Known as “the River City,” Jacksonville is defined by an abundance of water including the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway and St. Johns River. Jacksonville’s proximity to water, along with its beautiful beaches, U.S. Navy bases and status as a transportation hub, provides steady population growth and a booming economy—but it also brings major flood risk. And, over the years, the water quality and ecosystem of the St. Johns River has been impacted by nutrients, bacteria and metals, throwing off nature’s delicate balance.
To combat these issues while also working to reduce flooding and improve water quality, the city entered into a three-decade-long partnership with CDM Smith and the St. Johns River Water Management District to find solutions and establish standards. The result was a comprehensive master stormwater management plan (MSMP), one of the first of its kind in the U.S., which has guided the city through a broad range of improvements and investments.
Jacksonville’s multi-phase plan, continually revisited since its initiation, has addressed stormwater management from every angle. Its elements include:
- Identifying and categorizing potential flooding, erosion and water quality problem areas
- Establishing a monitoring network and database
- Developing, calibrating and applying U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Stormwater Management Models (SWMMs) for 64 sub-basins in the area serving nine major tributaries to the St. Johns river, covering 800 square miles
- Developing flood control and water quality improvement approaches
More Cost-Effective Stormwater Management
By using natural systems like landscaping, swales, wetland restoration, regional wet detention facilities and stormwater harvesting, Jacksonville has been able to save on implementation and life-cycle costs versus traditional “gray” infrastructure. And because the city recognized the increased cost demands associated with modern stormwater management, the Jacksonville Stormwater Utility was created to sustainably fund projects, programs and services associated with the plan. The Stormwater Utility generates the revenue needed to maintain and improve the city’s stormwater management system and meet both state and federal requirements to protect various natural waterways.
Ultimately, a bold approach has helped to save the city millions by driving cost-effective infrastructure improvements. Coordinating stormwater investments with other ongoing projects, like the Better Jacksonville Plan for infrastructure and environmental improvements, helped achieve greater impacts for less money. And by targeting spending in the right places for the community’s needs and future growth, better models and tools helped Jacksonville make its investments go further and last longer.
Not only have we been able to address the city’s current challenges, we’ve also been able to create the capacity for Jacksonville’s continued growth in the years to come.
Adding Value to Map Modernization
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began a nationwide effort to improve the nation’s floodplain maps in 2006, Jacksonville enlisted the help of CDM Smith to produce Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs) that would accurately represent the city’s current topography as well as provide information on up-to-date riverine and coastal flooding hazards. Jacksonville’s stormwater models were updated and enhanced to reflect the latest data and technology, including a dynamic floodway evaluation tool for SWMM. Assistance from the Florida Division of Emergency Management allowed for even more precise mapping with remote sensing via the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) method, which uses pulsating light to generate 3D information about the area’s surface characteristics.
Building on the technical improvements in mapping, the project utilized GIS technology and decision-support software to identify and prioritize capital improvement projects. Ultimately, the city was able to use FEMA’s map modernization program as a springboard to further advance its ability to invest wisely. CDM Smith’s assistance earned the city Cooperating Technical Partner (CTP) recognition from FEMA.
The map modernization process was a challenging technical exercise that involved an extensive outreach effort to inform and educate the public. More than 1,300 citizen reports of flooding throughout the area were documented and used to identify areas in need of updated floodplain maps. So once FEMA approved of the modernized maps, CDM Smith began reaching out to local technical partners and asking them to review, comment and use the results from the study. By putting value on public education and community outreach, the city was able to encourage and empower the entire community to participate in creating resiliency.
Jacksonville’s holistic approach has helped pay for needed improvements, manage risk and enhance quality of life.