Homebuilder to Pay $625,000 Fine
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have announced that the Ryland Group Inc., one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, will pay a civil penalty of $625,000 to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations at its construction sites, including sites located in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Ryland will also invest in compliance programs to improve employee training and increase management oversight at all current and future construction sites. The company is required to inspect its current and future construction sites routinely to minimize stormwater runoff.
“Protecting America’s water resources, like the Chesapeake Bay, by keeping contaminated stormwater from flowing unchecked into our waterways is one of the EPA’s top priorities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance and Assurance.
“This settlement will help protect communities in states across the nation from harmful pollutants in stormwater runoff,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Polluted stormwater runoff can contaminate rivers, lakes and sources of drinking water, and it can be easily prevented with the system-wide management controls and training that this settlement now requires Ryland to implement.”
Seven states have joined the settlement. Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada and the commonwealth of Virginia will receive a portion of the $625,000 penalty. The settlement also includes sites in the states of California, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
County Changes Pollution Goals
New nutrient pollution targets have been set for Charles County, Maryland, by Maryland’s Department of the Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The county hopes to reduce runoff pollution by 2017, with stricter goals being set for 2020.
The targets will help local jurisdictions develop watershed implementation plans, which the EPA requires. The plans will outline strategies to reduce the nutrient load on the local watersheds.
According to an administrator from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the new numbers will require a 15% reduction of nitrogen from agriculture statewide, compared to older numbers. Urban sources are intended to reduce nitrogen pollution by approximately 5% by 2017.
City Faces Steep Stormwater Permit
City officials, business owners, and residents in Salinas, California, are fighting against new stormwater discharge regulations. They say the city’s new permit would cost an estimated $85 million to implement—enough to put significant stress on Salinas’s financial standing.
Project Coordinator Jennifer Epp says the city’s cost estimate is a “vastly different interpretation” of the new rules, compared to the water board’s estimate. She says that the city assumed all commercial and industrial properties would have to undergo expensive renovations, when they will not. Epp estimates the actual cost around $6 million.
The proposed regulations would have the city revamp all of its storm drains so that they catch the trash and litter that flows into them during rainstorms. It will also require the city to monitor residential lawn sprinkler systems and ensure that broken sprinkler heads are repaired in three days. The permit will also require that all such systems have sensors that stop irrigation during rain storms.
Salinas is the only city in the county with the new stormwater permits, as its population of over 100,000 makes them a Phase I level city. In addition to posing an additional cost to the city, the permit could scare off developers by requiring tougher regulations than smaller locales.
Epp said she was a little taken back by the volatility of the city’s response. “It’s important to remember that the permit is in draft form only,” she says. “We don’t really know yet what the final form will look like.”
The deadline for public comment on draft rules was extended to November 3rd. Staff will work on possible changes before a final draft is released in January.
Convention Center Gets Green Roof
Onondaga County, New York, is managing stormwater by going green. Landscape professionals and engineers have finished installing New York’s largest “green roof” on top of the Oncenter Convention Center.
The result is a 1½ acre, 670-ton field of flowering plants that sits four stories above downtown Syracuse. The field is expected to absorb one million gallons of rainwater a year, keeping it out of the sanitary sewer system, and preventing sewage overflow into local Onondaga Lake. The county hopes to keep 250 million gallons of stormwater out of sewers by 2018 as a part of the Project 50 green infrastructure plan.
County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s plan is to complete 50 green infrastructure projects in Onondaga County in 2011. The Oncenter’s green roof is the largest and most e x p e n s i v e p a r t o f Onondaga County’s green infrastructure projects, with a price tag of $1 million.
Builder to Pay $430,000 Civil Penalty
Lindsey Construction Company, Inc., of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and one of its associated limited partnerships, The Links at Columbia, LP, have agreed to pay a $430,000 civil penalty for violations of the federal Clean Water Act and terms of a construction stormwater permit issued by the State of Missouri.
Through a stipulation of settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA Region 7, filed August 31st in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, Missouri, Lindsey Construction and The Links at Columbia agree to pay the civil penalty to the United States to settle a series of construction stormwater violations that occurred during development of The Links of Columbia, a nine-hole golf course and 64-building apartment project in Columbia, Missouri.
EPA Region 7 inspected the construction site in May 2007 and noted failures to implement and maintain practices to minimize runoff, failures to follow a stormwater pollution prevention plan, failure to comply with water quality standards, and failures to conduct site inspections. The EPA determined that the construction site lacked proper erosion controls, leading to an accumulation of silt and sediment in Hominy Branch, a tributary of Hinkson Creek.
Previous inspections by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) in July 2006 and April 2007 also found that the defendants were not complying with stormwater management requirements, resulting in a letter of warning and a notice of violation issued by MDNR.
The EPA issued a separate administrative compliance order to the defendants in August 2007, directing the companies to adhere to the requirements of the construction stormwater permit and take immediate actions to reduce runoff at the construction site.
Stormwater runoff from construction sites can be a significant environmental concern. Construction activity tends to increase soil erosion and runoff, which can choke streams and lakes with sediment. Such runoff, which may contain high levels of pollutants, results in increased turbidity and decreased oxygen in streams, killing fish, destroying spawning beds and suffocating fish eggs. Sediment-laden runoff also blocks light and reduces the growth of beneficial water grasses.
There is a 30-day public comment period and court approval is needed before the settlement becomes final.
EPA Fines City
The city of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, will have to pay fines for failing to comply with a stormwater-management system mandate issued by the U.S. EPA.
The city was required to create a stormwater-management program in 2003, when they were designated as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4).
It required Lebanon to establish a stormwater-management program that minimizes damage from nutrients and pollutants in the city’s storm sewer system.
