News Feature | August 26, 2014

Stormwater Utilities Absent From Hurricane Sandy States

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


States hit by Hurricane Sandy trail other areas when it comes to stormwater infrastructure. 

"Stormwater runoff is an enormous problem that leads to dangerous flooding and polluted waters in New Jersey and other states," the Asbury Park Press reported.

Stormwater is often managed through stormwater utilities. A stormwater utility "is to stormwater what a sewer utility is to sewage, and a water utility is to drinking water," according to stormwater authorities in Bay County, FL. In Florida, "a stormwater utility is responsible and maintenance of stormwater management devices, for stormwater system planning, and management." 

But New Jersey and several other states entirely lack stormwater utilities." The states hit hardest by superstorm Sandy - New Jersey, New York and Connecticut - have no known stormwater utilities," the Asbury Park Press reported, citing the Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey of 2013.

The purpose of the study was to identify stormwater utilities in states across the country.

"More than 1,400 stormwater utilities have been identified in 39 states and the District of Columbia, including Texas, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin," the survey said.

The Hurricane Sandy states are not the only ones struggling with stormwater.

In Vermont, a July downpour "prompted a beach closing in Burlington, experts say. Not missing a beat, a thunderstorm [later in the month] appears to have overwhelmed the sewage treatment plant in Essex Junction," the Burlington Free Press reported. "For anyone watching, the periodic flush of cloudy sediment into streams and lakes signals a cautionary green-and-brown flag." 

These circumstances are familiar to Vermont treatment plants. 

"Sudden surges of rainwater routinely challenge wastewater treatment plants, according to records kept by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. In Burlington, where older parts of the system combine stormwater runoff with sewage, 'permitted' (or authorized) overflows delivered 734 gallons of the mixture into the Winooski, [a river]," the report said. 

If improperly managed, stormwater can lead to health threats. 

"Heavy rains contribute to a swell of nutrient pollutants (notably high levels of phosphorus) and warm-water tolerant bacteria (notably high concentrations of E. coli)," the report said. "In the wake of the Essex Junction plant's malfunction, E. coli levels downstream were 2,400 colonies per 100 milliliters — about 10 times the maximum recommended for human exposure by the Vermont Department of Health."

Image credit: "Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 8]," Brian Birke © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: