Climate change and a warming world are leading to greater amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, giving rise to more volatile weather events. These include larger and more intense hurricanes and other storms that have battered cities, towns and rural areas with flooding that can swamp stormwater systems.
"More frequent and intense downpours, projected for all regions of the country, can overwhelm the design capacity of municipal stormwater management systems," the Environmental Protection Agency says. "Overwhelmed stormwater management systems can lead to backups that cause localized flooding or lead to greater runoff of contaminants such as trash, nutrients, sediment or bacteria into local waterways."
Founded in 2002
Enter StormTrap, an American company that is growing fast from demand for its "concrete" solutions to fix the problem. Founded in 2002, StormTrap designs a variety of underground storage units made of durable, precast concrete that capture the torrents of runoff from rainfall and snow melt in towns and cities. StormTrap has installed thousands of systems as municipalities, businesses, and suburban developers seek to manage flooding and erosion caused by stormwater.
Many municipalities now realize they don't have the infrastructure to manage their stormwater properly
In December, StormTrap partnered with private equity firm Warren Equity Partners to work together to grow the business. William Blair was the exclusive financial advisor to StormTrap.
"Many municipalities now realize they don't have the infrastructure to manage their stormwater properly," says Bob McCormack, president and CEO of StormTrap.
One way landowners can manage stormwater is in above-ground retention ponds. But many times that requires them to buy more land—a limited option as communities expand.
"You can accomplish the same thing on a smaller footprint by putting a stormwater management solution under a parking lot or under green space" says McCormack. "So you're able to reclaim some of that land from a sustainability point and you can operate on a smaller footprint."
Take city parks as an example. "What we're seeing in the public sector is that municipalities will take an established park and are retrofitting it with a StormTrap system underneath the park," McCormack says.
That solution is becoming particularly popular in California, for example, as municipalities redesign or create new parks with large StormTrap vaults underneath to manage rainfall. Moreover, StormTrap has engineered its solutions to also allow towns to store, clean, and reuse the water within their municipality, McCormack says.
In California, which is seeing both drought and storm cycles, that makes StormTrap even more attractive to municipal planners.
Suburban flooding feeds innovation
StormTrap was the brainchild of Utility Concrete Products of Morris, Illinois, which had decades of experience in the precast concrete business.
In the late 1990s, the fast-growing Chicago suburban town of Plainfield began seeing problems with stormwater runoff and flooding as more streets, buildings and parking lots replaced green spaces. The EPA had also just released new regulations requiring local municipalities and industries to better manage stormwater and reduce pollutants in runoff.
"A local funeral home was looking to expand its operation but was unable to accommodate both the additional parking that it desired as well as the new stormwater requirements," said Jamie Hawken, a member of the founding family of Utility Concrete and StormTrap.
The civil engineer working on the expansion reached out to Utility Concrete asking for ideas to help. Their solution was the initial prototype of StormTrap: a precast concrete tank buried under the funeral home's parking lot to trap the stormwater then release it slowly into the municipal system.
The design was patented in 2002 and has been re-engineered over the years to increase efficiency and applications.
Today, one of StormTrap's main product lines consists of precast modular units, ranging in size from 2 feet to 15 feet high. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle—imagine concrete LEGOs—to custom fit each job on-site and create an underground tank that traps water.
The units have also been specially re-designed for use in California and other areas of the world prone to seismic activity.
View StormTrap site construction video
Given the growing incidence of powerful storms, McCormack sees bright prospects for StormTrap's solutions domestically and overseas. The company already has licenses in Canada, Australia, and Malaysia and sees more projects likely in Asia.
"Certainly the China market is of key interest to us because of the sponge city initiatives," McCormack says, citing China's multi-billion-dollar green stormwater infrastructure plan.
China in 2015 announced plans to construct flood-ready "sponge cities" that can divert and soak up flood water. Initially, 16 cities were going to participate but the number has grown to 30. The country's central planners also want at least 70% of their rainwater to be re-used by 2020.
"StormTrap is well-positioned to continue to serve the growing demand for stormwater management systems, and we are excited to help the company expand their geographic footprint and product offering," says Warren Equity partner Scott Bruckmann.