From Paper to PC: How GIS Improves MS4 Permit Compliance and Operations

Municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) are typically constituted by a network of publicly owned infrastructure to collectively provide essential drainage and stormwater management for storm events of varying intensity. Sometimes, private entities are required to manage stormwater in a similar way, which is the case for the eight U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) campuses across New England. Regardless of the situation, without a complete understanding of the location, condition, and attributes of stormwater infrastructure assets, it is nearly impossible to operate and maintain. With regulatory programs requiring stormwater needs assessments more frequently, our work with the VA provides an example of how the process provides compliance and improves operational efficiencies.

When the VA hired Woodard & Curran to assist with its MS4 general permit compliance, the available record drawings were in paper or mylar format stored in one department, often reflecting outdated information. This archaic format impeded information sharing across campuses and departments, creating inefficiencies during regulatory compliance reporting, as well as construction planning and implementation. Our stormwater and asset management experts worked with the VA to develop a standardized method to digitally map their regulated MS4s, driving by the permit mapping requirements. The process provided personnel with user-friendly access to a web-based interface, which created efficiencies with standardized mapping procedures, enhanced infrastructure knowledge, and interdepartmental coordination. 

Piecing together a puzzle to modernize documentation

Moving from paper to a digital mapping system required a series of procedures to collect pertinent asset information and configuration. Aerial photogrammetry was first deployed to collect structure spatial location data for water distribution, wastewater and stormwater collection, electricity, gas, steam, and any other utility on site. The aerial photogrammetry data informed the planning and implementation of site surveys to collect invert and elevation data for all the utilities. This information supplemented the existing paper records to map subsurface pipe and conduit networks. This work was repeated for all the VA campuses. 

The project team then integrated this data in a web-based GIS map to create a cohesive picture of the utility assets in relation to structural features of each campus and topographical information. CCTV technology was then used to refine the MS4 pipe connectivity, and the team tracked this additional data on mobile devices with ESRI Collector Application. This additional data was then combined in the web-based GIS map, so it was accessible across multiple departments within each VA campus. 

The outcome is about more than compliance

While complying with the MS4 general permit requirements was the main objective of this project, the process efficiently mapped stormwater infrastructure across each of the VA campuses and provides easy access to MS4 information to enable:

  • Easy tracking of catch basins that discharge to outfalls for efficient spill response and cleanup;
  • Capital improvement planning with pipe condition assessments recorded with CCTV; and
  • Construction planning. 

With data readily available in the web-based mapping system, interdepartmental and cross-department communication is streamlined and based on current records. The web-based mapping is easily accessed on a desktop or mobile device in the field, so personnel can easily view MS4 assets and make changes in real time. The application can also house MS4 general permit compliance and construction activities for ease of reference during program implementation, including inspection records, as-built drawings, standard operating procedures, and construction site reports. 

The VA efficiently connected their engineering, compliance, and grounds department through promoting the easy, accurate access to MS4 mapping and information to improve operations and compliance. The whole project also encouraged collaboration across a diverse group of VA staff and technical experts for training and implementation. Bringing stakeholders together fostered creative thinking around how to use the web maps to enhance operations, personal knowledge, and compliance with MS4 general permit obligations. 

Janelle Bonn, Technical Manager, contributed to this blog. 


Zach Henderson Senior Technical Leader Stormwater & Flood Resiliency

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