Jan. 16, 2012 04:27

Stormwater news

County Introduces Stormwater Controls

Federal regulators placed the Chesapeake Bay on a new diet—a “pollution diet.” Over the next 15 years, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, will spend millions of dollars to comply with new federally mandated stormwater controls.

The federal government designed the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet to improve the overall health of the bay. The diet forces Anne Arundel and other counties adjacent to the bay to put in place upgraded stormwater controls with the goal of achieving the pollution levels outlined in the plan by 2025.

Stormwater runoff is blamed for washing sediments, nitrogen and phosphorous into the Chesapeake Bay. All three pollutants deplete the oxygen levels in the bay, causing the formation of “dead zones” each summer.

Anne Arundel plans to re-engineer a series of streams in the county to fix their eroding banks and allow them to properly move stormwater. Additionally, the county plans to remove a series of pipes and culverts that dump stormwater into streams. They will also initiate a wetland restoration project on a number of holding ponds around the bay.

City Enacts Action Plan

In response to the National Resources Defense Council’s new “Emerald City” six-point metric scale aimed at improving sustainability in urban centers, city officials in Nashville, Tennessee, initiated an action plan to incorporate green infrastructure in the fight against stormwater runoff.

Nashville’s Department of Water and Sewage Services highlighted three areas of green development in the new version of its Stormwater Management Manual. The city pins its hopes for controlling stormwater runoff on bioretention, permeable pavement and green roofs.

The new manual integrates the stormwater initiative with other guidelines for erosion and sediment control during site construction.

Stormwater Survey

Residents of single-family detached homes in Falls Church, Virginia, received a survey from their city regarding stormwater management. The survey was the result of a recent town hall meeting to discuss the city’s stormwater and flooding issues.

The Falls Church Department of Public Works plans to focus its attention on the drainage issues facing residents. The Department hopes that survey responses will help them gain a better understanding of the specific stormwater runoff problems plaguing their city.

City Council to Discuss Fine

Huntington, West Virginia’s City Council will meet to discuss a $156,000 fine levied against the city by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA issued the fine for violations of the city’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Permit (MS4).

The federal government has mandated that more than 40 U.S. cities, including Huntington, devote considerable resources to addressing stormwater runoff. The

EPA’s stated objective with the issuance of the MS4 permits is to minimize pollution.

In levying the fine, the EPA cited Huntington’s failure to adequately address illicit discharges, construction site runoff and direct pollution from municipal operations. EPA inspectors discovered the violations during a routine inspection of the city’s MS4 program.

The city council has already requested that the EPA either reduce the fine or put the money to use on various stormwater projects.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Many trees, actually. Environmental officials in Brooklyn, New York, unveiled four new green spaces near Prospect Park, part of a plan to keep stormwater overflow from washing sewage into the Gowanus Canal.

The spaces are essentially stormwater pits filled with mulch and shrubs. They are expected to absorb up to 7,200 additional gallons of runoff during rainstorms.

The officials responsible for the green spaces admit that, at just over 80 square feet, the new spaces will be insufficient to prevent stormwater runoff from overflowing into the Gowanus Canal during the most severe storms.

For this reason, residents of downtown Brooklyn remain skeptical. Many have lived for generations with the omnipresent stench wafting off the heavily polluted canal. They aren’t quite convinced that the four small, green spaces will absorb enough stormwater to shield their waterway from the noxious runoff.

Developers Bemoan

Regulations Stormwater regulations that developers in Charlotte, North Carolina, contend are confusing and unworkable, will remain in place. The city council overwhelmingly defeated proposed changes, due to concerns over the city’s longstanding conservation requirements.

The current stormwater regulations overlap with the city’s tree ordinance. If the proposed changes were approved, arboreal conservation requirements would default to a less stringent standard, effectively eliminating the overlap.

Opponents of the changes alleged that the new rules could have the effect of eradicating 1,050 acres of

urban canopy. Developers rebut that the current stormwater regulations are unnecessarily burdensome on low-density developments, and that 1,050 acres only amounts to about .43 percent of Charlotte’s tree canopy.

Environmental concerns won the day in council. For now, developers remain subject to the ordinance requiring projects to minimize the amount of polluting stormwater that runs off into streams and creeks.

Portland Completes

Ambitious Project Twenty years ago, activists in Portland, Oregon, presented their city council with a glass jar con taining more than 50 dirty syringes collected along the Willamette River. The stunt put the city’s sewage contamination problem—stemming from unmanaged stormwater runoff—on prominent display.

“It was a visible image of something that was otherwise invisible,” said activist Nina Bell.

Soon after receiving the syringes, the city council initiated the biggest public works project in the history of Portland—a $1.4 billion pipeline designed to divert raw sewage mixed with storm-water from flowing into the Willamette River.

Before construction of the pipeline, stormwater runoff carried sewage from the city’s archaic mixed sewer system into the river and slough. Storms powerful enough to cause the overflow plague Portland as often as 50 times per year.

Fee Hike

A stormwater fee increase approved by the city council will have Pickerington, Ohio residents paying an additional $51 in 2012. The 6% increase in fees brings the monthly residential total up from $4.00 to $4.25.

The City Council also approved new commercial stormwater fees, but the individual rates vary depending on the size of the business.

