Stormwater Management Goes Green
Philadelphia’s $2 billion plan to manage its stormwater with green methods—porous pavement, green roofs, and a plethora of trees—got the official nod from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson joined Mayor Nutter and other officials at the Fairmount Water Works to sign the agreement for a 25-year plan that has been described as one of the most innovative and ambitious in the nation.
Greenery planted to soak up rainwater will also beautify streets, which could increase property values. Shaded homes will be cooler in summer, which could lower electricity bills. Air quality should improve.
Philadelphia’s problem is that about 60% of the city’s sewers are a combined system that carries both sewage and stormwater. During heavy rainfall, the system overflows, and untreated water containing raw sewage, litter, road pollution, and other substances spurts from more than 150 overflow pipes into streams and rivers. The overflows total about 14 billion gallons a year.
The project will transform not only how the city handles stormwater, but also how the city looks.
Environmental Groups to Sue Amusement Park
Several Southern California environmental groups plan to sue Six Flags Magic Mountain, located in Valencia, California, for illegally discharging stormwater runoff and trash into the Santa Clara River.
The groups believe that the park has allowed thousands of gallons of runoff containing toxic amounts of copper, zinc, lead, aluminum, titanium and iron, to flow into the river during storms, in addition to trash. This stormwater is untreated, they said, leading to a number of major impacts to the river and coastline.
Park officials have not responded formally to the threat of the lawsuit, but said in a statement that they felt “a responsibility to improve the stormwater process.” The environmental groups say that they are looking for pollution abatement from the park.
School District Stops Paying Fees
The Palm Beach County School District in Palm Beach, Florida, has stopped paying about $550,000 in annual fees to the five cities that handle stormwater runoff from its school campuses.
School District General Counsel Sheryl Wood says, “We cannot in good conscience continue to pay charges for which the school district has no legal obligation to pay.”
Wood cites an earlier case involving the City of Key West and the Florida Keys Community College, in which an appeals court ruled that state entities like colleges and school districts are immune from paying municipal fees.
Officials for the city of Jupiter have decided not to pursue the matter, because court costs would be higher than the roughly $44,000 they stand to lose in stormwater fees.
Meanwhile, Boynton Beach Finance Director Barry Atwood said the city would wait for a higher court to take up the issue of school districts and municipal fees before deciding whether or not to challenge the school district.
In recent years, the school districts in Alachua, Seminole, and Pinellas counties have stopped paying stormwater fees as well.
EPA Proposes New Rules
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to revise stormwater regulations so that logging roads on private and public lands won’t require the same kinds of permits that factories do.
A landmark court case in 2010 had ruled that muddy water running into salmon streams and drinking water reservoirs should be regulated like industrial pollution, requiring a Clean Water Permit. Instead, the EPA would allow regulation under a less stringent system known as “Best Management Practices.”
The EPA is currently reviewing how states handle the issue and plans to issue the new rules by September 30.
Stormwater Pumps Converted to Electric Power
The city of Palm Beach, Florida, is working to improve the reliability of the flood protection system by replacing hydraulic pumps powered by diesel gas with electric submersible pumps. The project is set to wrap up in mid-November.
“Because the motors in the pumps are so old, we are having reliability issues,” said Public Works Director Paul Brazil. “The change to electric from diesel will mean the operation will be a cleaner one.”
The project will increase green space in the park by about 1,675 square feet. Once the project is complete, only two such pump stations in town will be powered by diesel.
Trees to Divert Stormwater
About 1,000 additional trees will be planted along streets in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this fall and spring. This is part of a continuing effort by the city to divert runoff from loading the Huron River watershed with phosphorous and other pollutants.
The city has almost finished planting 1,200 from last fall’s tree allocation. The tree-planting project is separate from and in addition to the planned tree plantings set for this fall for areas in the Mallets Creek watershed.
Because most local tributaries to the Huron River are within the highly urbanized areas of Ann Arbor, there’s a large amount of runoff that enters the river. Officials say the trees will slow and reduce the runoff of nutrients into the creeks. Once fully grown, each tree is estimated to keep from 1,500 to 1,900 gallons of stormwater from entering the watershed each year.
