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Urban Stormwater Management, Report in Brief

Urban Stormwater Management, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
The rapid conversion of land to urban and suburban areas has profoundly altered how water flows during and following storm events, putting higher volumes of water and more pollutants into the nation's rivers, lakes, and estuaries. These changes have degraded water quality and habitat in virtually every urban stream system. To help address this problem, Congress in 1987 amended the Clean Water Act, expanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) oversight from about 100,000 point source permittees (wastewater discharged from industries and sewage treatment plants) to more than 500,000 permittees in order to encompass stormwater discharges from municipal areas, industry, and construction sites. Adding to the challenge of more permittees, it is much more difficult to collect and treat stormwater than wastewater. In light of these challenges, EPA asked the National Research Council to review its stormwater program. The report finds that the program will require significant changes if it is to improve the quality of the nation's waters. This report calls for an entirely new permitting structure that would put authority and accountability for stormwater discharges at the municipal watershed level. A number of additional actions, such as conserving natural areas, reducing hard surface cover (e.g., roads and parking lots), and retrofitting urban areas with features that hold and treat stormwater, are recommended.
The rapid conversion of land to urban and suburban areas has profoundly altered how water flows during and following storm events, putting higher volumes of water and more pollutants into the nation's rivers, lakes, and estuaries. These changes have degraded water quality and habitat in virtually every urban stream system. To help address this problem, Congress in 1987 amended the Clean Water Act, expanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) oversight from about 100,000 point source permittees (wastewater discharged from industries and sewage treatment plants) to more than 500,000 permittees in order to encompass stormwater discharges from municipal areas, industry, and construction sites. Adding to the challenge of more permittees, it is much more difficult to collect and treat stormwater than wastewater. In light of these challenges, EPA asked the National Research Council to review its stormwater program. The report finds that the program will require significant changes if it is to improve the quality of the nation's waters. This report calls for an entirely new permitting structure that would put authority and accountability for stormwater discharges at the municipal watershed level. A number of additional actions, such as conserving natural areas, reducing hard surface cover (e.g., roads and parking lots), and retrofitting urban areas with features that hold and treat stormwater, are recommended.

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Published by: earthandlife on Apr 08, 2011
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Urban Stormwater Managementin the United States
Therapidconversionoflandtourbanandsuburbanareashasprofoundlyaltered
how water ows during and following storm events, putting higher volumes of water andmore pollutants into the nation’s rivers, lakes, and estuaries. These changes have degradedwater quality and habitat in virtually every urban stream system. The Clean Water Actregulatory framework for addressing sewage and industrial wastes is not well suited tothe more difcult problem of stormwater discharges. This report calls for an entirely newpermitting structure that would put authority and accountability for stormwater dischargesat the municipal level. A number of additional actions, such as conserving natural areas,reducing hard surface cover (e.g., roads and parking lots), and retrotting urban areas withfeatures that hold and treat stormwater, are recommended.
S
tormwater has long been regarded as a
major culprit in urban ooding, but onlyin the past 30 years have policymakersappreciated its signicant role in degrading the streams,rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies in urban andsuburban areas. Large volumes of rapidly moving
stormwater can harm species habitat and pollute
sensitive drinking water sources, among other impacts.Urban stormwater is estimated to be the primarysource of impairment for 13 percent of assessed rivers,18 percent of lakes, and 32 percent of estuaries— signicant numbers given that urban areas cover only 3 percent of the land mass of the United States.Urbanization—the conversion of forests andagricultural land to suburban and urban areas—is
 proceeding at an unprecedented pace in the United
States. Stormwater discharges have emerged as a problem because theow of water is dramatically altered as land is urbanized. Typically, vegetation and topsoil areremoved to make way for buildings, roads, and other infrastructure, and drainage networks areinstalled. The loss of the water-retaining functions of soil and vegetation causes stormwater toreach streams in short concentrated bursts. In addition, roads, parking lots, and other “impervioussurfaces” channel and speed the ow of water to streams. When combined with pollutants fromlawns, motor vehicles, domesticated animals, industries, and other urban sources that are pickedup by the stormwater, these changes have led to water quality degradation in virtually all urban
streams.
In 1987 Congress wrote a new section into the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant DischargeElimination System to help address the role of stormwater in impairing water quality. This system,which is enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has focused on reducing pollutants from industrial process wastewater and municipal sewage discharges—“point sources”of pollution that are relatively straightforward to regulate. Under the new “stormwater program,”
Photo by Roger Bannerman
 
