The systems that drain stormwater away can be hard to visualize. Many times, older stormwater infrastructure has little to no documentation, and without it, no one can know exactly where all the pipes are placed.
Whether a local government knows the location of every piece of its stormwater infrastructure, it will find out eventually when those elements age, deteriorate and finally, if they are not maintained, fail. Increasingly, municipalities and counties are pursuing a process of stormwater asset management, which plans for the regular maintenance, repair or replacement of infrastructure in a way that minimizes cost and maximizes the reliability of service.
Sheri Armstrong, president of the SC Association of Stormwater Managers Board of Directors, is the stormwater manager for Lexington County. The county's department of public works, with the help of a consultant, is in the process of inventorying every stormwater asset for which it is responsible — "every inlet, pipe and outfall," she said.
Asset management is a large topic to explore, Armstrong said. Since more people are now paying attention to the lifespan of stormwater infrastructure and the need to replace it, SCASM, an affiliate of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, built its spring meeting around the topic of asset management.
Once a department knows of everything it needs to maintain and the condition of those assets, it can create a maintenance schedule.
"You can predict when it's going to need to be repaired because of the lifespan of a system. You can allocate the funding during your budgeting process," Armstrong said.
The Town of Summerville is working toward inventorying all its public works assets, including stormwater, with the goal of gathering everything together in a geographic information system, more commonly known as GIS. Existing records can be found in varying locations like paper records or in older software. A map of everything in GIS can help the town evaluate the system and plan for routine improvements, said Bonnie Miley, Summerville's assistant town engineer and SCASM vice president.
By its nature, asset management is a proactive strategy, and sometimes it can be difficult for staff to carve out the time to gather together information to use in the future while still handling routine tasks which need their immediate attention. Still, as Miley notes, asset management can help prevent a stormwater system from losing its ability to function as designed.
The first quarter meeting of the SC Association of Stormwater Managers is March 7 at Seawell's in Columbia.