On September 17, 2015 Blue Water Baltimore, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Rivers submitted a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking the agency to require certain types of private properties to reduce the amount of stormwater pollution they send into the Back River.
Becky Hammer, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Staff Attorney in the Water Program, published a piece about the petition and explained why stormwater is such a problem for the Back River and what our legal reasons are for the petition.
Becky writes on her post, “NRDC & Partners Petition EPA to Take Action on Polluted Urban Runoff in Baltimore“:
Certain types of land uses (commercial, institutional, and industrial sites) generate a lot of pollution because they tend to have a lot of impervious area, mainly in the form of parking lots and rooftops. These impervious areas produce large amounts of runoff containing very high levels of sediment, nutrients, and other contaminants. But most of these sites are not required to do anything about the mess they’re making. Instead, the responsibility for cleaning it up has fallen to local governments that are struggling to meet federal pollution reduction mandates. The highly urban Back River watershed has a particularly large number of these sites.
Maryland has adopted pollution control standards for new development and redevelopment projects, which help to reduce runoff from those sites. But sites developed before the year 2000, when the standards were adopted, didn’t have to do anything to reduce their runoff pollution. Baltimore County records indicate that as much as 88% of the watershed was already developed prior to that time. That’s a lot of land area with minimal or no pollution controls in place – which helps to explain how the Back River got to be in such bad shape in the first place.
The legal basis for our petition is a provision in the Clean Water Act known as “residual designation authority,” or RDA. According to the Act, if EPA determines that a category of stormwater discharges is contributing to water quality violations, the agency must exercise its residual designation authority and require those dischargers to apply for permits. Those permits must then require the sites to limit the amount of pollution in their runoff, such as by mandating actions or steps that they must undertake. Ideally, the permits would require the sites to implement green infrastructure practices that capture rain where it falls and prevent stormwater pollution at the source. Read more from Becky Hammer’s blog post on NRDC’s website.
Treating Stormwater Pollution at the Source
Even with new stormwater utility fee revenue, we know that local government capacity to address restoration requirements is stretched thin. Further, we know that most of the potential stormwater restoration opportunities are located on private land. Stormwater pollution is more efficiently treated at its source, which is the property where is it generated. Not enough public land is available to capture and treat the tremendous quantity of stormwater that flows off of parking lots at big-box stores and college campuses into our publicly-owned streets, storm drains, and streams.