Part of the task of improving the water quality of urban waterways in Tennessee means establishing a tool to measure improvements and communicate them clearly to the public. John Schwartz, a professor in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Tickle College of Engineering, is working with several municipal separate storm sewer systems—also known as MS4s—across Tennessee to establish a report card that will help the public and government officials better understand the quality of implementation of stormwater management programs.
Stormwater programs require considerable funding from both the public and private sectors on various projects including green infrastructure, stream restoration, and stormwater control measures. While these projects have improved stream health in the MS4 communities, the water quality of the streams is still considered impaired, so it’s important that the public better understand the incremental gains achieved.
The Urban Waters Report Card is designed to address this need. A statewide effort that pulls together Tennessee’s larger MS4 communities, including Chattanooga; Memphis; Nashville Metro; and Hamilton, Knox, and Shelby Counties, it will provide an assessment tool that can quantify stream health to show incremental gains to the waterways in these areas.
“The concept is primarily to develop support for the stormwater programs in the state and to develop a tool that can incrementally grade the quality of the of the streams,” said Schwartz, who also serves as the director of the Tennessee Water Resources Research Center. “And so it will have a list of various indicator parameters that are being developed by the working group, and each parameter will have a grading scheme common to what we’re all familiar with from our schooling—ABCDF.”
Simply put, an F stream is very degraded, like a concrete-lined stream, while an A stream would be a stream with unimpaired natural features, like those in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The tool will help convey to the public that taxpayer funding for stormwater management programs is improving stream quality. A report card will provide an effective means for public officials and the public at large to see the improvements made to their urban streams.
For example, a stream that improved from a D to a B is worth recognizing for the gains made, even if it still is not an A. The report card tool will also help the MS4s prioritize where stormwater control measures and stream restoration projects should be implemented within the watershed to achieve the greatest benefits with the least cost.
The working group helping to develop the UWRC is receiving input from the Tennessee Stormwater Association and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Researchers from UT and other state academic institutions will provide assistance as needed. Schwartz recently detailed the project goals in a lecture at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy’s Energy and Environment Forum.
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