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Navigating the Field of Funding for Stormwater Projects

As of early November, the National Centers for Environmental Information reported the United States sustained a total of 25 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, surpassing the 18 documented in 2022. The weather events so far this year include 19 severe storms, two floods, a drought, a wildfire, a tropical cyclone, and a winter storm, which caused a total 464 deaths across the country and created unprecedented economic impact in the Northeast and southern California.

With many of these weather disasters including some form of excess water, communities are feeling the limitations of infrastructure, both in terms of capacity and design. Rainfall, storm surge, and inland floods are taxing infrastructure systems in ways we have not yet seen. Meanwhile, there are many cases in which there is a lack of dedicated stormwater funding resources to rebuild resilient infrastructure needed to limit further impacts of future severe weather events. Moreover, increasing state and federal regulatory measures create additional demand on resources to ensure the quality of our waterbodies remains safe for people and the environment. At Woodard & Curran, we are seeing some creative approaches to secure available funding resources through resiliency, vulnerability, state revolving funds, and disaster relief programs. Here are a few examples and insight from our funding team regarding what’s working in Massachusetts, Florida, and California.

Author

Zach Henderson Sr. Technical Leader Stormwater

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25

Billion-Dollar Disasters to Date

464

Disaster-Related Deaths

$73.8B

Spent to Date

Making the case for funding

While there is a lot of money available under the Clean Water Act, stormwater treatment has always competed with wastewater collection and treatment systems that provide near immediate results to improve water quality. Stormwater measures may take years, or even decades, to prove beneficial in further improving water quality, with green or gray infrastructure best management practices providing 20 to 70 percent efficacy. The key for staking claim to available funding resources is to make the best case possible for stormwater management projects. This means not only identifying the problem and solution, but outlining the benefits and improvements that can be achieved when the project is implemented.

“In the view of the grantor, the best proposals focus on the benefits of the project,” said Steven McCurdy, Senior Funding Manager. “Focusing on the benefits for the community and the improvements for fish and wildlife habitat is really what these grantors are looking for in terms of a highly competitive grant proposal, especially if there are multiple benefits. For example, green infrastructure can reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into the stream, which will reduce flood risk while also creating open space for public use.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an established grant program under its Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), which provides funds for asset inventory, condition assessment, and stormwater asset management planning projects. We are seeing more Massachusetts municipalities tap into this program for stormwater hydraulic capacity analyses as a primary component of risk assessment. The state expects this program will help establish current conditions of stormwater systems and drive more of the SRF monies toward stormwater infrastructure. However, it is important to note the communities being awarded grant funding are those who really explain the multitude of benefits their work will provide to the community.

Taking a resiliency approach

The Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program is also an example of how states are funneling more money toward resiliency projects. In a state that experiences significant coastal flooding, this provides an opportunity for stormwater management projects to be funded through the MVP program. Similarly, down the eastern seaboard, Senate Bill 1954 established the Resilient Florida Program, which earmarked nearly $1 billion for planning and implementing projects that protect inland waterways, coastlines, and shores, providing aid to communities that want to prepare for the impacts of sea level rise, intensified storms, and flooding. This is critical for a state that is often in the direct path of tropical storms and hurricanes, including Hurricane Idalia, which was one of the billion-dollar disaster events this year.

Woodard & Curran is partnered with six clients in inland Florida, helping these communities conduct vulnerability assessments to demonstrate the risk of inland flooding, sea level rise, and storm events. The project teams are utilizing existing data to assess critical infrastructure components from transportation to utilities and natural resources to historic landmarks. The outcome will be comprehensive evaluation and adaptation plans, which will serve as a basis for additional state funding through the Resilient Florida Program and the Florida SRF for implementing prioritized projects.

Fast funding when disaster strikes

In August 2023, the National Hurricane Center issued its first ever tropical storm watch for southern California as Hurricane Hilary barreled toward the West Coast. This unprecedented storm further compounded already significant levels of flooding, landslides, and mudslides after the state experienced its tenth wettest winter on record.

During these stormwater emergencies, Woodard & Curran supported several clients, providing information and access to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement funding, which was released when a Presidential Disaster Declaration was made. The California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) disburses the FEMA funds, which municipalities can seek through county-level disaster services personnel. Woodard & Curran assists clients in tracking necessary materials, labor, and services throughout disaster response projects for purpose of FEMA reimbursement funding. To date, our funding experts have not seen a limit on funding amounts, so long as there is appropriate documentation substantiating the reimbursement request. Monies are generally made available within 60 to 90 days of the request.

With 2024 expected to be another El Nino year generating heavy precipitation and atmospheric rivers like 2023, Woodard & Curran is prepared to support clients with the speedy application needed to access fast federal funding.

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