Guest Post by Kate Henry, Water Logs, LLC
Building on this quarter’s theme of bringing maintenance to the forefront, GSI Partners is excited to feature the unique perspective of Water Logs, LLC, the stormwater maintenance and inspections firm of the Infrastructure Solutions Services (ISS) team, on engaging private property owners (PPOs) in maintenance. What makes Water Logs unique is: 1) its place on the vertically-integrated Infrastructure Solution Services team (consulting, engineering, construction, and maintenance), 2) its specialization in subsurface GSI, and 3) its ability to engage PPOs.
When it comes to the maintenance and monitoring of public green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) sites, The Philadelphia Water Department’s (PWD) Green Stormwater Infrastructure Maintenance Group (GSIMN) oversees the inspection, operation, and maintenance of PWD’s current and forthcoming GSI projects.
But what about GSI on private property? Public projects only make up a small percentage of Philadelphia’s stormwater management practices (SMPs), with the majority installed on private property – a number that only continues to grow. To support the success of Green City, Clean Waters, PWD also has a stake in keeping GSI on private property functioning properly. Whether a project was installed due to redevelopment or a grant-funded retrofit project, PWD must, in large part, rely on private property owners (PPOs) to engage maintenance companies that specialize in GSI to properly maintain these sites.
Engaging PPOs on the maintenance needs that accompany each project throughout its lifetime presents numerous challenges, as it requires specialized training and experience to maintain the aesthetics and functionality of the systems installed to ensure their continued optimum performance.
Maintaining GSI on private property presents a set of challenges and opportunities that differ from public projects—the biggest of which is in securing PPO participation. But because there is a lot of value in the GSI installed on private property, a greater value and effort needs to be placed on maintaining it.
For properties that are a part of a Greened Acre Retrofit Project (GARP), the process for engaging PPOs is somewhat easier than trying to engage them post-construction. Since we are positioned within a design/build/maintain team (ISS), we stress the importance of maintenance with every step of the project. In our initial communications with property owners, we introduce PWD’s operations and maintenance (O&M) requirements for specialized maintenance. We additionally emphasize the critical importance of maintenance by incorporating it into our engineering designs.
When construction is complete, and the system is fully functioning, we work to set the foundation for a long-term, symbiotic working relationship by providing the PPO with additional information and clearly defined O&M guidelines. As a result, the PPO knows what to expect and how to maintain the facility to protect the SMP. In tandem to this, our team takes responsibility for all the specialized SMP maintenance and reporting requirements to ensure the property remains compliant and eligible for stormwater credits over time.
For SMPs installed by companies without integrated design, build, maintain teams, PPO engagement can be more challenging. Success in onboarding these PPOs lies in compelling education and offering cost-effective maintenance opportunities.
The education component is particularly important, especially when the SMP is predominantly subsurface. In cases like these, the biggest culprit to failed maintenance is that the SMP falls victim to being “out of sight, out of mind.” The likelihood of neglect may be additionally compounded when a property changes ownership, as new PPOs are not always aware that an SMP is installed on the property and that it requires specialized maintenance.
Effective engagement with an unassociated PPO always includes general SMP education on how a GSI system is designed to function and what may happen if maintenance is not performed as prescribed. Follow-up conversations should include information very specific to the property and its current conditions. At that point, a thorough maintenance program can then be outlined as the PPO will be more likely to recognize the value of the services being offered.
If an owner remains ambivalent about the value of engaging a knowledgeable and skilled maintenance provider, other relevant talking points can include the potential cost savings that can result from stormwater credits (if applicable), the potential scope and cost of restoration work if maintenance is neglected, and the regulatory penalties for non-compliance with O&M agreements.
As property owners continue to recognize the importance of maintenance, the demand for qualified maintenance providers will grow as will their value within the GSI industry as a whole. To drive this change, it will take the collective efforts of industry businesses, developers, property managers, and community organizations to continue to educate and engage property owners on maintenance and its value in protecting their stormwater investments.