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Researchers’ Survey Uncovers Three Distinct Attitudes to Stormwater Management

By Kimbra Cutlip

Climate predictions suggest the mid-Atlantic will face more frequent and severe rainstorms in coming years, which begs the question of what to do with the additional rainwater. Researchers from the University of Maryland surveyed a variety of stakeholders and found that everyone agrees the old centralized way of managing stormwater needs to change, with opinions breaking down into three general camps.

Their study, published Oct. 26 in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, found that two groups felt stormwater posed a public threat but disagreed about the responsibility and role of landowners and the community for managing stormwater, specifically on privately-owned lands. The third group saw stormwater as an underutilized resource that should be managed and harnessed with technology.

“Our research shows us where the disconnect is between different stakeholders and their attitudes toward stormwater management,” said Matthew Wilfong, who recently received his Ph.D. from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology and was the study’s lead author. “That information allows policymakers to better identify areas where they need to adjust their policies or change the way they implement their programs and talk about stormwater management.”

In the U.S., stormwater has typically been managed through a network of pipes, storage facilities and treatment plants, with infrastructure on public lands, and policies and practices shaped by scientists, engineers and government decision-makers.

But these centralized systems are becoming increasingly ineffective under changing climate conditions and increasing development, which expands impervious surfaces and increases runoff. Preventing future floods and contamination from wastewater overflows will involve a more decentralized approach that reduces stormwater flowing into drainage systems.

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