When Senator Edmund Muskie led efforts to draft the Clean Water Act almost 40 years ago, large rivers like the Androscoggin in his home state of Maine, polluted by industrial discharge, were his inspiration. Today, since point sources have been subject to stringent technology-based effluent limitations for over 30 years, a major source of water pollution comes from the pollutants that stormwater picks up while flowing across our built landscapes. Although point sources are still a major focus of the Clean Water Act, more and more attention is being paid to stormwater and the water resource impacts that stormwater causes. Increasingly, this is requiring property owners to think about costs and the implications of these new regulatory requirements.
Here are three snapshots of recent EPA actions in Region 1 to address water bodies thought to be impaired primarily by stormwater, and the early indication of costs to comply.
Long Creek, Maine
Long Creek is an urban impaired stream with a watershed of approximately 3.5 square miles in and around South Portland, Maine. The watershed is comprised of approximately 30% impervious cover, which has led to an inability to achieve its designated water quality standards. EPA determined, and various studies have corroborated, that stormwater discharges from impervious surfaces equal to or greater than one acre were causing or contributing to water quality violations. This finding allowed EPA to exercise its Residual Designation Authority and require this category of dischargers to obtain NPDES permits. With this designation, approximately 90% of the impervious area in the Long Creek watershed is now under the permitting jurisdiction of the NPDES program. The Long Creek Watershed Management Plan (now a part of the general discharge permit in Long Creek) estimates the costs of the first phases of restoration to be close to $15 million or about $4.3 million per square mile. These costs will be shared by the regulated entities including municipal and state agencies.
Charles River, Massachusetts
In contrast to the relatively small Long Creek watershed, the Charles River drains a watershed area of 310 square miles. However, both watersheds share the similar characteristics of urbanized landscapes and the subsequent impairment largely because of polluted stormwater runoff. In exercising its Residual Designation Authority, EPA determined that stormwater discharges from property containing impervious surfaces equal to or greater than two acres cause or contribute to water quality violations and are therefore subject to NPDES stormwater permitting requirements. EPA has issued a draft NPDES General Permit for three towns in the Charles River Watershed, which would require all impervious surfaces of two or more acres to implement a comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan and a Phosphorous Reduction Plan. Preliminary estimates of cost as developed by EPA in 2009, indicates that the structural management cost of regulated facilities within this watershed is between $60 and $90 million for the 48 square mile regulated watershed area or between $1.3 and $1.9 million per square mile. These are only construction costs and do not include design, legal, or administrative costs of implementation.
Bartlett, Centennial, Englesby, Morehouse and Potash Brook Watersheds. Chittenden County, Vermont
On July 19, 2009, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation gave notice that it was exercising Residual Designation Authority for stormwater discharges to five watersheds in Chittenden County that fail to meet water quality standards, each of which has an EPA-approved TMDL. As was the case in the Long Creek and Charles River watersheds, the cause of impairment in Chittenden County was polluted stormwater runoff that resulted from urbanization and impervious surfaces. The Residual Designation applies to all stormwater discharges from impervious surfaces that are not covered by the MS4 General Permit or another NPDES permit. This is the broadest use of Residual Designation to date, as it applies to every contributor of stormwater, without a size threshold. In order to permit these dischargers, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources intends to issue a general stormwater permit for dischargers brought under NPDES permitting authority as a result of the designation. Preliminary estimates of compliance costs as reported by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources are approximately $45 million for the 11 square mile area or $4.12 million per square mile.
Implications for the rest of the country
These examples show that previously unregulated properties that discharge stormwater into impaired waterbodies can easily come within the scope of NPDES permitting requirements and at a significant new cost to private landowners, municipalities and state agencies. These New England developed watersheds are no different from thousands of urbanized watersheds across the country in terms of land cover or impervious cover, it is a reasonable expectation that retroactive and comprehensive stormwater compliance may cost between $2 and $4 million per square mile in developed areas in the first phases of implementation. Are we witnessing the next major phase of the Clean Water Act? Is this the future of watershed management in urbanized areas? Will this approach be effective? More on this topic soon.
Contributed by our Stormwater team