Researcher Eric Winkler of UMass Amherst Focuses on the Science of Stormwater

AMHERST, Mass. - When most people hear the term "water quality," they think of drinking water. But water quality concerns can also extend to stormwater, such as the rain Mother Nature recently dumped on the Northeast, says Eric Winkler, environmental technology specialist for the Strategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP) at the University of Massachusetts.

Stormwater can pose numerous problems, aside from the obvious concerns about flooded basements and washed-out roadways, according to Winkler. The water can contain sediments and what water quality experts call "floatables" ? grease, oil, and visible trash, such as plastic straws or discarded coffee cups, says Winkler. Stormwater can also carry contaminants, ranging from pesticides and herbicides, to heavy metals such as lead, zinc, and cadmium, and, depending on how drainage systems are hooked up, the pathogens associated with untreated sewage, he said.

Winkler sat on a 20-member expert panel that met earlier this month in Seattle, Wash., to discuss the best ways to test innovative technologies being created to treat stormwater. The group is particularly interested in technologies that can be used in urban areas, "where space is at a premium and constructing a one-acre containment pond would not be an option," Winkler said. The new technologies generally rely on sedimentation, in which particles fall out of the moving water, and various filtration methods. Some are designed to be used in tandem with conventional treatment systems such as ponds or swales. As part of his work with STEP, Winkler is evaluating stormwater treatment technologies produced in New England.

The Seattle meeting was sponsored by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and its Environmental Technology Evaluation Center, which has received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to evaluate environmentally-friendly technologies. The project is a collaboration with the State of Washington Department of Transportation. About 20 experts from academia, industry, and state and federal environmental and transportation agencies attended.