CDOT must maintain MS4 compliance for all of the 23,000+ lane miles of highway under their management.

Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)

A seven-year EPA audit showed CDOT that they needed a better stormwater management solution. They found 2NFORM, which is revolutionizing their construction site inspections — and helping them plan for the future, using built-in predictive analytics. 


THE CLIENT

Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)

Jean Cordova, Water Quality Section Manager, CDOT

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) builds and maintains the state’s highway systems, and makes sure that they are safe and efficient. With over 23,000 lane miles of highway, on which vehicles travel over 28 billion miles each year, CDOT must manage several facilities, hundreds of permanent water quality assets, hundreds of construction sites, and thousands of outfalls across the state — a huge job. For CDOT, as for every Department of Transportation, ensuring and demonstrating compliance with their MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) permit requirements every year is a big job as well.

THE CHALLENGE

A Seven Year EPA MS4 Audit

In 2015, CDOT knew their MS4 permit from the state was set to expire. They were preparing for the new permit and the new requirements it would bring when they got hit with an EPA audit. Six years later they’re still working on audit responses, with the final audit response due in April 2022. In part, the length of the audit is due to the complexity within CDOT. Their single MS4 permit includes seven stormwater programs, such as construction site runoff control and illicit discharge detection and elimination. Among those programs, there are 37 sub-sections that require specific recordkeeping elements. The MS4 program is implemented by CDOT’s five departmental regions across the entire state of Colorado, CDOT headquarters and consultant assistance. The breadth of the program and diverse number of internal stakeholders distributed throughout the state makes coordination challenging, which has created inconsistency in data collection. These challenges mean consolidating information for annual regulatory reporting is very difficult indeed.

Jean Cordova, Water Quality Section Manager at CDOT, came into her position in 2017, and immediately began looking at software solutions that could handle and better manage CDOTs complex stormwater program. “I wanted to get CDOT to a point where we could have all of our MS4 information and data together in a single solution, and make sure the data across our programs were consistent,” Jean says.

At the time, only two of the seven programs were using independent software systems to manage information and streamline workflows, but the others were collecting data using paper and pen and storing data in spreadsheets, simple databases, and “in people’s heads,” according to Jean. Data fields across CDOT regions were inconsistent within the program, making analysis of the data to evaluate the programs across and within regions extremely difficult.

Jean wanted something that regional and headquarters staff could use to collect consistent and comparable data and store data in a centralized database. She knew data standardization would make their reporting process easier and faster — as well as giving everyone access to their data at their fingertips so they could answer any preliminary questions the EPA had, mitigating against future audits.

Compiling CDOT’s annual report for the state regulator takes Jean and her team about half a year: she had to start requesting and compiling data from the regions in October to have the report submitted by the April due date. “I wanted to be able to track and view the collected data throughout the year that I ultimately needed to compile for annual reporting,” Jean says. “I was looking for an off-the-shelf system built for stormwater compliance that includes the flexibility to configure to the specifics of our program.”

Problems With a Custom Software Solution

For the construction site runoff control program, CDOT had previously invested in building a custom inspection and reporting tracking system years before, but it didn’t connect to their geographic information system (GIS) or the cloud. Unfortunately, while the custom built system was an advancement from pen and paper, it left a lot of room for improvement. It was a place to put information, but it was not built as a tool to aggregate data or conduct analyses, and it was difficult and clunky to generate reports. They couldn’t use the system to understand the greatest challenges with construction site management or to see where their stormwater management efforts were really paying off with positive results.

Worst of all, the custom system had been created for CDOT by a third party consultant firm, and the consultancy disbanded midway through the audit process. This left CDOT with unsupported software and left Jean and team struggling to extract, manage and analyze data from their construction program.

The Challenge of Stormwater Management on Construction Sites

In particular, the construction program was a challenge for CDOT. All those thousands of miles of highway require a lot of roadway construction and hundreds of contractors. Each contractor does their own weekly self assessment of the site to ensure pollution prevention and erosion control practices are implemented according to regulation. Once a month CDOT inspectors need to go out in person to confirm the self assessments are accurate and the site is compliant.

Many CDOT field inspectors were using pen and paper in the field, taking notes and pictures that they then had to transcribe and upload into the system once they were back in the office. This process wasn’t only inefficient: the extraneous and tedious data processing steps also made it easy for staff to introduce unintentional errors. Plus, the field construction inspection forms — part of CDOT’s custom-built system — were full of free text fields, inviting typos and allowing inspectors to use their own terminology. The lack of standardization and consistency of terminology and data formats was a big problem when it came to comparing and analyzing CDOT construction data sets.

