Hitting a Knuckleball, Field Monitoring of Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs)

When I think about field monitoring, I often think about baseball. More specifically, I think about the knuckleball pitch. Since the knuckleball pitch has little to no spin, the ball moves in a completely unpredictable fashion. Unlike a fastball or a curveball, there are no pitching mechanics to indicate where the ball will likely wind up after leaving the pitcher's hand. On its 60.5-foot trip from the pitcher's mound, the ball can shift direction multiple times, stay flat, or drop out of the air before crossing over the plate. The pitch is so challenging to hit that some players have chosen to sit out games when a knuckleballer is pitching.

Like the knuckleball pitch, field monitoring of stormwater BMPs can be unpredictable and often lead to more strikeouts than home runs. Anyone involved in field monitoring would likely agree that it is expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating. If public and private entities had the option to sit out field monitoring, most probably would.

Fortunately, public and private entities continue to fund and undertake field monitoring efforts to comply with the continually evolving federal Clean Water Act. Field monitoring is, and continues to be, the best way for public and private entities to ensure BMPs are doing what they are designed and intended to do. Even with concerns about precision and accuracy, extended project durations, labor costs, equipment costs, analytical costs, data comparability challenges, and the high likelihood that all the things that could go wrong probably will, field monitoring is still the truest way to ensure the reliability of a BMP.

There are many known knowns and many more known unknowns concerning BMP design and performance. For example, we expect an increase in the frequency and intensity of storm events in the coming years associated with climate change. We do not fully understand how these changes will impact BMP design, operation, and maintenance activities. We also know that in the U.S., industries produce more than 70,000 different chemicals that could find their way into stormwater runoff. We currently only analyze samples for a handful of these chemicals for most field monitoring projects and have only started to research and understand the impacts of the chemicals we don't analyze for.

Field monitoring of BMPs allows public and private entities to strike out from time to time. These strikeouts may seem like a waste of time, money, and other resources, but they are actually very useful and highly beneficial to the stormwater industry. Public and private entities can use the knowledge gained during field monitoring efforts to determine what works and what doesn't. In turn, they can evaluate faults that they would have never seen in a controlled testing environment. Identifying these faults allows for improvements to current and future BMP designs. 

Field monitoring of BMPs also allows public and private entities to hit home runs by demonstrating that a BMP provides effective treatment, is robust, resilient, and improves and protects our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans for the future.

Public and private entities shouldn't get discouraged when it comes to field monitoring and should not sit this one out. It can feel tedious at times, but it is absolutely essential to figuring  out what works!