Stormwater runoff in EPA’s sights

By May 21, 2013

If you printed and shredded all the federal, state and local research and regulations on stormwater runoff, along with the reams of strategy and sustainability plans, the paper mountain would dwarf Bob Lilly’s 550 tons of shredded carpet.

A landmark 2008 study by the National Research Council found runoff to be the major source of water pollution in urban areas. It breaks the problem into two primary sources, both of which are addressed by the ReFiber Infiltration System that Lilly and his son Josh are working on.

In newer areas, storm drain systems collect runoff in pipes and concrete-lined channels that feed local steams such as New York Creek in El Dorado Hills, which in turn are subject to surges after a heavy rain, damaging streamside ecosystems. Worse still, untreated and potentially toxic runoff flows directly into Folsom Lake, the area’s drinking water repository.

Both Seattle and Portland have storm drain systems and are concerned about pollution in their waterways, and have built extensive rainwater diversion systems. Plans in Portland call for increasing runoff diversion seven-fold by 2025.

Older urban areas lack stormdrain systems, and capture potentially toxic storm runoff in the household wastewater system, increasing volumes of water and toxins at sewage treatment plants after storms, potentially disrupting the large-scale biological processes in play.

Multi-billion dollar green technology plans are being implemented in New York City and Kansas City to manage polluted runoff before it gets to their aging sewer plants.

The EPA cited cities from Oahu to Albuquerque for Clean Water Act violations in late 2010 and 2011, threatening fines and lawsuits against those with no plan to manage their stormwater runoff.

According to a July 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, the EPA was responding to the 2008 study, which found its stormwater regulatory program neither comprehensive or consistent.

Fairfax county VA was cited and fought back, arguing EPA-mandated measures would cost in excess of $200 million, and that the agency lacked the legal authority to specify maximum runoff volumes. In January a federal judged ruled in the county’s favor. Building industry organizations also challenged the specific runoff limits. The EPA retreated to a “best practices” requirement with allowances for situations where runoff limits are not feasible.

Later in April the EPA announced plans to require greater retention of stormwater on construction sites as small as a single acre, with stricter regulations for new development than redevelopment sites. The new rules, scheduled to be enacted by the end of 2014, are only for communities with stormwater systems.

Mike Roberts


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