As the end of the audit nears — almost seven years after it began — Jean has an enormous spreadsheet with comments written all over it. The massive spreadsheet documents that they have done the work and gathered the information, and it should be enough to placate the EPA, for the moment. But when — not if — CDOT is audited again, she knew it would take just as much time and work, or more.

Jean was firm; she wanted to be well prepared in case the EPA ever audited her again. She wanted the security of knowing that her data was in order and at her fingertips. And she wanted better, usable data: data that would help CDOT actively improve their stormwater management and the programs that support it.

OUR SOLUTION

Better Data Lets You Plan For the Future

CDOT is in the process of fully adopting 2NFORM, the 2NDNATURE Software platform, and they’re starting with the construction program. 2NDNATURE leveraged the best parts of CDOT’s custom solution to configure the construction site program, so that where possible workflows and terminology stay the same, making the new software easier for users to learn and adopt. Jean anticipates that “once we get 2NDNATURE Software adopted for all seven of our compliance programs, and we are collecting the correct data that we need in one place, we should be able to cut the time focused on compiling and reviewing our annual report time by 50%.”

Looking into the future, Jean is excited by how the gained efficiency and consistency will benefit her program. With the cloud-based platform 2NFORM, field staff can enter data directly into a tablet or phone, removing the cumbersome and error-prone transcription and uploading steps of their current workflows. A consistent and comprehensive data standard means that all of the CDOT regions across all of the stormwater programs are now using the same terminology and collecting consistent data, making the dataset they generate efficient to query and easier to analyze. Using GIS and spatial analytics, CDOT can evaluate the effectiveness of their construction program by analyzing and interpreting trends in the data, mapping areas of concern and identifying which stormwater management techniques really work and which need improvements.

Centralized Data: Soon, CDOT’s seven stormwater programs will no longer use different databases, spreadsheets, and filing systems, as 2NFORM lets every program enter its own data into common fields into a single solution, and that data is accessible to everyone, at all times. With all data being stored in a single geospatial database, CDOT asset data collected by one program can be rendered in a different compliance program module to support other program workflows. No more waiting for another department to get around to answering your request for their data — a chronic problem, and risk, under the old system.

Into the Cloud: Field assessments — like those monthly construction site visits — are easier as well as more productive with 2NFORM. Instead of pen and paper forms full of free text fields that cannot be queried, now CDOT’s field staff enter the data and images straight into 2NFORM using a tablet or mobile phone. This eliminates an entire time-consuming step of the process, as well as the inevitable errors that come with the tedious task of transcribing field notes and manually uploading images, hours or days after they were taken.

Jean has a lot of sympathy for “those pen and paper people,” because she was one of them, back when she was a field inspector. “It was easier to write something down than to search for drop down menus in the field,” she says. She’s working closely with 2NDNATURE to make menus as clear and efficient as possible and make life easy for her people in the field — and help drive acceptance among field inspectors who may be nervous about change.

Geospatial intelligence: Maps are the best data visualization tool for stormwater management, so 2NFORM uses GIS data to create interactive maps that let users interpret data and spot spatial patterns with ease. It’s much easier to see how highways and construction sites impact waterways when you can see where they are in relation to each other, and CDOT users can spot repeat infractions and track trends, making it possible to much more easily see what’s working and what’s not in their stormwater management — information that is crucial to strategic planning for the future.

Data Driven Insights: Getting your data centralized and standardized unlocks data-driven insights and planning. Jean has a vision for the future, and goals she hopes to meet using 2NDNATURE Software. She looks forward to a moment when they can use the data they’ve collected to preemptively plan to address areas of concern, like paying extra attention to locations that have had illicit discharges in the past. “We’ll be better informed about what to look for where,” Jean says.

She’s also excited about having the ability to query their data. Are they having problems with a certain contractor? Why does that specific type of temporary BMP always seem to be improperly placed or used? They can use this information to target training for the poor-performing contractor or improve specifications on how to properly install and maintain certain BMP types. And the GIS data visualization is hugely helpful: “If our regulatory agency wants to know how many construction projects we have, where they’re located and the inspection and enforcement history, it’s easy to show them. Maps and metrics are on the ready with the density and proximity of projects to impaired waterways and demonstrate our investments in permanent water quality assets to reduce CDOTs water quality impact.”

“2NDNATURE Software makes our stormwater management and regulatory reporting so much simpler and more consistent than what we’ve done in the past. I’m excited,” Jean says.

Clean Water for All

Cloud software is transforming stormwater management, making the process easier, the data better, and the strategic planning more informed. Municipalities and organizations need to manage their stormwater in order to comply with the state and EPA requirements and reduce compliance risk and avoid painful and costly audits. But we’re also working together to conserve our natural resources and create a more sustainable world. 2NDNATURE and CDOT are partnering to plan better stormwater management for the future and keep our water clean — for everyone.