Digital Transformation is Revolutionizing Stormwater Programs: How to Be Ready for Changes Ahead
Stormwater programs throughout the US rely heavily on diverse data types to support resource allocation, regulatory reporting, and prioritization; but they often struggle to use those data to measure program effectiveness and guide decision-making. A key reason is that most stormwater programs are dependent on a multitude of disconnected analog and digital systems for analysis and report generation. Digital transformation is the integration of technology into all areas of an organization to automate workflows, rapidly build insights, and meet ever-changing requirements and expectations. As technology has improved, the advantages of improved data discoverability, easy data sharing, and remote data access have become evident in several other sectors. In most industries, it is no longer optional to have your information management house in order and it will not be for long in stormwater compliance. Asset management requirements are becoming more common in stormwater permits and the 2023 deadline for electronic NPDES reporting is fast approaching, providing an opportunity to improve the efficiency of stormwater programs through adoption of new technologies.We present case study examples of cities that have transformed their stormwater programs with an information management overhaul. Cities have been able to not only consolidate their data storage systems, but also standardize data types, automate workflows and reports, and run advanced analytics on the fly. Cloud-based data storage means that staff are no longer tied to on-site servers and can access their data anytime, anywhere. Updates happen at the click of a button, and a robust system of record ensures that changes are trackable. A standardized geospatial data schema has improved data sharing and multi-purpose analytics, with the same data sources used for modeling water quality benefits of green stormwater infrastructure also employed to identify redevelopment priorities and track stormwater program costs over time. Outputs are pushed to dashboards to track long-term program and water quality goals that are visible city staff, stakeholders, or regulatory agencies. This has dramatically improved the capacity of city staff to plan, communicate, and demonstrate the value of their stormwater program. Centralized data storage and user-specified access protocols have facilitated collaboration between neighboring communities, allowing them to work together quickly, effectively, and securely.Stormwater managers can build more effective programs with better water resource outcomes by adopting new technologies that improve how they use existing data to make decisions. With the right tools and understanding in place, cities can use the oncoming changes as an opportunity to improve the efficiency of stormwater programs. Key discussion factors include:1) Examining solution trade-offs. While all stormwater programs are unique in their own ways, software solutions need not be. Cities should assess the cost trade-offs of custom-built one-off solutions vs. leveraging existing solutions that are broadly scalable. All software requires maintenance, upgrades, repairs, and user support, and those ongoing costs are often overlooked with custom solutions. Enterprise-scale solutions build annual costs into pricing structures resulting in less uncertainty about long-term costs.2) Being open-minded to change. With digital transformation often comes changes to forms, processes, and workflows. Be willing to critically think about how to improve legacy processes that have been set in place for a long time. Staff will need to become familiar with using mobile apps to capture data and interacting with geospatial data sets.3) Operationalizing institutional knowledge. Static reports and in-house expertise are critical information sources, and much of that knowledge can be made more useful by building it into a dynamic structure that can incorporates new information as it becomes available.
Michelle is a scientist at 2NDNATURE where she is equal parts customer advocate and GIS analyst. She's helped municipalities transition and utilize digital solutions in their stormwater program such as GIS, mobile field applications, and advanced analytics. She joined the 2NDNATURE team in 2016 after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she studied Environmental Management and GIS. When she’s not busy running spatial models, she’s enjoying the outdoors and photographing the night sky.