By Katie Lewis, Paralegal
The Saint Consulting Group
Stormwater discharge is generated by precipitation and runoff from land, pavement, building rooftops and other surfaces. The water runoff carries pollutants such as oil and grease, chemicals, metals and bacteria to water sources. It’s not a pretty sight.
These pollutants are then discharged into drinking water, wetlands and sewer systems — they are not absorbed into the Earth naturally. The consequences can be devastating, and developers can help to control the impact.
This runoff may contaminate water sources with human and industrial pollution, toxic materials, and other debris. Also, natural habitats can be lost, crops can fail and the delicate balance of life can be forever damaged due to pollutants seeping into the soil and drinking water of all living things.
Our focus is to explore the impact of stormwater runoff on development, what preventative measures are possible, raising public awareness of storm runoff issues and best practices for developers to be a positive force for stormwater management.
Stormwater runoff can have a number of impacts. As development increases, the natural capacity of the soil and vegetation to infiltrate and take up rainfall decreases, and more rainfall becomes stormwater runoff. The negative impacts caused by erosion of land areas and stream banks can increase flooding and also carry pollutants to surface waters. When construction occurs, the water which no longer has a natural method of absorption can cause serious drainage, pollutant, and sanitation problems. Those problems can also lead to increased runoff, pollutants, erosion and sedimentation.
Mechanisms for controlling stormwater runoff impacts can be grouped into a couple of categories of activies:
• Preventative measures – these measures work to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff through changes in design, operation, or management to minimize or prevent the generation of runoff and the contamination of runoff from pollutants. Preventative measures include land use management practices and source reduction practices.
• Land use management practices– use methods to best plan the way to locate land uses within a jurisdictional area or project site to avoid environmental impacts. Source reduction practices focus on locating the sources of pollutants and implementing design and operational changes that minimize or completely remove these sources. Preventative measures can be very efficient and effective since they are implemented to keep pollutants from ever getting into stormwater.
• Control measures –devices that are put in place to capture stormwater flows and provide pollutant removal through filtering, infiltration, detention, or some related process. These measures may be limited in their ability to efficiently remove some pollutants and may be fairly costly. Control measures also require commitment to long-term operation and maintenance to assure that the measures continue to function properly.
Public awareness of impacts of stormwater runoff
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with regulating stormwater pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Public awareness is an important part of stormwater pollutant reduction. In 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) was established to restore all “Waters of the United States” to their “fishable” and “swimmable” conditions. Point source discharges, which originate mostly from municipal wastewater and industrial wastewater discharges, became all highly regulated wastewater sources. Despite these controls, thousands of water bodies in the U.S. remain classified as “impaired.”
Under the CWA, point source discharges to “Waters of the United States” require National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. To address the nationwide problem of stormwater pollution, in 1987 Congress broadened the CWA definition of “point source” to include industrial stormwater discharges and municipal separate storm sewer systems. On May 16, 2008 the EPA announced a new Construction General Permit (CGP) to replace the permit that expires on July 1, 2008. This new permit has no substantive changes to the current Construction General Permit and will extend the current conditions through July 1, 2010.
The EPA has authorized 45 states to issue NPDES permits. In addition to implementing the NPDES requirements, many states and local governments have enacted their own stormwater management laws and ordinances. Some states’ requirements are much stricter than the federal requirements.
How to continue developing and protect the environment
Developers should follow Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP). A structural stormwater best management practice includes a basin, discharge outlet, swale, rain garden, filter or other stormwater treatment practice or measure either alone or in combination including without limitation any overflow pipe, conduit, or weir control structure that: (a) is not naturally occurring; (b) is not designed as a wetland replication area; and (c) has been designed, constructed, and installed for the purpose of conveying, collecting, storing, discharging, recharging or treating stormwater. Nonstructural stormwater best management practices include source control and pollution prevention measures.
Maintain Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in and around identified Stormwater-Impaired Surface Water Sources. TMDL levels limit the amount of surface water and identify stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces as causing or contributing to a violation of the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality. A TMDL also establishes a limit for the loadings of the pollutant of concern that come from the discharge of stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. Preventing pollution from entering water is much more affordable than cleaning polluted water. Educating developers, engineers and citizens about how to prevent pollution from entering waterways is one best management practice.
Developers, engineers and hydrologists should work together with the State, and EPA regulations to maintain the natural flow of stormwater and protect the environment. By building detention ponds, which are built to temporarily hold water, developers will help to prevent water sources from becoming overwhelmed. These ponds collect stormwater so it seeps away slowly, fill up quickly after a rainstorm and allow solids like sediment and litter to settle at the pond bottom; water is then released slowly.
Residents in every community should be involved in the development of their surroundings. Holding developers to strict standards of environmental protection not only benefits the people in the area, but the Earth we all share, and protect for future generations.
Katie Lewis is a paralegal for The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 781 749 7920