cycle, occurring in the spring and fall. However, there’s no need to postpone application preparations until these periods open. Typically, the most competitive applications benefit from ample stormwater system data compiled by project teams. Initiating collaboration with a project team early in the process allows communities to acquire essential data, recognize deficiencies in their stormwater systems, and develop a more compelling application for funding. The significance of securing lead time cannot be stressed enough.
“Getting the project team involved early in the process is really imperative,” emphasizes WithersRavenel’s Funding & Asset Management Senior Technical Consultant, Alice Briggs. “Also, by looking at previous studies and reports on their systems, we can identify where there are gaps and needs for improvement that can be incorporated into the grant project. The more time that you have leading up to the funding round to develop a project, the better. You’ll improve your chances of developing a competitive application because it’s going to be focused on the necessary information that DEQ is looking for in addressing project purpose and benefits to combat system challenges.”
Overcoming resource constraints
Smaller communities often face unique challenges when it comes to obtaining stormwater funding. Limited resources, both financial and in terms of data, can make securing grants and funding opportunities a significant challenge. However, there are strategies that smaller communities can employ to overcome these obstacles.
Competitive applicants must show documented stormwater quality or quantity issues and must demonstrate a significant hardship in raising revenue to finance stormwater management activities. One crucial strategy for smaller communities is to use funding to invest in data collection, inventory analysis, and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping systems. These tools provide essential information about stormwater assets and enable communities to make data-driven decisions. By maintaining comprehensive data and demonstrating that the results of previous planning efforts have been implemented, smaller communities can improve their stormwater management and position themselves as strong candidates for stormwater grants that can build off of previous planning efforts.
Additionally, these plans offer proactive strategies for protecting and enhancing stormwater assets, and a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), outlines a community’s priorities for infrastructure investment and long-term management of assets. Proactive planning helps smaller communities demonstrate their commitment to responsible stormwater management and can significantly improve their chances of securing funding. Demonstrating how stormwater projects will benefit and address the stormwater system’s top challenges and develop and prioritize future projects is a key part of a competitive application.
“I think one of the biggest challenges that communities face is balancing the cost of system upgrades and determining what level of service they want that system to meet,” adds David. “It’s a difficult thing for most communities, but in particular smaller communities, to decide how they want to address improvements and when to ask for our help. We’re not in a position to set policy regarding projected future storm intensity and level of service for them, but we can advise them, show them what their systems can do currently, and then provide recommendations for upgrades. From there, we work with the municipalities to determine what are the highest priority upgrades and how that impacts program funding.”
Preparing for tomorrow
In confronting the mounting challenges posed by the escalating frequency of extreme rainfall events in North Carolina, the need for a proactive and strategic approach to stormwater management becomes more apparent each passing year. The last decade has borne witness to a surge in poor weather, from severe thunderstorms to formidable hurricanes, testing the resilience of the safeguards to shield our communities. Let’s not wait for the next major event to recognize the importance of these systems, instead, we should be looking at what we can do today to make improvements and upgrades through available funding mechanisms.
WithersRavenel has an in-house, dedicated stormwater engineering department that sets itself apart from the rest. If you’re interested in making improvements or upgrades to your system, contact WithersRavenel’s Director of Stormwater, Dori Sabeh PE, GISP, at email@example.com or (919) 600-4087.
If you’re looking for assistance in securing funding to complete stormwater-related projects, contact WithersRavenel Director of Funding Services, Amanda Whitaker, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 238-0448.
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