By: Chuck Howe
Today’s airport manager needs to be aware of where their greatest risks are in relation to their daily operations. Many factors in today’s ever-growing metropolitan centers make it more difficult to operate, expand and manage airport facilities and leased properties.
From the increasing requirements for stormwater retention and treatment, to offsetting wetland impacts associated with facility expansion; the management of airport facilities often becomes a fine balance of what is required by law and what is an acceptable risk from a business standpoint.
Many airport managers throughout the country are facing the addition of local governments becoming regulated stormwater entities. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES – established under the 1972 Federal Pollution Control Act) is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and enforced in most states by their Environmental Quality or Water Quality regulatory agency. The NPDES program regulates various types of allowable stormwater discharges through individual and general purpose permits. Under this umbrella is the ever-growing list of regulatory entities coming from the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) which is levied on to those municipalities which meet one of several thresholds, the most common of which is high density population areas. These involuntary regulators are required to report annually and monitor water quality at points of stormwater discharge into Waters of the United States, as well as any illicit discharges that are reported or discovered. Many of these new-found regulators are left few options, but to pass ordinances in order to provide the necessary mechanism for inventorying and reporting on new construction and other ground disturbing activities.
As a result of this layer of regulatory oversight, many airport managers and directors are finding themselves faced with stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPP’s) that don’t adequately address stormwater treatment or local requirements. As with most airport facilities, the list of feasible locations for expanding stormwater facilities is often limited or absent. As a result of these increasing requirements and lowering thresholds, several companies have shifted away from the mega-sized facilities associated with the traditional landfill and mining operation requirements, where space is often a luxury, to more compact designs that can be incorporated underground. There are many desirable features associated with this type of design, first and foremost is the minimizing of surface water exposure on airport facilities. Many companies offer contracts to design, install and maintain these systems for your specific stormwater treatment needs. In many applications, following water treatment, the average event is allowed to infiltrate into the groundwater instead of having a surface water connection that could be subject to water quality sampling, monitoring and neighborhood scrutiny.
Another common approach to stormwater management on larger facilities is to design drainage systems that maintain separation between non-contaminated rainwater and surface runoff that may carry a range of pollutants or suspended sediments. By double-plumbing external drainage features, many large commercial landlords have been able to obtain “Green Credits” toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – http://www.usgbc.org) Certification by using rainwater piped to storage tanks for landscape irrigation in lieu of drinking water. Separated surface runoff that requires treatment prior to discharge or re-use can be directed to a central stormwater facility or several smaller satellite systems throughout the facility grounds. Several municipalities have established taxpayer credits for separated stormwater systems to help reduce the demand on over-worked water treatment plants.
With an ever-increasing public awareness related to stormwater, wetland preservation and global warming, the airport operations and long range plans need to consider not just the short term gains. Public perception can be a great tool or a tremendous adversary for the airport manager. By looking ahead at what may come to your front porch in the near future, you may be able to avoid costly design modifications and even penalties from your neighboring municipalities.