Bill Scanlon

Bill Scanlon

Heavy rain in Norman causes problems — we all know that.

And stormwater — well, it gets a lot of talk, but very little action. Is that really the case?

I thought so at one time, but have changed my mind. It’s true that there have been several initiatives over the past few years to obtain citizen support for a stormwater utility fee. Those attempts failed to pass.

But that doesn’t mean Norman has been standing still when it comes to stormwater problems.

In 1996, the City Council adopted Engineering Design Criteria (EDCs). These are the technical standards that guide the design, construction and maintenance of the city’s infrastructure, and directly affect stormwater issues in our city.

These standards identify uniform criteria that apply to both public and private infrastructure projects. These criteria are part of a suite of policy and technical documents that include construction drawings, zoning and tree protection ordinances, subdivision regulations and the Center City Form Based Code.

EDCs have been amended — last in 2006 — but the basic criteria adopted almost 26 years ago remain in place.

That’s about to change. A couple of years ago, the Council approved funding to review and update EDCs.

At the time, I thought this would be a simple matter, but totally misjudged the effort involved. I say this as a stakeholder who has participated in several conferences and reviews during an ongoing process.

Some of the concepts guiding the work included: the importance of consistency in the construction and maintenance practices; the need to integrate Green Stormwater Infrastructure best practices into design development; adoption of practices that incorporate current technologies; identification and resolution conflicting guidance and providing a digital platform to facilitate use.

I know — it sounds like a lot of bureaucratic rambling, but I’ve seen from firsthand involvement that these are serious guidelines.

The meetings I’ve attended have included members of the city staff, civil engineers who regularly consult on infrastructure matters, developers and a few interested citizens (such as myself). These meetings can be quite intense.

You might expect that developers would lobby for looser standards, but that’s not been the case. All participants are genuinely concerned in getting this right.

Discussions are more focused on appropriate levels of detail necessary to come up with standards that do indeed protect city infrastructure and our neighborhoods. (It’s an inside joke, but I’ve offered a dollar for every provision that’s more restrictive than current guidelines. My fellow conferees laugh, but appreciate the point.)

At present, City Engineer Scott Sturtz is integrating the efforts of a number of working groups. Following will be opportunities for public review, leading to a Council consideration and (hopefully) approval.

Another vehicle in place to address stormwater issues is the Flood Plain Permit Committee. Put simply, any proposed work in Norman’s flood plains and watersheds must obtain permission from this committee to proceed. It’s my privilege to serve on that committee.

I can tell you that presentations given to the committee are detailed, as are the questions asked by committee members. I won’t go into the technical requirements that must be met in each proposal, but I will say that nothing is approved without passing detailed scrutiny.

Most recent committee business included the review and approval of updates to the city’s Flood Plain Ordinance. Impact on the community: these changes put Norman in line with FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, and will result in flood insurance premium discounts for affected homeowners.

Stormwater is a never-ending story. There’s a lot more to say about efforts within Public Works to upgrade city capabilities to monitor and manage stormwater.

I’ve seen some dedicated people in action, working to improve our lot. I’ll abuse the privilege, and comment on those efforts in future weeks. I probably have time — minimum precipitation amounts are predicted for the near future.

Bill Scanlon is a former Ward 6 city councilor who volunteers in support of the Norman Police Department and Norman Fire Department, and serves multiple city committees. Prior to his work in Norman, Scanlon served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force — where he last worked as chief of mission analyses under the assistant chief of staff for the Air Force, Studies and Analyses at the Pentagon — and worked for Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C.

Trending Video