Project Background: In 2012, 13 Massachusetts towns faced a significant challenge: how to implement their stormwater programs in an era of diminished town resources. Encouraged by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and backed by the agency’s technical expertise, the towns took charge of their destiny and banded together to establish a stormwater coalition. The purpose of the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC) was to collaboratively implement federal stormwater MS4 permit requirements. Using initial support from the Commonwealth’s Community Innovation Challenge grant program, the towns proposed developing standardized polices, sharing commonly-purchased equipment, producing education and training materials for common use, and enhancing environmental protection, all at a lower cost to taxpayers. In its first year, the CMRSWC produced a stormwater training DVD for municipal employees, purchased shared enhanced GIS equipment which would have been too expensive for any one town to purchase on its own, published a stormwater best management practices website http://www.centralmastormwater.org/Pages/index for both the public and for town employees, developed a salt/sand optimization that provides safe roads in winter while using 10-30 % less salt and sand, and wrote a common Request for Proposals that coalition towns can use to obtain stormwater services at a reduced group rate.
Adding College Students: That same year Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was looking for practical, hands-on environmental projects for its students. In partnership with MassDEP, WPI professors began overseeing student projects for the CMRSWC. Over the years these projects have included the development of a software tool to track towns’ compliance with current and future permit requirements, a database that can generate annual reports for the EPA, and a tool to estimate the baseline and variable costs of stormwater work that towns can use to establish appropriate funding levels for stormwater work. Students also conduct field inspections and mapping for coalition towns, giving them hands-on environmental experience and directly helping towns meet their federal stormwater requirements.
Adding More Towns: After learning of the success of the CMRSWC, other area towns asked to join. In 2013 the CMRSWC added 17 new communities and requested funding to both expand its scope of work and add these towns. The CMRSWC expanded its use of sophisticated GIS equipment and an associated GIS database system to allow member towns to map the location and elevation of their municipal stormwater (and other municipal assets) within centimeters. The towns then began using this stormwater systems data to make and use accurate hydrologic maps of their communities, enhancing their ability to locate and fix illicit discharges.
Planning for Sustainability: Now in its third year, the CMRSWC has expanded its scope once again. It is developing a performance management program that towns can use to track their stormwater assets and their progress toward meeting EPA’s planned stricter stormwater requirements. It is also working on ways to sustain its stormwater work in the future, both through group efforts (with each town contributing funds to CMRSWC) and development of stable funding mechanisms for stormwater work in each town, including exploration of stormwater utilities. The CMRSWC now formally includes ongoing assistance from WPI, solidifying the successful partnership.
Results to Date:
Cost Savings: WPI students calculated that in the second year of the CMRSWC, each of the 30 member towns received $36,766 in stormwater services at a cost of only $10,476. The CMRSWC proves that towns can enhance their stormwater work in significant ways, leverage the skill and energy of college students, and save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a year in stormwater costs by collaborating and regionalizing stormwater work.
Spurring a Model of Success: CMRSWC’s demonstrated success has spurred other towns in Massachusetts to undertake similar initiatives. To date, 57 towns in four other Massachusetts regions have formed similar coalitions; the first statewide meeting of these groups will be convened in August 2014. This forum – representing about one-third of all Massachusetts MS4 municipalities – will provide the coalitions with a venue to share their knowledge, lessons learned, and stormwater “tips and tricks.”