City of Salinas, CA
NPDES program manager Heidi Niggemeyer, CPSWQ
Salinas is the county seat and largest municipality of Monterey County, CA and serves as the main business, industrial and government center for the region. An urban area with a population of over 150,000, it is primarily known for its role in California’s agriculture and farming economy. Salinas sits at the mouth of the Salinas River Valley, just inland from the Pacific Ocean. The City is surrounded by impaired waterways on the EPA 303d list and listed as a contributor on several TMDLs.
So Much Time, So Little Impact
In early 2017, Heidi was facing two distinct challenges. The first issue was how to satisfy several outstanding permit requirements as their MS4 NDPES permit term was coming due. The second and more fundamental issue being her program implementation activities were siloed, and compilation of her annual report was a costly inefficient exercise. City staff responsible for implementation of various permit elements were scattered across multiple departments. Information and data management was a collection of checklists and spreadsheets housed in random office file cabinets or on various individual network locations not easily accessible. Large sums of time and money were being spent on complicated reports and plans with little to no impact or positive effect on programmatic decisions. Something needed to change.
Within the City’s permit, they were required to utilize 2NDNATUREs original structural BMP rapid asset management tool (BMP RAM) or something equivalent, but in 2017 they had nothing like that. In addition, the City had developed and funded an annual water quality monitoring program whose intent was to utilize receiving water data to inform how effective the City of Salinas urban stormwater program had been. For many years, the City was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on grab sampling and excessive analytical costs for dozens of constituents. These water quality data were summarized in tables of concentration data compared to Basin Plan water quality objectives and compiled in massive PDF reports. While the data reflected the status of the local receiving water quality it didn’t tell anyone anything about the effectiveness of the Salinas stormwater program. The City’s compilation of its annual report to the Water Quality Control Board required over 1,000 hrs from a dozen City staff members to complete. The only true value of the 3,000 page PDF compilation was in “proving” that the required sampling, inspections and actions had occurred. There was no connection between any of the field data being collected and Heidi’s need to track compliance across the various regulatory requirements, such as regulated new or redevelopment projects. There was no way to quantify effectiveness, analyze results, or use the information to inform future programmatic strategy, planning or implementation.
Efficient, Effective, Repeatable
In order to help Salinas to reduce the cost and complexity of their stormwater program, the first step was to develop a comprehensive process¬ to integrate all MS4 permit requirements. A process for data collection, for data analysis, for formatting and sharing data, and for communicating compliance. Salinas partnered with 2NDNATURE and adopted 2Nform.
Data Collection: The need for field sheets and manual data entry disappears with 2Nform mobile apps. Intuitive repeatable field protocols allowed the 2NDNATURE team to quickly train a group of Salinas interns to use the platform to perform field assessments. Standardized protocols, automatic generation of results in the field for Quality Assurance and Control and seamless syncing to a central geospatial database reduced costs while increasing the quality and accessibility of Salinas stormwater data. The entire stormwater team can now see the history and status of key stormwater program elements, such as stormwater structural BMPs, low impact development projects, construction projects, catch basins, etc., in easy to understand maps and lists.
Data Analysis: Before implementing the 2Nform software suite, Salinas was engaged in a data for data’s sake process of checking boxes and generating massive reports and plans. It was largely a record-of-actions program and one that was limited in its geographic scope due to the cumbersome nature of the data itself. With the more efficient collection of accurate data , the automated analytics within 2Nform turn data into actionable information. In 2018, Heidi now had City-wide maps based on local data to inform where stormwater improvements are most needed, accurately estimate her structural BMP O&M budget, and simply plan required inspections and workflows. The 2Nform outputs provide a quantitative accounting of environmental accomplishments, the foundation of a performance-based stormwater program. The City now has science-based information to assist the program manager and her team to focus resources and time more efficiently and adapt program decisions over time.
Data Sharing and Compliance: Using 2Nform, the City stormwater program data is integrated and stored in the cloud, allowing easy sharing across multiple departments. Additionally, as more and more municipalities adopt 2Nform, it allows for regional collaboration to improve the tools and increase stormwater program efficiencies. Regional partners can now collaborate on conducting watershed analyses instead of just focusing on each MS4 in isolation. From a public perspective, the 2Nform data visualization inspires engagement and allows program managers to easily share program accomplishments and priorities with a variety of groups: City councils, technical staff, communities etc. And at the end of it all, it generates compliance ready annual reports!
- A transformed relationship with the Regional Boardfrom combative to collaborative
- A holistic integrated stormwater solutionused bymultiple agency personnel.
- More effective communication to stakeholders (city councils, technical staff, the public) about the impact the stormwater program has and can have on the local community and its receiving waters.
- Cost savings throughout program elements exceed 2x, allowing the City to better focus limited resources on improving urban land management.
- A smarter, more effective and efficient stormwater program.
Check out our feature on the City of Salinas’ Website: Harnessing Technology to Create a Data-Driven City of Salinas Stormwater Program