Creative Stormwater Manager

Text from an article originally published in the July 2015 edition of APWA Reporter.

In 2011 I had been working to administer the Town of Farragut’s Stormwater Matters program for about three years.  During this period I focused primarily on learning the foundations of what a water quality professional ought to know.  I started out with construction stormwater inspection and enforcement and moved into illicit discharge detection and elimination, municipal good housekeeping and the rest of the NPDES program areas.  After learning the ropes, thanks to the support of countless informal mentors, I wanted to pursue a credential from a respected organization that communicated that I was competent and invested in the profession.  More importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

I come from what some might consider an “atypical” background for a stormwater professional.  Having graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Studio Art, I hadn’t really considered working in the environmental sector until 2006 when I served my first term of AmeriCorps with AmeriCorps*NCCC.  It was the year after Hurricane Katrina had laid waste to the coastal southeast and I spent the bulk of my service year conducting disaster recovery operations and natural resource management in Louisiana and Mississippi.  It was then that I realized how much I enjoyed working to clean, protect and restore the great outdoors and I would go on to complete a Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Management in 2008 consciously shifting my career focus away from introspective aesthetic inquiry to community-based environmental impacts.  Nonetheless, my professional foundation was, and still is, rooted in visual communications.  This background provides a distinctly different skill set from one in engineering or one of the biological, chemical or geological sciences.  The CSM credential provided an opportunity for me to demonstrate that my capabilities had grown to reflect a level of proficiency in these areas and that these areas, including visual communication, are not necessarily exclusive from one another.

In 2011, I also found myself inspired by a community partner who had invited me to the annual Halls Outdoor Classroom Celebration in North Knoxville.  Teachers, students and members of the surrounding neighborhoods came out in large numbers to celebrate the space, enjoy nature and have a good time.  What I saw was a clear convergence of the arts and sciences and a broad range of partners and I began advocating for an Outdoor Classroom and Water Quality Demonstration Space in Farragut as a means of educating the community about water quality and enhancing civic engagement through service learning.  In 2014 the Outdoor Classroom was built.  The space features numerous permeable systems, rainwater harvesting and has started to become one of the most dynamic avenues through which our water quality program has the opportunity to interact with our residents, visitors and business owners.

What the CSM represents to me has changed as my career has evolved.  In 2011 it was a way for me to demonstrate to myself and my peers that I could manage a water quality program effectively.  In 2015 the CSM has come to serve as a reminder of the convergence of disciplines necessary to get things done for my community and its water resources – to bring to bear the best of what I have to offer and to identify the productive talents of others and match them to the appropriate pieces of my small, but important, piece of the puzzle.  To be a CSM demands that you not only be certified, but that you be creative to solve the multidisciplinary challenges posed by your work.  Creative Stormwater Manager.

Regardless of your credential, title or role in water quality, you will not likely be able to solve the puzzle on your own.  Stormwater is in many regards a technical scientific discipline, but even more so, it is a discipline of purpose.  This type of work deserves a passionate application of the artistry that you practice, be it biology or basket weaving (contrasting arts selected for alliterative impact, you’re welcome), and the CSM is an excellent way to allow water quality professionals of broad talents and capabilities to demonstrate a standardized level of competence in their field in the areas of clean water policy, engineering and program administration while committing to a standard of excellence through continuing education and the ethical pursuit of excellence in their work to protect, enhance and restore water quality in their communities.  Go out and do good work.