Wednesday, October 15, 2008

EPA's stormwater program needs a significant overhaul to improve its effectiveness and the quality of urban streams

National Academies News: Radical changes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stormwater program are necessary to reverse degradation of fresh water resources and ensure progress toward the Clean Water Act's goal of "fishable and swimmable" waters, says a new report from the National Research Council. Increased water volume and pollutants from stormwater have degraded water quality and habitats in virtually every urban stream system. To provide meaningful regulation, all stormwater and other wastewater discharge permits should be based on watershed boundaries instead of political boundaries. Moreover, the program should integrate stormwater management and land management practices, and focus less on chemical pollutants in the stormwater and more on the increased flow of water.

Following rain or snow in urban areas, large quantities of water flow over impervious surfaces -- such as streets, parking lots, and rooftops -- and pick up various pollutants like garbage, asphalt sealants, motor fuels, and other chemicals. This polluted stormwater is then collected by natural channels and artificial drainage systems and ultimately routed to nearby streams, rivers, and other bodies of water.

Although urban stormwater's role in degrading the nation's water supply has been recognized for decades, reducing that role has been difficult…

EPA's current approach is not likely to produce an accurate picture of the extent of the problem, nor is it likely to control stormwater's contribution to impairing water quality, said the committee that wrote the report. Currently, stormwater and wastewater regulations require separate permits; within stormwater regulations, different types of permits exist for municipalities, industries, and construction sites. The committee recommended that EPA should adopt a watershed-based permitting system that would encompass all discharges -- including stormwater and wastewater -- which could impact waterways in a particular drainage basin, rather than having many individual permits…

An underground stormwater drain, shot by Neurovelho, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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