The state of Washington has approved $3.8 million in state grants to fund 7 stormwater projects in Kitsap County near Puget Sound. Part of the plan includes previous parking lots in county parks, renovation of stormwater ponds, and a major stormwater upgrade.
New stormwater infrastructure is badly needed in the area to prevent pollution from rainfall from entering Puget Sound. The funding for the project comes from a voter-approved tax on petroleum products and other hazardous materials and is part of a state-wide appropriation of $54 million.
The project also includes plans for 3.6 acres of porous pavement, and rain gardens. A new outfall system has also been devised to reduce stagnant water, sediment buildup and erosion during incoming tides.
“This money will give communities new jobs, cleaner water and much-needed help for following stormwater permit requirements,” says Governor Chris Gregoire.
Swap Parking for Rain Gardens
Under a new project, some on-street parking in Bellingham, Washington, will be removed to install 36 rain gardens, which would clean polluted stormwater flowing into Whatecom Creek.
“Stormwater is the number-one pollutant to the Puget Sound. We’ve got to get a handle on it,” said Senator Kevin Ranker, who helped craft the budget for stormwater projects.
While funding looked dim for many stormwater projects earlier this year, the legislature decided to fund them all at the last minute. Six out of six projects were funded in Bellingham.
City Considers Doubling Stormwater Fees
Officials in Peachtree City, Georgia, are talking about increasing annual stormwater fees to handle $8.2 million in future capital projects. This means that residential property owners would be paying between $63 and $142 a year— double the cost of the current fees.
The fees will help to cover the additional employees needed to conduct stormwater pipe maintenance, as well as several capital projects. This includes one that will cost $1.29 million to prevent ongoing flooding in several locations; another $2 million project to maintain and rehabilitate several retention ponds in the city, and another 2.5 million for a program to re-line existing pipe to improve its lifespan.
While the city may well raise the fees, there was some discussion of making the fees payable twice a year instead of once a year, to soften the blow somewhat. No final decision was made on the fee increase recommendation.
Storm Drains to be Installed
Seattle is planning to install dozens of landscaped drainage systems in front of homes across 31 neighborhood blocks in the southwest part of the city. County officials see the project as the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly way to prevent heavy rains from overwhelming the sewer pipes and storm drains.
The goal is to protect nearby Puget Sound from untreated sewage and polluted runoff, but some residents are petitioning to stop the project. They see the drainage systems as a potential safety hazard, an eyesore, and an inconvenience to parking.
Developer Pleads Guilty
A developer whose project led to more than 50,000 tons of material being washed downstream has become one of the first western Washington residents to plead guilty to intentionally violating the Clean Water Act.
Bryan Stowe, his company, Stowe Construction, and an employee all pleaded guilty to intentionally violating the act, which is a felony. The company will face up to $750,000 in fines, and Stowe could face up to three years in prison, though he is unlikely to receive that much.
Although Stowe submitted a plan to manage silt runoff while clearing land for a building project on 52 acres in Pierce County in 2006 and 2007, the plan was ineffective, and 50,000 tons of material ended up washing downstream. A $36,000 fine had been issued against Stowe while the project was ongoing, but he declined to pay it. One of his employees admitted to doctoring water-sampling tests.
A portion of the fine will go towards restoration work in areas affected by the discharges.
City Searching for Flooding Solution
Glen Ellyn, Illinois, may increase the size of its stormwater retention lake in order to reduce future flooding in the suburban Chicago village.
The lake, which is man-made, holds stormwater for a one-square mile area, discharging it through underground pipes to a nearby pond and the DuPage River. Major storms in 2008 and 2010 led to the lake flooding, which damaged nearby homes, roads and a park.
A consultant hired by the city has recommended lowering the lake’s water level, which would actually allow for more storage, as well as removing a restrictor plate on an outlet pipe. Since both involve no cost, they already have been implemented by the village.
The lake was originally intended to detain stormwater from “100year flood” events. However, despite changes, it still may have difficulty handling “48-hour critical duration” events.