Stormwater management practice comparison: Australia and USA

Greg Blaze
Manager Investigation and Design
Greater Taree City Council
New South Wales, Australia

This article is presented as part of the partnering agreement between APWA and its Australian counterpart, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA). The APWA International Affairs Committee proposes these articles to assist in the exchange of ideas between our international partners. This issue we hear from Greg Blaze who was the recipient of an IPWEA Foundation Scholarship which allowed him to undertake a study tour to the U.S. to compare stormwater management practices.

Stormwater management in New South Wales (NSW) has progressed significantly in recent years, due in part to the direction from the Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) for councils to prepare urban stormwater management plans in the late 1990s. Similarly, in the United States, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has been a driving force in addressing pollution from stormwater runoff, by requiring an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit to cover stormwater discharges. This article discusses the different approaches to stormwater management in each country.

Stormwater Management — Plan or Permit?
Local councils in New South Wales were given a Directive from the NSW EPA in 1998 that required the preparation of Stormwater Management Plans (SMPs). The Directive was in accordance with the Protection of the Environment Administration Act, 1991. The plans were to be completed within a one- to three-year period depending on the size of the council.

The US EPA followed a different path, requiring municipalities to obtain permits covering the discharge of stormwater into receiving waters. This was in response to the 1987 Amendments to the Clean Water Act. Phase 1 of the NPDES stormwater program commenced in 1990. This required permit coverage for stormwater discharge for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) with populations greater than 100,000.

In 1999 the US EPA published the Phase II Final Rule. This requires permit coverage for stormwater discharges from small municipalities, generally with populations below 100,000. The application for these permits should have been completed by March 2003.

Stormwater Management Plan Requirements — NSW
The Directive from the NSW EPA required local councils to develop SMPs that cover urban residential areas under post-development conditions. Issues like erosion and sediment control are covered in the other documents. The SMP should:

  • Identify the existing and future values of a catchment;
  • Derive stormwater management objectives to protect these values;
  • Identify problems and issues that may compromise these objectives; and
  • Detail a suite of non-structural and structural management practices to address these problems and issues.
Added to this, the SMP was to encourage community involvement in its development and implementation, link to Council’s management planning process, and incorporate monitoring procedures for feedback and plan improvement.

NPDES Permit Requirements — USA
In the United States the NPDES requires municipalities to obtain a permit and develop a stormwater management program to prevent pollutants entering the waterways via the storm sewer system.

In order to achieve water quality objectives, the permit application is required to address six elements termed “minimum control measures.” These control measures are:

  1. Public Education and Outreach
  2. Public Participation/Involvement
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  4. Construction Site Runoff Control
  5. Post-Construction Runoff Control
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping
As part of the permit process, evaluation and assessment of the program is required to determine if the expected reduction in pollutants has been achieved.

Funding – The NSW Experience
Whilst the direction from the NSW EPA for councils to develop SMPs was initially received reluctantly, it was accompanied with the sweetener of the State Government providing 50 percent of the cost of development of the plans. Added to this was the formation of the Stormwater Trust (State Govt) that has seen funds provided for the implementation of a significant portion of SMPs throughout the state.

As an example, Greater Taree City Council, which is a medium-sized rural/regional council, has expended over $1.2M in the last four years on stormwater management projects (structural and non-structural) with the following cost apportionment:

  • Local Govt — 15%
  • State Govt (Stormwater Trust) — 70%
  • Federal Govt (Coast & Clean Seas) — 15%
Funding – The USA Experience
Municipalities in the United States that are required to apply for NPDES permits under Phase II will be faced with a significant funding burden when implementing the six control measures outlined above. Unlike New South Wales, where the Stormwater Trust was set up specifically to provide funds for stormwater management programs, the U.S. counterparts are required to seek their own sources of funding as the lion’s share of the stormwater management dollar.


Reality Check – NSW, Australia
The Directive of the NSW EPA that all councils in NSW are required to provide Stormwater Management Plans has resulted in raising the awareness of stormwater quality issues across the state in both local councils and the community.

The formation of the Stormwater Trust has ensured that plans have the necessary funding base to commence implementation, and in many cases sufficient funds have been provided, such that stormwater programs are well in advance of initial expectations.

Projects that have received funding from the Stormwater Trust cover a wide range of aspects of stormwater management. There are structural measures including constructed wetlands and gross pollutant traps, and non-structural such as industrial audits and projects aimed at raising community awareness.

In a nutshell, things are happening on the ground, SMPs are being implemented, the community is becoming more aware of stormwater issues, and pollutant stress on the waterways is slowly reducing.

