Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2011

Stormwater Management in Park Land Needn’t Cost So Much

By Carole Barth

Many recently designed Montgomery County parks contain underground stormwater management facilities.  Such facilities often seem attractive to park planners because they don’t compete with park uses for surface space, and they are not visible to park patrons.  These technologies were created for highly developed urban situations, where land is both scarce and expensive.

Unfortunately, these facilities come with a hidden catch:  a lifetime of difficult and costly maintenance.  The only way to maintain these facilities is for people to climb down into them and manually change the filters.

These are tight spaces, and collected within them are oil and toxic substances, including lead, chromium, and other heavy metals deposited by cars.  Thus, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Act) regulations require that workers be certified in confined space and hazardous materials protocols.

These protocols also specify that rescue personnel and equipment must be on hand, so workers can be quickly and safely retrieved if necessary.  Strictly followed, this requires at least a three-person crew.  All of this costs money — a lot of it.

How much money?  A single confined-entry visit for the simplest and smallest underground system runs between $1,000–$1,500.  This price is based on only a two-person crew, where the person going in is hooked to a rescue harness.  If there is a long run of pipe or many filters, you need more people and the price goes up.  To get a sense of the scale of some of these systems, consider this:  a small strip shopping center I know has an underground system with multiple banks of filters and literally contains miles of pipeline.

This kind of maintenance burden is simply not sustainable in a park system that is already struggling to maintain current infrastructure.  Moreover, it’s unnecessary.  Environmental Site Design (ESD) techniques — like rain gardens, compost-amended soils, and porous pavers — cleanse stormwater and only require simple maintenance.

Even small sites can accommodate a “treatment train” of ESD techniques since ESD facilities can be integrated into landscaping, water features, ballfields, parking lots, and buildings.  Properly designed and maintained, these facilities can provide additional park benefits, such as wildlife habitat, water conservation, and shade.

Underground stormwater management in parks was never a good idea.  In these days of widespread structural deficits and increasingly stringent water quality standards, it’s a mistake we simply can’t afford to make.   ■

   © 2011 NFCCA  [Source:]