Revenues raised by the increased fees will be used to fund a public works project to improve stormwater drainage. City manager Bill Vance, a staunch proponent of the rate hike, said that his department is trying “to get more aggressive with stormwater improvements citywide.”

City engineers estimate the cost of the enhanced stormwater drainage project at $350,000. explains the reason for the rain garden as “a water quality issue and and water volume issue. These capture water so it’s not sitting on the streets, and not causing flooding after a rainstorm.”

The new garden and bioswale will cost the city $99,517. Half of that was paid for by an I-Jobs grant obtained through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; the other half was paid from the city budget.

Cities Charged to Increase Funding

If the Grass Lake Water Management Organization (GLWMO) has anything to say about it, funding for stormwater management in Roseville, California, will see a nearly five-fold increase from $37,000 to $150,000.

GLWMO charged the cities of Roseville and Shoreview to improve efforts at protecting city water and stormwater quality through better management of watersheds and runoff.

Members of GLWMO said that this funding increase is the minimum needed to meet state water quality standards. Recommendations that emerged from the meeting of GLWMO included an overhaul of the organization’s structure and the introduction of a new stormwater utility fee to help finance expanded operations.

Iowa City Finishes Rain Garden

In an effort to reduce stormwater runoff in an attractive way, the city of Carter Lake, Iowa, has constructed a rain garden. This is the third one built by the city, as part of long-term lake restoration work. The new garden features native prairie grasses and flowers, along with a bioswale.

A resource planner with Pottawattamie County explains the reason for the rain garden as “a water quality issue and and water volume issue. These capture water so it’s not sitting on the streets, and not causing flooding after a rainstorm.”
The new garden and bioswale will cost the city $99,517. Half of that was paid for by an I-Jobs grant obtained through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; the other half was paid from the city budget.

National Runoff Standards Urged

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater pollutes our national water supply each year. In an effort to influence the national dialogue and urge the EPA to introduce stricter standards, the NRDC issued a report touting Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for tackling its stormwater management problems.

Milwaukee was once an offender of the highest order, dumping untreated sewage mixed with stormwater into Lake Michigan year after year. The NRDC is now recognizing the Brew City for making strides against stormwater runoff using methods that integrate conventional solutions and green solutions, such as rain gardens and permeable pavement.

The report credited 13 other cities—from Seattle to New York— as leaders in the field of stormwater management. The NRDC hopes that the EPA will adopt new policies that incentivize this successful blend of pollution control and green infrastructure.

DOT and Contractor Fined

Georgia’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and contractor E.R. Snell were fined $100,000 for erosion violations on a segment of the Fall Line Freeway project in Wilkinson County. The DOT issued a stop-work order on the project for several months last year, over concerns that runoff was dirtying creeks enough to harm a local endangered fish species.

The penalty is part of a consent order between the DOT, the state Environmental Protection Division and the contractor. This violation is the second one related to major violations on the same project. The previous penalty totaled $84,375 and was split evenly between Snell and the DOT.

“This is unacceptable, obviously, for us, the contractor and the residents down there, who expect us to preserve the integrity of their streams and waterways,” said a DOT spokesperson.

Most of the violations are related to major rain events. Still, the design and erosion plan was supposed to be able to handle runoff during heavy rains. The most recent consent order lists violations on 11 different occasions between December 2009 and August 2010.

Cities Recognized for Stormwater Management

Commendations found their way to 14 U.S. cities grappling with stormwater management issues, courtesy of the National Resource Defense Council. In its recent Rooftops to Rivers II report, the NRDC applauded these communities’ efforts to capture stormwater where it falls and divert it to nourish plants and feed groundwater supplies.

Among the 14 communities lauded, Chicago, Illinois, leads the way on green infrastructure and public works. Chicago has initiated a number of green infrastructure projects to help manage the runoff pollution endemic to the city’s 19th century combined sewer system. Stormwater mixed with sewage regularly floods into the Chicago River, where it joins the Mississippi.

The centerpiece of the Chicago’s stormwater management strategy is the Urban Forestry Program,

which set a benchmark of 20 percent citywide tree canopy coverage by 2020. The city’s green roof program provides incentives to building owners who install green roofs, such as tax credits and expedited building permits. A third initiative, aptly titled “Greening Chicago’s Alleys,” aims to improve water infiltration and reduce runoff by repaving the city’s 13,000 alleyways with permeable pavement.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the city touts economic advantages to its stormwater management program. Green roofs, street trees, rain barrels and permeable pavement are actually more cost-effective than traditional infrastructure like water treatment facilities and concrete pipes.

Stormwater Fee Suspended

When is a fee not really a fee?

When it’s a tax. In compliance with a recent ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court, the City Council of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, suspended its stormwater management fee.

The State Supreme Court held that a similar fee in neighboring Lewiston, Idaho, amounted to a hidden tax. Because this stormwater “tax” was not authorized by the Idaho State Legislature, the court struck it down as unconstitutional.

Lewiston officials asserted that the money raised by the stormwater fee was necessary to keep the city in line with the Clean Water Act, a federal regulation that limits pollution from stormwater runoff. The court was not persuaded.

In an effort to avoid running afoul of the new ruling, council members in Coeur d’Alene took the affirmative step of suspending their city’s analogous fee.

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