An inside look at the MS4 permit and the Stormwater Assistance Program in West Des Moines

posted by Guest Blogger on Thursday, May 2, 2024

When you look around your community, you might not think about stormwater and where it goes once it flows off our streets, rooftops, and driveways. However, managing stormwater is a critical task that ensures your community is protected from flooding and pollution. The key to achieving this in many urban and suburban areas is the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit—a nationwide permit designed to keep stormwater in check and maintain a healthy environment. 

Svoboda Blog - Stormwater

Stormwater is the water that runs off impervious surfaces like paved roads, rooftops, and compacted lawns. This water comes from rainfall, snowmelt, or surface drainage. As it flows over the landscape, stormwater picks up sediment, contaminants, litter, fertilizer, and other pollutants. Without proper management, this polluted water eventually makes its way into creeks, ponds, and rivers, leading to environmental harm.  

To address stormwater issues, the MS4 permit provides the regulatory framework for monitoring waterways, overseeing construction activities, preventing spills, and educating the public about stormwater management. The permit, which is required by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) under the Clean Water Act, is administered in Iowa by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  

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While the permit establishes essential requirements to prevent pollution, West Des Moines has chosen to take additional steps. By incorporating practices that encourage stormwater to slow down or infiltrate near where it falls even if it falls on an impervious surface, we aim to minimize the impact of runoff and improve the quality of our waterways. This approach goes beyond compliance with our MS4 permit, demonstrating our commitment to a cleaner, healthier environment. 

But an effective stormwater management strategy requires more than just citywide efforts; it relies on the participation of residents and property owners. The West Des Moines Stormwater Assistance Program (SWAP) is designed to bridge this gap, offering a practical way for the community to get involved in stormwater management while receiving financial incentives to do so. Read on to learn more about SWAP. 
What is the Stormwater Assistance Program? 

Svoboda Blog - DrainageThe Stormwater Assistance Program (SWAP) encourages residents to take action by providing reimbursement for a variety of water quality improvement projects on their own properties. The goals are simple: reduce stormwater runoff, collect stormwater for use in yards and gardens, and improve soil quality. By implementing simple practices, residents can contribute to a cleaner, greener West Des Moines, while also benefiting from enhanced landscaping and reduced water bills:  

  1. Rain Barrels - Rain barrels are a straightforward way to capture and store rainwater from rooftops, reducing stormwater runoff while providing a source of water for gardens and lawns. SWAP offers a reimbursement of up to $75 for a rain barrel, making it easier for residents to adopt this eco-friendly practice. 
  2. Svoboda Blog - SQR 3 PaneSoil Quality Restoration (SQR) - Soil Quality Restoration (SQR) is a soil health practice that involves a combination of compost, aeration, and overseeding to rejuvenate lawns. By applying compost, you enrich the soil with organic nutrients, fostering healthier plant growth and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Aeration improves soil structure, allowing better water infiltration and root development, while overseeding enhances grass density for a lush, resilient lawn. SWAP offers a 50% match for SQR projects, up to $1,500 each year, encouraging residents to improve soil quality through these eco-friendly practices, leading to a greener environment and more vibrant landscape. 
  3. Rain Gardens - Rain gardens are specialized landscape features designed to capture rainwater from roofs, driveways, and other hard surfaces, allowing it to soak into the ground. This reduces stormwater runoff, which helps address drainage issues and prevents pollutants from entering waterways. These gardens use native plants, which are adapted to local conditions and have deep roots that promote water infiltration and support local wildlife and pollinators. SWAP encourages rain garden installations by matching 50% of the cost, up to $1,500, promoting this eco-friendly approach to stormwater management.  
  4. Native Landscaping - Native plants are well-suited to our local climate and soil conditions, and they can help manage stormwater while providing habitat for pollinators. SWAP offers a 50% match for native landscaping projects, up to $1,500, making it easier for residents to create sustainable landscapes. 

How to Get Involved  

SWAP is open to all residents and HOAs of West Des Moines, but funding is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. To participate, residents must seek approval from the West Des Moines Engineering Services Department before beginning any work, ensuring that projects align with the program's goals of functionality and water quality.

If you're interested in learning more about the Stormwater Assistance Program, visit the website or reach out to For those living in the greater Des Moines metro, visit the Polk County’s #RainCampaign for information about other stormwater management programs. Lastly, you can visit the Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership website to learn more about programs in other areas of the state. 

Let's work together to keep West Des Moines vibrant and our waterways clean for generations to come. Together, we can achieve clean water and a clean community. 

About the Author

Svoboda Blog - Isaac TableIsaac Svoboda is an Engineering Technician with the City of West Des Moines.

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About The Author

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