Welcome back to CSN’s monthly “Stormwater Spotlight”! This month we are heading out to the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to shine the spotlight on a non-traditional stormwater program: the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia!
If you would like to nominate a program for a future feature, please contact David Wood (Wood.CSN@outlook.com).
The Martinsburg VAMC provides health care services for military veterans on its beautiful 175-acre campus in the western reaches of the Potomac River watershed. Thanks to a dedicated staff and innovative sustainability program, the Martinsburg VAMC has repeatedly gone above and beyond to improve their facilities for the veterans they serve, while promoting environmental stewardship and water quality protection. Originally given an MS4 permit designation by WV DEP, the VAMC was able to demonstrate that greater than 95% of stormwater runoff is captured and treated on-site, meaning they now only require a national discharge permit.
Recent research indicates the potential to improve health outcomes by providing patients with more frequent exposure to natural environments, leading to a push across the healthcare profession towards nature-based healing. At the Martinsburg VAMC, sustainability has been part of their ethos for over a decade, and the recent attention just helped reinforce the results they had already been seeing. All long-term care facilities at the VAMC are designed with stormwater management and green infrastructure in mind. Because
stormwater management is always assumed, it allows for the primary focus to be on functionality for the veterans. Over the past several years, pollinator meadows, a stormwater retention pond and over 500 trees have been added to an area of campus that doubles as a nature trail and community garden for veterans staying at the facility.
The VAMC uses integrated project teams when planning new stormwater management or sustainability features. Each team will have engineers, stormwater staff, and members from the grounds and maintenance crew to make sure each project is designed with longevity and maintenance in mind. This also helps to foster a sense of ownership in each new project and creates an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration.
According to Robert Moore, the medical center’s Green Environmental Management System (GEMS) program manager, that staff ownership of their green initiatives is the key to their program’s success. While VAMC leadership has always been supportive of efforts to experiment with new stormwater techniques and innovative green initiatives, many of the new ideas and programs begin at the staff level.
“One of the greatest challenges is sometimes having to say ‘no’ to a great proposal from a member of our staff”, said
Moore. Recent approved staff ideas have ranged from a cigarette butt recycling program that has collected over 120 pounds of cigarette trash in the first six months since its launch, to planting a strip of wildflowers that would serve as the homerun fence on the VAMC baseball field. These green ideas also extend to “good housekeeping” practices like their metal scrapyard with absorbent booms installed around perimeter to filter metal runoff, or their car wash facility that uses 95% runoff captured from the adjacent building.
While funding is always a challenge, the integrated approach to project design and selection has paid dividends. Looking at the full lifecycle value has helped justify many of the expenses in the program. When evaluating potential projects, the VAMC’s stormwater team look at the full lifecycle of the practice and generally find that incorporating green infrastructure or improved stormwater management provides a cost savings compared to standard design. This is in addition to the competitive edge given to environmental initiatives during the VA grant application process.
Consistent staff involvement and strong leadership on the ground are essential for a successful stormwater program and are hallmarks both among federal facilities, as well as industrial sites and local municipal operations. Starting with small, operations-level changes can snowball and create a culture that inspires innovations and cost-savings that provide co-benefits for the community served by the program. The Martinsburg VAMC is a great example of how integrating stormwater management and sustainability as part of the culture can make a huge difference when it comes to water quality protection.