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Airports and open surface water – A dangerous combination

How North Carolina is setting the stage for alleviating potential threats posed by standing water at and around airports

By Ken Carper, Raleigh, NC

Treating stormwater runoff often creates and/or sustains open water. Open water attracts wildlife, specifically birds. This may be fine for a shopping center or park, but at an airport, it can pose a significant safety hazard to flying aircraft. So how can we mitigate this risk—keeping in mind airports are required to treat their stormwater to meet regulations—while functioning as a good community citizen and protecting travelers? In North Carolina, we are meeting the challenge through a best management practice toolbox and, more importantly, a new state law.

I had the opportunity to lead this effort while working on a project for the North Carolina Airports Association. Conducted in partnership with North Carolina State University, U. S. Department of Agriculture, North Carolina Division of Aviation, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the study examined options to discourage physical stormwater treatment that creates standing water at and near airports by using drier options and still facilitating the water quality permitting process.

This project resulted in two important benefits. The first is a supplement to the North Carolina Best Management Practices manual that added a chapter on airports, and in particular, a tool box to serve as a design guide to both practitioners and regulators. The chapter also includes general guidance regarding stormwater master plans and stresses the importance of taking into account the stormwater challenges and needs across the entire airport property.

          Related item: Airports Hub

The second and most important benefit that resulted from our analysis was a change in North Carolina state law with the passage of Senate Bill 229. For existing runways, taxiways, and other impervious areas, airports are now given credit for adjacent open space/grass areas that transport overland stormwater flow and promote infiltration and treatment. Applied in the master plan context, this opens the door for the use of these credits as compensatory treatment for other areas of the airport.

Some of the more salient points regarding SB 229 include:

  • No requirement for retention/detention ponds or any other control measures that promote standing water.
  • Projects located within five miles of airports shall not be required to use stormwater retention/detention ponds or any other control measures that promote standing water.
  • Runways, taxiways, and any other areas that provide for overland flow shall be deemed permitted pursuant to the State post–construction stormwater requirements.

The new law is eliminating the need for expensive and sometimes unsafe open water at and around airports. I encourage you to see if this might be a solution for your community.

The study examined options to discourage physical stormwater treatment that creates standing water at and near airports while still facilitating the water quality permitting process.

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