the number of permittees in the National PollutantDischarge Elimination System has ballooned fromabout 100,000 to more than 500,000, to includestormwater permittees from municipal areas, industry,and construction sites one acre or larger. Not only dostormwater permittees vastly out number wastewater  permittees, it is much more difcult to collect and treat
stormwater than wastewater.
In light of these challenges, EPA asked the National Research Council to review its stormwater  program, considering all entities regulated under the program (i.e., municipal, industrial, and construction).The report nds that the stormwater program willrequire signicant changes if it is to improve thequality of the nation’s waters. Fortunately, there area number of actions that can be taken. The reportconcludes that the course of action most likely to haltand reverse degradation of the nation’s waterways
would be to base all stormwater and other wastewater 
discharge permits on watershed boundaries instead of  political boundaries, which is a radical shift from the
current structure.
The Challenges of Regulating Stormwater
One of the problems in managing stormwater 
discharge is that it is being addressed so late in the
development of urban areas. Historically, stormwater management has meant ood control—by movingwater away from structures and cities as fast as possible. Ideally, stormwater discharges would beregulated through direct controls on land use, strictlimits on both the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff into surface waters, and rigorous monitoringof adjacent waterbodies to ensure that they are notdegraded by stormwater discharges. Future landuse development would be controlled to minimizestormwater discharges. Products or sources thatcontribute pollutants through stormwater—like de-icingmaterials, fertilizers, and vehicular exhaust—would beregulated by EPA at a national level to ensure that themost environmentally benign materials are used.The current regulatory scheme lacks manyof these attributes. EPA’s program has monitoringrequirements that are so benign as to be of little use for the purposes of program compliance. Most dischargershave no measurable, enforceable requirements.Instead, the stormwater permits leave a great deal of discretion to the regulated community to set their ownstandards, develop their own pollution control schemes,and to self-monitor. Current statistics on the states’implementation of the stormwater program, compliancewith stormwater requirements, and the ability of statesand EPA to incorporate stormwater permits with pollution limits are uniformly discouraging.Signicant changes to the current regulatory program are necessary to provide meaningfulregulation of stormwater dischargers in the future.One idea is to focus the stormwater program less
on chemical pollutants in stormwater and more on
 problems associated with increased volumes of water.Some states have used ow volumes as a metricfor controlling and reducing stormwater discharge;other regulators have used the extent of hard surfaces(impervious cover) as a proxy for stormwater  pollutants. These substitutes for the traditional focuson the “discharge” of “pollutants” have great potentialas stormwater management tools because they providespecic and measurable targets. At the same time,they focus regulators on the problems of increasedwater volume, which include a condition known asUrban Stream Syndrome (see image above).In addition, the federal government should provide more nancial support to state and local effortsto regulate stormwater. Today, the stormwater programstill receives much less funding than the wastewater  program despite having many more permittees.
The Case For Watershed Permitting
The report concludes that the most likely wayto halt and reverse damage to waterbodies is througha substantial departure from the status quo—namely
a watershed permitting structure that bases allstormwater and other wastewater discharge permits on
watershed boundaries instead of political boundaries.Watershed-based permitting is not a new concept, butit has been attempted in only a few communities.
High volumes of stormwater discharge have badlydamaged this stream near Philadelphia, which issuffering from Urban Stream Syndrome. Photo byChris Crockett, City of Philadelphia Water Department.
 
The proposed watershed permitting structurewould put both the authority and accountabilityfor stormwater discharges at the municipal level.A municipal lead permittee, such as a city, wouldwork in partnership with other municipalities in thewatershed as co-permittees. Permitting authorities(designated states or, otherwise, EPA) would adopt aminimum goal in every watershed to avoid any further loss or degradation of designated benecial uses in thewatershed’s component waterbodies and additionalgoals in some cases aimed at recovering lost benecialuses. Permittees, with support by the states or EPA,would then conduct comprehensive impact sourceanalyses as a foundation for targeting solutions.The approach gives municipal co-permitteesmore responsibility, with commensurately greater authority and funding, to manage all of the sources
discharging to the waterbodies comprising the
watershed. The report also outlines a new monitoring
 program structured to assess progress toward meeting
objectives, diagnosing reasons for any lack of  progress, and determining compliance by dischargers.The proposal further includes market-based tradingof credits among dischargers to achieve overallcompliance in the most efcient manner, and adaptivemanagement to determine additional actions if monitoring demonstrates failure to achieve objectives.As a rst step to taking the proposed programnationwide, a pilot program is recommendedthat will allow EPA to work through some of themore predictable impediments to watershed-based permitting, such as the inevitable limits of an urbanmunicipality’s authority within a larger watershed.Short of adopting watershed-based permitting,other smaller-scale changes to the EPA stormwater  program are possible. The report recommends thatEPA integrate the three different permitting types so
that construction and industrial sites come under the
 jurisdiction of their associated municipalities.
Stormwater Management Approaches
Even in the absence of regulatory changes, thereare many stormwater management approaches thatcan be used to prevent, reduce, and treat stormwater ows. Central to the EPA Stormwater Program is therequirement for permittees to develop stormwater  pollution prevention plans that include stormwater control measures. When designed, constructed, andmaintained correctly, stormwater control measureshave been demonstrated to reduce runoff volumeand peak ows and to remove pollutants. A classicexample is the removal of lead from gasoline, whichhas reduced lead concentrations in stormwater by atleast a factor of four.
Stormwater control measures are groupedin two categories: nonstructural and structural.
 Nonstructural stormwater control measures includea wide range of actions that can reduce the volumeof runoff and pollutants from a new development.Examples include the use of products that contain less pollutants; improved urban design, for example, of new developments that have fewer hard surfaces; thedisconnection of downspouts from hard surfaces toinstead connect with porous surfaces; the conservationof natural areas; and improved watershed and land use
 planning.Structural stormwater control measures are
designed to reduce the volume and pollutants of smallstorms by the capture and reuse of stormwater, theinltration of stormwater into porous surfaces, andthe evaporation of stormwater. Examples includerainwater harvesting systems that capture runoff 
There are many innovative approaches to stormwater management that can be applied in urban and suburban areas.Chicago’s City Hall (left) was retrotted with a “green roof” to capture stormwater. Photo courtesy CDF Inc. Thedownspoutings on the house (right) drain onto a porous surface instead of onto a driveway. Photo by William Wenk.

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