Best Management Practices for Street Sweeping
The Intersection of Sweeping and Stormwater Pollution Removal: An Interview with Rachel Sim, Editor of STORMWATER Magazine
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross, Editor, WorldSweeper.com
In August of this year I had the honor of participating at StormCon 2020 Virtual in a 'roundtable webinar' with three other presenters. The webinar was moderated by Rachel Sim, Editor of STORMWATER Magazine. In a turnabout, I held a Zoom interview with Rachel in October of 2020 on the topic of what she saw as the intersection of the sweeping and stormwater industries.
We're starting with the Zoom interview, which is uploaded to YouTube and linked below in its entirety. In the event you cannot view YouTube videos in this context or on your current computer platform, the link to the interview is located here. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to read a somewhat abridged version in narrative story form you'll find that available below the YouTube link.
A Synopsis of the WorldSweeper Interview With Rachel Sim
WorldSweeper: Is the EPA currently enforcing stormwater program requirements in cities and other jurisdictions around the country, given either the political climate or the pandemic?
Rachel Sim: Starting on March 26, EPA introduced a "Temporary Enforcement Policy," which was backdated to March 13. The Agency was acknowledging that physical distance requirements and potential worker shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic could affect regulated entities' ability to gather and report data, and essentially said EPA would exercise "enforcement discretion" for non-compliance as a result of the pandemic, and it also applied to NPDES permittees.
The policy wasn't a free-for-all—permittees were supposed to make every effort to meet their obligations, to return to compliance as soon as they could, to document noncompliance and to minimize the effects and duration of noncompliance. They also had to document how COVID-19 was the cause of noncompliance, so EPA could follow up "if needed."
As of August 31, however, the Policy is no longer in effect. "The consequences of the pandemic may constrain the ability of regulated entities to perform routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification."
WorldSweeper:How much difficulty are municipalities having with meeting their permit requirements, in general?
Rachel Sim: To be honest, I haven't heard of any that have struggled to remain in compliance. Perhaps in those early days of the pandemic, when everything was still up in the air and so little was known about this virus, but most of what I've heard is ways in which permittees have been inventive and resourceful in order to continue monitoring, sampling, and so on.
Back in April or May, USGS put out a press release about the ways they were continuing their water monitoring efforts and highlighted a three-person team made up of a married couple and another colleague. The married couple could work closely together and travel together, and it was easier to maintain 6 feet of distance with the third person.
WorldSweeper:Is there somewhere online that lists which entities are not meeting their permit requirements?
Rachel Sim: Yes, Enforcement and Compliance History Online, at http://echo.epa.gov
WorldSweeper: Are you seeing the trend in the ability of municipalities to keep their water clean using their current technologies?
Rachel Sim: I think there will always be new challenges presented by new technologies and developments. Twenty years ago, we weren't thinking about PFAs [a compound very similar to what we call 'teflon'], for example, but that's been a big issue in the wastewater industry in the last few years and now we're starting to see it entering the stormwater industry. The question for municipalities will always be what's the best way to equitably address surface water quality and what technology will be the most cost-effective.
WorldSweeper: From my perspective as Editor of the largest internet resource on the planet for power sweeping, I tout that sweeping is the "first line of defense" in removing pavement-based pollutants from the runoff stream/air quality index. Since stormwater is a different industry, one that has a number of different pollution abatement methodologies available to it, what do you see as the role of sweeping, especially given the results of the 2019 Florida sweeping study?
Rachel Sim: Of course there are non-pavement-based pollutants that street sweeping won't address—things like roof or agricultural runoff, for example—but with pavement-based pollutants if you can get it off the pavement before the rain hits, there's less to treat with other BMPs, like biofiltration units or even rain gardens.
Street sweeping is unlikely to be the only BMP needed, but it's incredibly effective and equitable. Green infrastructure like rain gardens and bioswales have other aesthetic and environmental benefits, but they're inherently stationary—that is, they benefit one neighborhood or block and that's it. And they tend to be installed in higher-income and more public neighborhoods.
Especially with more data coming on the efficacy of street sweeping from studies like the one from Florida, street sweeping can be an excellent way to improve surface water quality in every part of a city and show that the quality of every neighborhood is a priority.
WorldSweeper: Do you think the majority of stormwater managers have a good handle on the role sweeping can play in improving their pollution abatement efforts?
Rachel Sim: I'm hesitant to speak too broadly, but what we've seen with the publication is certainly a growing understanding of the benefits of sweeping beyond mechanical sweeping. Mechanical broom sweepers were incredibly common for a long time. As more data have been released on the efficacy of vacuum and regenerative sweepers, we've seen more awareness of those benefits. I think as more folks become aware of the benefits, the more switching from mechanical broom fleets will make financial sense.
WorldSweeper: Are you aware of any type of trend that is combining stormwater departments with street cleaning departments so as to address the pollution runoff problem as a combined department?
Rachel Sim: In my experience, street sweeping often falls under the utilities department or "water utilities," which tends to be where stormwater departments are if there is no separate stormwater department. If there is a separate stormwater department, I often see street sweepers there, at least on the West Coast.
WorldSweeper: How are stormwater budgets developed these days? My understanding is there is an ability by municipalities to collect money under some sort of statute, i.e., Usually by a surcharge on garbage pickup. Do you know what the actual facts of the matter are?
Rachel Sim: Sometimes they're set in municipal budgets or there's a fee, same way you would be charged for trash pickup. Often, it's framed as a "rain tax" which can have some negative perception—why am I being taxed for rain? But what generally happens is that municipalities come up with a charge based on the amount of impervious surface on a property—often at slightly different rates for commercial and residential properties.
This is because impervious surfaces transport pollutants better than pervious surfaces and contribute more to flooding than a spongy lawn or rain garden.
WorldSweeper: What do you see as the best way for the role of sweeping to get integrated into solving the problems of stormwater runoff pollution?
Rachel Sim: I think highlighting the benefits of street sweeping is a great way to start! Data from studies like the recent one in Florida support street sweeping as an excellent first-line BMP. Other communities have used street sweepers as mobile outreach with graphics and other information.
As we've discussed before, there's also an opportunity to educate the public around not only the benefits of street sweeping, but the parking fees—in San Diego, for instance, the parking fees are simply a deterrent and not a revenue source for the stormwater department.
Finally, I think it's worth emphasizing that sweepers truly are an equitable BMP. Because they're mobile, they can serve any area of a city instead of just the downtown core or wealthier neighborhoods which often end up the recipients of aesthetic green infrastructure, and they are a visual way for municipalities to signal "we care about this area."
Many thanks to Rachel Sim and the STORMWATER Magazine organization for the wide variety of efforts expended on behalf of keeping the water supply of the U.S. as clean as possible – and for taking time to provide this interview to the power sweeping community.
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