Stormwater Champions: Remaining Progressive a Decade Later

In this article from the Stormwater Report, Mike Rolband, founder of Wetland Studies and Solutions, a Davey Company, talks about leading the shift toward low-impact development.

Posted: Dec. 11, 2014 

Still in its early stages, the stormwater sector continues to evolve in a changing scientific and regulatory landscape. Stormwater champions across the U.S. and world are shaping this emergent field and have made significant contributions by trying innovative solutions that go above and beyond regulatory requirements, making new research discoveries, pioneering progressive policies, and finding new ways of training professionals and engaging the public.

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In the first of the Water Environment Federation’s new Stormwater Champions series, we interviewed Mike Rolband, founder of Wetland Studies and Solutions (WSSI; Gainesville, Va.). Rolband has left a significant mark on the Washington DC region by serving in numerous advisory roles in local and state government and has helped write laws for Virginia on wetlands issues and waters of the state. Rolband created Virginia’s first stream and wetland mitigation banks and is helping lead the shift toward low impact development (LID) with demonstrations that remain progressive nearly a decade later and continue to provide data and experience.

Pulling into the drive of WSSI, its surroundings immediately set it apart from other office spaces. Constructed in 2005 as Virginia’s first LEED Gold-certified building, company Founder Mike Rolband has swapped traditional concrete for various types of pervious pavement, and natural landscaping lines the building and parking lot. These pavers, however, are just one of seven stormwater LID practices at the site. Despite being built nearly 10 years ago, the building sports a number of features still considered progressive today, from a solar system that provides nearly 20% of the building’s power to rainwater cisterns for landscape irrigation and toilet flushing. In fact, the building’s LID facilities still put it ahead of Virginia stormwater regulations that went into effect this summer.

When Rolband enters the conference room for our interview, his two black Labrador retriever assistants accompany him. WSSI’s dog kennels and pet waste composter are among employee amenities, which also include, but are not limited to, a gym and wellness program, walking trail, and fruit and vegetable garden. Such amenities perhaps make the WSSI workplace the Google of the environmental consulting world.

A Regulatory Catalyst

WSSI refers to itself as a “natural and cultural resource consulting firm” and has worked on more than 2,100 sites in the Washington D.C. area, covering nearly 57,000 ha (140,000 ac). Rolband first was exposed to wetland issues working in the real estate development field. He started his own development company in the late 80’s focused on environmentally challenged sites. This company, now known as WSSI, evolved into an environmental consulting firm for developers affected by Virginia’s Chesapeake Preservation Act (Bay Act) and related regulations. Passed in 1988, the Bay Act is intended to balance economic development and water quality protection with a focus on reducing nonpoint source pollution.

Rolband was asked to determine how these early stormwater and water quality requirements interplayed with development, wetlands, and streams. In unraveling the new regulations, Rolband talked with numerous state and local agency staff, which was the start of his many and varied advisory roles over the past 30 years.

“The problem and the fun of regulation is that it is a combination of science and engineering, but it is also policy and economics,” Rolband said. He emphasizes the importance and difficulty of being able to translate complex technical information into regulations that the public finds acceptable and that solve problems economically.

The Bay Act is intended to preserve the integrity of streams and wetlands, and it paved the way for mitigation of these waterbodies. In 1994, through WSSI, Rolband helped create a wetlands mitigation bank, which was the first in Virginia and the fourth such bank in the U.S. When a public works agency builds a highway or a real estate developer impacts a stream, under the Clean Water Act, they have to compensate by restoring a stream or wetland elsewhere. “Historically that permittee would do the work, but wetland banking was an idea where an independent third-party entity, speculatively, proactively restores the stream or wetland,” Rolband explained. “They then sell the rights to that restoration to the company or entity that impacted the stream or wetland needing mitigation.”

In 2001, Rolband also helped create Virginia’s first stream credit mitigation bank followed by the state’s first urban stream bank in 2006.

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