Stormwater BMPs Research Plan

View SCCWRP’s full thematic Research Plan for Stormwater BMPs (PDF)

2019-2020 Executive Summary

Wet- and dry-weather runoff in Southern California poses a particularly vexing challenge for the water-quality management community. During both wet and dry weather, contaminants wash off the land from across hundreds of square miles of urban, industrial and agricultural landscapes. Discharge of this contaminated runoff into receiving waters has been linked to microbial contamination in recreational surface waters (Marsalek and Rochfort 2004), excess nutrient loading that can trigger harmful algal blooms (Grigas et al. 2015), and increased toxicity that degrades ecological condition (Sebastian et al. 2015). Numerous regulatory and management programs have been implemented to reduce contaminant loading and mitigate the impacts of runoff on downstream aquatic ecosystems and on human health. But the diffuse nature of runoff has complicated management efforts to pinpoint and eliminate non-point sources.

For decades, SCCWRP has been facilitating research aimed at characterizing, monitoring and tracking the spread of runoff contamination through aquatic environments, and documenting downstream ecological impacts in coastal marine environments and other habitats. Building off this scientific foundation, SCCWRP is now increasingly shifting its focus to developing and evaluating management strategies, tools and insights for improving runoff water quality – an area known as best management practices (BMPs). SCCWRP’s research spans the two main types of stormwater BMPs: (1) Structural BMPs, which include detention, retention, and treatment systems designed to capture, treat, and recycle stormwater to minimize adverse impacts on receiving water bodies. A structural BMP may use a combination of various physical, chemical, and biological processes to accomplish its design objectives. (2) Non-structural BMPs, which include source control and other priority program management options such as street sweeping or public education. SCCWRP is working to build a foundational understanding of both structural and non-structural BMP processes. SCCWRP’s goal is to help inform the design, implementation and ongoing maintenance of BMPs across southern California – and ultimately, optimally reduce both pollutant loading and total runoff volumes. Especially as southern California’s environmental management community prepares to invest billions of dollars on BMPs to manage runoff in the coming decades, SCCWRP is committed to helping its member agencies understand how implementing a certain BMP or a combination of BMPs can be expected to influence receiving-water quality over the long-term. These insights are critical to turning contaminated runoff in southern California into a beneficial-use resource.

This year, SCCWRP will focus on supporting management decision-making regarding the interpretation and use of monitoring data, and how best to communicate this information to decision-makers. SCCWRP’s focus for 2019-20 will be on:

  • Developing a model monitoring program to support Alternative Compliance: This project will develop a monitoring program that serves as a model for how to take a scientifically robust, practical approach to adaptive management under an Alternative Compliance pathway. Alternative Compliance pathways focus on long-term planning, phased implementation of BMPs, and then monitoring if those BMPs improve environmental outcomes; course corrections are made in an iterative manner to optimize achievement of long-term goals. Thus, it is critical that this iterative process be informed by a robust monitoring program that provides the information necessary to support adaptive management decision-making.
  • Evaluating a stormwater monitoring program: SCCWRP is evaluating Orange County Public Works’ stormwater monitoring program in north Orange County – which was last critically evaluated more than a decade ago – as part of a comprehensive monitoring review. SCCWRP will focus on defining the monitoring questions of greatest interest (i.e., to support priority decisions), review historical data, and develop recommendations for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of monitoring to optimally attain answers to monitoring questions. Orange County Public Works has been collecting surface water quality data since the early 1970s and is currently spending $2-3 million annually in north Orange County on a variety of stormwater and total maximum daily load monitoring requirements.
  • Developing the Stormwater Monitoring Coalition’s communications strategy: SCCWRP will develop and implement a comprehensive communications strategy for the Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition (SMC) to ensure the SMC is optimally positioned to publicize its goals, progress and accomplishments among both internal and external audiences. Although the SMC produces a large volume of actionable information every year, the SMC has struggled to publicize its technical products, and not all stormwater decision-makers are aware of the SMC’s work. The SMC’s communications plan is designed to not only ensure SMC products are transmitted and publicized to decision-makers, but also to convey pertinent information that can enhance decision-maker responsiveness.