EPA Expands Controls Of Clean Water Act Through Storm Water Phase II Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on November 1, 1999 another significant action under President Clinton's Clean Water Action Plan to protect America's drinking water and waterways by curbing one of the greatest remaining sources of water pollution -- storm water runoff.

EPA announced it would reduce storm water runoff from construction sites between one and five acres and municipal storm sewer systems in urbanized areas serving populations of less than 100,000. This new storm water rule builds on the existing program to control storm water runoff from municipalities with populations greater than 100,000 and 11 industrial categories, including construction disturbing over five acres.

EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner, said: "The Clinton-Gore Administration is committed to reducing one of the largest remaining sources of water pollution, storm water runoff. Today we are taking a major step to protect public health and the environment for America's families -- increasing the safety of the water they drink, and the rivers, lakes and beaches they enjoy."

Storm water is water from rain or snow that runs off of city streets, parking lots, construction sites, and residential yards. It can carry sediment, oil, grease, toxics, pesticides, pathogens, and other pollutants into nearby storm drains. Once this polluted runoff enters the sewer system, it is discharged -- usually untreated --into local streams and waterways.

A leading public health and environmental threat, storm water runoff can contaminate drinking and recreational waters. It also remains a major source of beach and shellfish bed closures. Storm water runoff washes sediment from construction sites at a rate of 20 to 150 tons per acre each year. Sediment has been identified as the single largest cause of impaired water quality in rivers and the third largest cause of impaired water quality in lakes.

The new storm water Phase II rule is expected to make approximately 3,000 more river miles safe for boating and protect up to 500,000 people a year from illness due to swimming in contaminated waters. It will prevent beach closures, make fish and seafood safer to eat, and reduce costs of drinking water treatment. Under the expanded program, sediment discharges from approximately 97.5 percent of the acreage under development across the country will be controlled through permits.

The new storm water regulations will control the impacts of storm water runoff through the issuance of discharge permits under the Clean Water Act. Building upon the existing storm water program, storm water Phase II requires municipal storm sewer systems serving populations under 100,000 that are located in urbanized areas to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit under the Clean Water Act. This will result in storm water controls for approximately 5,040 additional municipalities across the country. Types of controls could include public education programs, storm sewer inspections for illegal connections, and ordinances to control construction site runoff.  Permits are expected to be issued for at least 110,000 additional construction sites and over 5,000 municipalities across the country. Construction sites and municipalities will have 90 days and three years respectively to obtain these storm water permits.

The Phase II permitting program has been structured for maximum flexibility. Focusing on "best management practices," each permittee will be able to select those options resulting in the most common sense, cost-effective plan for reducing storm water runoff on a case-by-case basis. Municipal Phase II storm water programs are to be composed of six minimum control measures, including: 

• Public education and outreach;

• Public involvement and participation;

• Illicit discharge detection and elimination;

• Construction site storm water runoff control;

• Post-construction storm water management; and

• Pollution prevention, or “good housekeeping,” for municipal operations.

Municipalities may be able to use existing programs to satisfy these control measures, thereby avoiding program duplication. The use of general, rather than individual, permits is encouraged. There is permitting flexibility for municipal storm sewer systems serving fewer than 10,000 people, including waivers and permit phase-in options. In addition, to control environmental and public health impacts, unregulated facilities and activities that are causing water quality impairments may be brought into the program and required to obtain a storm water permit on a case-by-case basis.

Storm water Phase II requires operators of construction sites disturbing one to five acres to obtain an NPDES permit. Sediment, which runs off of construction sites at a rate of anywhere between 20 and 150 tons/acre/year, has been identified as the single largest cause of impaired water quality in rivers and the third largest cause of impaired water quality in lakes. The additional coverage provided under the storm water Phase II rule will ensure that sediment discharges from more than 97 percent of the land disturbed by construction activity will be controlled under a storm water permit. Types of controls could include filter fences, storm drain inlet protections, and temporary mulching and seeding of exposed land areas.

The new rule also provides incentives for industrial facilities to protect their operations from storm water exposure. At least 70,000 industrial facilities will be able to take advantage of this new permit-ting exemption by protecting their operations from storm water. An example would include covering operations under a storm resistant shelter.

The proposed storm water Phase II rule was issued in January 1998. Both the proposed and final rules were developed with extensive public out-reach and communication, including consultation with a wide cross-section of interested stakeholders. There was a 90-day public comment period on the proposed rule, during which EPA received approximately 500 comments.

The final storm water Phase II rule was published in the Federal Register on December 8, 1999. A copy of the rule and other information is available on the Internet at: www.epa.gov/owm/sw/phase2.