Stormwater reform poses problems

November 2006 » Columns
U.S. water quality is under attack by the Stormwater Enforcement and Permitting Act of 2006 (H.R. 5558). This bill seeks to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act with regard to permitting and enforcement for residential construction activity. It is the position of the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) that this bill will cause difficulties for stormwater regulators and lead to a degradation of water quality in the United States.
International Erosion Control Institute

U.S. water quality is under attack by the Stormwater Enforcement and Permitting Act of 2006 (H.R. 5558). This bill seeks to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act with regard to permitting and enforcement for residential construction activity. It is the position of the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) that this bill will cause difficulties for stormwater regulators and lead to a degradation of water quality in the United States.

IECA supports streamlining of the permitting process, but in its current form this bill could pose a serious threat to our environment. The changes to the law that are being proposed by the bill could make enforcement of stormwater regulations on residential sites nearly impossible. It also doesn't address commercial development sites.

The IECA believes there are three major issues of concern: transferring establishment and enforcement of stormwater regulations from the federal government to the state; the proposal that the first violation on a residential site go unpunished; and the elimination of permits for some sites, including those with a "minimum potential for soil erosion."

Because states enforce the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) differently, IECA is concerned that Section 4 of this bill strips the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to force NPDES compliance in states that do not enforce the current regulations.

For states that do enforce compliance, funding for stormwater programs will become more of a concern if H.R. 5558 is approved. Under this proposal, states that issue stormwater permits will be prohibited from receiving any of the money paid to the federal government for penalties or fines.

This is the equivalent of an unfunded mandate: Asking states to provide the manpower and resources and then giving all the money to the federal government. At some point, states won't be able to afford to enforce the law.

The act of enforcement also will become more challenging. The bill proposes that permit violators be given the opportunity to correct a problem before initiation of enforcement begins. Once a violation is identified, the stormwater permit administrator may "reasonably request" corrective action.

With decreased funding for enforcement, the lack of initial enforcement increases the chances that developers who violate their permits will not be caught or fined. IECA also believes this will jeopardize water quality.

Although the building industry needs some relief, this bill is not the answer. It gives too much away. By the second or third "strike," the damage done by lack of controls may be beyond a reasonable fix.

IECA is also concerned that H.R. 5558 would allow developers to bypass the permit process on sites that discharge stormwater to Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer Systems (MS4) and for sites that are determined to have a "minimal potential for soil erosion." The collective discharge from many sites that have a "minimal potential for soil erosion" could have a significant impact on water quality.

The International Erosion Control Association (IECA) is the world's oldest and largest association devoted entirely to helping members solve the problems caused by erosion and its byproduct – sediment. For more information about the Stormwater Enforcement and Permitting Act, including comments from IECA members and IECA's official position statement, visit IECA's government relations blog at http://iecagrc.wordpress.com.

Send your comments to civilconnection@cenews.com.


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