Currently, the city is working towards compliance. Programs that educate city workers on drainage practices are already in place, and the city is two-thirds finished with mapping stormwater catch basins. According to the current mayor, the city hadn’t addressed any of the items prior to her term.
The mayor feels that the city’s fine may be reduced in light of their progress and poor finances. “The bottom line is that this penalty is for past behavior,” she says. “I think there’s a very good possibility that we could receive a penalty. But I am hopeful we can get it lowered.”
City to Overhaul Stormwater Systems
After a legal settlement with the United States, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer and stormwater control system. The project has an estimated cost of $4.7 billion, and is expected to take 23 years to complete.
The project will implement large-scale green infrastructure to tackle wet weather sewer overflows and stormwater runoff issues. At least $100 million will be spent on green roofs, rain barrels, rain gardens and permeable pavement, in an effort to keep stormwater out of the sewer system. MSD will also spend $230 million to alleviate flooding.
Part of the $4.7 billion will be used to construct three large storage tunnels, ranging from two to nine miles long. St. Louis will also expand capacity at two wastewater treatment plants.
Improvements are intended to limit illegal overflows of untreated raw sewage. The EPA reports 7,000 incidents of raw sewage backing up into homes, parks, streets, and playgrounds between 2001 and 2005.
County Approves Stormwater Regulations
Commissioners in Cowlitz County, Washington, have approved new stormwater regulations. The rules dictate what developers must do to control stormwater pollution generated by construction projects.
Changes to the regulations include an increase in the minimum size of projects requiring stormwater management. Originally, the county proposed that 5,000 square feet be the minimum, bringing the entire county in line with the cities of Longview and Kelso. That was later revised to 7,000 feet, at contractors’ requests.
EPA Testing Stormwater Strategy
The U.S. EPA is developing new watershed-based stormwater permits in the Milwaukee area. The strategies could be put to use nationwide, if successful.
Ideally, watershed permits would allow states to focus on specific problems in a waterway. According to an EPA administrator, an evolving partnership of communities located in the Menomonee River basin could more effectively reduce stormwater pollution, as compared to working alone.
Stormwater permits are normally issued to individual municipalities. This forces communities in the same watershed to focus on the same list of pollutants, even if each contaminant is not a major contributor to water problems in each community.
Milwaukee is one of three states experimenting with this new strategy. Minnesota and New Mexico received grants as well.
Stormwater Basins to be Refurbished
Ocean County, New Jersey, will soon receive funds to refurbish eight stormwater detention basins in an effort to stop nitrogen from seeping into Barnegat Bay. Environmentalists are concerned that nitrogen nutrients from lawn fertilizers and air pollution have contaminated the bay.
Excess nitrogen that ends up in the bay fuels algae blooms, alters the water’s natural chemistry, and causes jellyfish to flourish. According to a county engineer, this project will remove roughly 8,000 pounds of nitrogen from Barnegat Bay each year.
Upgrading the basins themselves will cost $7.5 million, while another $1.6 million is to be spent on a vacuum cleaner/sewer jet truck and three new street sweepers. The project will be funded through two bond ordinances.
New Permits May Bring Higher Costs
Stricter stormwater permits in Lodi, California, means that customers might see an increase in fees. The proposed new permit requires the city and local businesses to examine the stormwater runoff from their parking lots. The intention of the permit is to assess the type of pollution being swept into local waterways.
Stormwater is currently not tested before it enters the local waterways. The city would have to pay an additional $1 million a year to comply with the new requirements, nearly tripling the existing budget of $650,000.
Lodi’s previous permit expired in 2005. California’s Regional Water Quality Control Board is working on a new permit for cities and agencies in the area. Likely, the new permit will be required by early 2012.
Stormwater Treatment Pond
City commissioners in Largo, Florida, have approved $1.3 million for the construction of a stormwater treatment pond system. Officials believe that the project will reduce pollutants in local waterways and restore some natural habitats and treatment systems that existed prior to the development of the area.
According to a city commissioner, much of Largo was built before the invention of retention ponds. He believes that if nitrogen limits continue the way they are, the city will have to treat their stormwater like their sanitary sewer; an expensive alternative to basin improvements.
Largo is pursuing a series of basin studies in conjunction with Pinellas County and other jurisdictions to identify other water quality improvement projects.
Southwest Florida’s Water Management District had awarded up to $750,000 of matching funds toward the project.
EPA Renews Permit
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that their general permit for municipal storm systems will be renewed by the EPA. Revisions to the permit will, hopefully, allow local governments to effectively manage stormwater runoff.
According to a DEP secretary, each municipality covered by the new permit will be able to develop and implement its own Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan. He goes on to say that municipalities will also be able to rely on the state’s existing post-construction stormwater controls.
The existing permit was set to expire in June, 2012; however, the DEP allowed a nine-month extension so that municipalities could examine their current storm sewer systems and apply for the revised permit.
City Files Suit Against EPA
Springfield, Missouri, has decided to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over storm runoff standards. The lawsuit seeks to block enforcement of “total maximum daily load” standards limiting the amount of stormwater flowing into three nearby creeks.
The new standards would require the city to reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into creeks by 30% to 40%. Springfield’s city manager is concerned that the standards will turn Springfield into “a city of stormwater basins.” The possibility that the limits could be included in a new stormwater permit with the Department of Natural Resources was one reason the city decided to file suit now.
The lawsuit specifically attacks the science behind the runoff standards, claiming that reducing stormwater doesn’t guarantee a reduction in stormwater pollutants. It also takes issue with the EPA’s reasoning for changing standards now, saying that the agency is giving into pressure from environmental groups.
The agency has said that it is willing to adapt or revise limits as more data becomes available, but refutes the city’s claims concerning the connection between stormwater and pollution.