Reality Check — USA
The NPDES Permit system adopted by the United States covers a broad range of stormwater polluting issues. Phase I permits for cities with populations over 100,000 have been in operation for a number of years.

Phase II permits for cities/municipalities fewer than 100,000 were required to be obtained by March 2003, with the program fully implemented by March 2008.

Discussions with a number of stormwater managers and public works directors from cities in several states evoked a wide variety of responses to the issue of Phase II permitting for stormwater management. The spectrum of responses ranged from those who considered their stormwater program a model for others in the area to emulate, to those who were still unsure as to their requirements under the NPDES and concerned over the financial burden that the permitting would place on their community.

At the APWA Congress in Kansas City, Ron Norris, Director of Public Works for the City of Lenexa, Kansas, when outlining that city’s response to the Phase II permit, stated that, “You can be in compliance or you can make a commitment. If you make a commitment, then the paperwork will be your compliance.” Many other managers and community leaders would do well to adopt a similar approach.

Stormwater management in New South Wales and the United States is enjoying a high profile at the present time. Whilst each area is using different techniques (plans or permits) to achieve their objectives, the results in both locations will lead to a reduction of pollution of the waterways.

Implementation of stormwater programs has been relatively successful in recent years in NSW, due in part to the availability of funds from the Stormwater Trust. Similarly, Phase I permits for medium and large cities in the U.S. has seen significant works reducing pollutants entering waterways. It would appear, however, that many smaller cities requiring permits under Phase II have limited resources and a lot of work to do to achieve the required results.

Greg Blaze is the Manager Investigation & Design at Greater Taree City Council, New South Wales, Australia. He can be reached at

Tijuana to host 2003 Mexican Public Works Conference in May

The Association of Mexican Municipalities (AMMAC) National Public Works and Services Conference will be held May 14 through 16, 2003 in the dynamic commercial and industrial city of Tijuana, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego.

This annual event brings together public works officials and vendors from throughout Mexico to discuss technical and managerial issues affecting the delivery of public works and services in Mexico. It is also an opportunity for the APWA/AMMAC Task Force to review their work program for the upcoming year.

A national delegation of APWA members will participate in all activities of this conference including technical presentations and as exhibitors. Our APWA delegation will be headed by APWA President Marty Manning and International Affairs Committee (IAC) Chair and past APWA President Jerry Fay, as well as other APWA members from throughout the United States who are interested in the improvement of our partnership with Mexico.

This year’s AMMAC conference is being held in conjunction with the Mexican Construction Industry Chamber’s Expo Construcción Internacional 2003, a major construction industry trade show. APWA members interested in participating in this trade show should take special note of the fact that the United States Department of Commerce is offering assistance to any U.S. company that would like to attend this event, through a special international exposition certification program. This is a unique opportunity to become exposed to the growing market opportunities in Mexico, and all APWA members should consider attending this event.

You can get more information about this event from APWA by contacting Julio Fuentes at You can also reach the U.S. Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce by contacting Judith Valdes at, phone 011-52-(664)-622-7495. Information will also be available on AMMAC’s website at We hope that you can join us in Tijuana in May!


Using humor when talking with international visitors
An old Chinese proverb says, “You get sick by what you put in your mouth, but you can be hurt by what comes out of your mouth.” In his book, Do’s and Taboos of Humor Around the World, Roger Axtell says, “Every culture enjoys some form of humor. But, humor has difficulty crossing cultural boundaries because what is humorous in one country is often not humorous in another.”

The smile may be the most universally understood form of non-verbal communication in the world. However, even with the smile, one cannot assume that the meaning is the same all over the world. For example, in some cultures in Asia or West Africa, a smile can mean that a person is uncomfortable or sad. The author has observed that some West Africans might smile on sad occasions, such as a funeral, and he found this confusing. To the individual in this West African culture, it is perfectly acceptable. To an American, this is strange. There are cultural issues involved.

There are some basic rules that are advisable to follow. Humor is indigenous to each culture, and it is very difficult to export. Involving wordplay and very colloquial expressions, humor requires exceptional knowledge of a language and an in-depth understanding of the culture. Ethnic-type humor, stereotyping, sexist, off-color, cultural, or religious humor should be avoided. Political humor can be effective in certain circumstances, but be cautious and test this humor with a confidant. When in doubt, play it safe and avoid humor. Americans, in particular, love to begin speeches with a joke. Be cautious when taking this style to other cultures. And lastly, laugh at yourself. This will often diffuse some otherwise tense situations.

Cultural Proverbs

“Better be ill spoken of by one before all than by all before one.” — Scottish Proverb

“Go often to the house of a friend; for weeds soon choke the unused path.” — Scandanavian Proverb

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” — African Proverb