Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Marginalized Monitoring Adaptively Managing Urban Stormwater

Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Marginalized Monitoring Adaptively Managing Urban Stormwater

Article excerpt


Congress and the EPA have established a legal framework for municipal management of illicit discharges to stormwater that is more adaptive than prescriptive. While the federal law clearly prohibits non-stormwater discharges from the MS4, it provides wide discretion to the MS4 to create and implement a plan to detect and eliminate these illicit discharges. The regulatory focus is on management actions informed by a system of monitoring discharge pipes instead of specific end of pipe pollution limits. This program seems influenced by the theory of adaptive management, which focuses on strategies that emphasize continuous monitoring of circumstances and adjusting decisions accordingly. (136) However, the program would benefit from carefully identifying and addressing the architecture needed to support a successful adaptive management program that produces better substantive results. (137)

In this research we build on Professor Holly Doremus' work urging agencies engaged in adaptive management to more systematically address their information needs and understand how information is diffused to resource managers. (138) Professor Doremus outlined an information supply pipeline in her work, (139) and in our research we focused on how scientific information is "extracted" and used for better water management. As explained in section IV, scientists have developed innovations in the monitoring process to more accurately and efficiently identify the existence of human sewage. Thus, in the municipal stormwater context, we explored how highly relevant scientific developments by non-agency scientists are understood, diffused and applied to MS4 management to identify and eliminate illicit discharges of raw human sewage into our nation's waterways. Our research observations highlight impediments and incentives for scientific extraction that may be broadly applicable to other systems.

A. Research Methodology

We selected the Milwaukee metropolitan area because it is a study area with an existing body of scientific data on human specific bacteria in stormwater outfalls and ongoing efforts to gather data to characterize the extent of illicit connections in the urban area. Unlike much academic research, Dr. McLellan's findings of human sewage in stormwater were widely communicated to the public through the paper of record in Wisconsin. (140) Moreover, the study area is large enough to contain a variety of MS4s operating within it, producing a broader pool of potential interviewees.

One needs to understand the MS4 managers' and state and federal regulators' perspectives, the influences on their decisions, and the systems in which they work to assess how and to what extent urban stormwater managers are incorporating scientific developments to better manage urban waterways. Through qualitative research interviews with the water managers, one can discern how they incorporate scientific advancements into their work, and the barriers and incentives to extracting relevant scientific information that could lead to positive substantive outcomes for water resources. (141) With this in mind, we undertook a series of qualitative research interviews with MS4 water managers, and stormwater regulators from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (142) In order to maintain the confidentiality of the interviewees, we omit their names and cities they serve and uniformly use the male pronoun when describing their responses.

B. Research Findings

All MS4 managers and state and federal regulators interviewed agree that bacteria in Milwaukee's watersheds is a problem, and that MS4s are a significant conveyor of bacteria. (143) However, some expressed uncertainty about how "bad Milwaukee's watersheds are compared to other urban watersheds" (144) or the extent to which MS4s are contributing to the impairments. …

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