California Department of Transportation

California Transportation Journal 2009 Issue 1

In this issue:

Cover Story: Chemists in the nationally renowned California Transportation Laboratory perform a variety of tests, such as this one. This 1972 photo artistically shows Chemical Testing Engineer Ray Warness making a standard solution in a volumetric flask.


Director Message


The Caltrans TransLab


Caltrans Fuel Use


Stormwater Strategies


Battling the Blaze


By: Scott McGowen, Chief Environmental Engineer, Headquarters

National regulators and the transportation construction industry have recognized the Caltrans Statewide Stormwater Management Program with a number of awards for its comprehensive and integrated approach to stormwater quality management.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency gave Caltrans a national award for its strategies to control a large number of pollutants that vary across the complex geography, geology, climate, and population of this large state. Caltrans researched highway run-off and best management practices to prevent run-off, and executed an award-winning statewide public education campaign called, “Don’t Trash California,” said Alexis Strauss, Director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s water division.

“Caltrans’ third-party inspection program is also particularly noteworthy, and is a model worthy of consideration by other state transportation departments. Caltrans managers and staff have challenged themselves to adopt more sustainable practices – and it shows.”

Caltrans constructs more than 400 projects per year statewide, all of which are required to address stormwater pollution prevention to protect the quality of waters downstream.

Congress amended the Federal Clean Water Act in 1987 to establish a “stormwater” National Pollution Discharge Elimination permit program to regulate storm flows from municipal storm drain systems.

tahoe_stormwaterManaging stormwater on public highway systems is difficult, especially in an urban environment, partly because the public uses the highways so intensively. For example, Caltrans has responsibility for about 50,000 miles of highway and freeway lanes, serving 36 million Californians. Meeting the challenges of stormwater management for this 160,000-square-mile state has taken years of study, collaboration, partnership and adaptability.

Caltrans adopted a targeted design constituent approach in 2005, to target highway run-off pollutants that may exceed California’s water quality standards and can be considered treatable by current technology. Caltrans installed several hundred treatment devices statewide to capture and treat stormwater before it discharges into receiving waters. Water quality measures have been incorporated into highway improvement projects’ delivery process from planning, design and throughout construction. Caltrans uses more than nine types of stormwater treatment control devices, including detention and infiltration devices, media filters, and vegetation treatments to protect water quality and improve the environment, while maintaining safety for the traveling public.

Unlike typical stormwater dischargers in cities and counties, highway property is linear, widespread, and has multiple cross flows that require flexibility in accommodating best management practices. Strategies to control pollutants vary due to conditions of geography, geology, climate, population and regulations throughout the state.

Caltrans is partnering with state regulators and other municipalities to improve impaired waters in California by implementing storm­water measures to meet Total Maximum Daily Loads (a mandated watershed plan). To date, Caltrans is participating in more than 45 watershed plans throughout the state. These will improve the quality of downstream rivers, creeks, and bays as a result of minimizing pollutants such as sediments, metals, trash, nutrients, and other pollutants that impair downstream water.

Caltrans has emerged as a stormwater management leader, continually seeking ways to meet challenges with solutions that others can use as well. The key to Caltrans’ progress and success has been the integrated nature of the stormwater program that has developed solutions to protect water quality.

The Department designated a chief environmental engineer to assemble and lead a Headquarters Stormwater Management Team, comprised of managers and other key stormwater staff. This team integrated the goals of the Statewide Stormwater Management Program throughout the Department and collaborated on continued improvements and increased quality control.

Staff from headquarters and district divisions address stormwater issues in the fields of environmental engineering, design, construction (including encroachment permits) and maintenance. Division representatives are responsible for tasks related to their division’s core activities. Those tasks include administering a Stormwater Advisory Team, and developing tools, training, guidance and manuals.

Each advisory team is made up of representatives from Caltrans’ 12 districts and their headquarters counterparts, who develop program solutions for the Stormwater Management Team’s consideration. This allows each function to solve different stormwater issues in their area. The advisory teams meet quarterly to discuss different issues.

Recognizing that state departments of transportation have common stormwater challenges, Caltrans recently hosted the first American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Stormwater Conference. Representatives from 41 state transportation departments, AASHTO, the Federal Highway Administration, academia and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) collaborated at the conference.

Caltrans continues to enhance its unique and advanced program of stormwater quality management to protect California’s beautiful and vast natural resources and to lead transportation agencies nationwide. Improving integrated stormwater programs will enable state departments to be better stewards of the environment.

For more information, contact Scott McGowen
at scott_mcgowen@dot.ca.gov.

In less than a year, Caltrans’ stormwater program earned the following awards:

  • The 2007 National Clean Water Act Recognition Award - Outstanding Stormwater Management
    Received October 15, 2007, from the USEPA.
  • The 2007 Environmental Project of the Year - Stormwater Treatment Pilot Studies at Lake Tahoe, awarded in the Sacramento section and then statewide.
    Received February 19, 2008, from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
  • The Green California Leadership Award (Transportation) - Stormwater Management Plan.
    Received April 8, 2008, at the Green California Summit and Exposition.
  • The Tranny Award: Environmental Enhancement Program of the Year. Stormwater Management Program.
    Received June 4, 2008, from the California Transportation Foundation, (CTF).
  • Outstanding Statewide Stormwater News, Information, Outreach and Media Award, “Don’t Trash California.”
    Received September 23, 2008, from the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA).