EPA Stormwater Pilot Program in Charles River Watershed

WaterWorld is reporting on an extensive new EPA stormwater pilot program in the Charles River watershed in Massachusetts. Some highlights are:

“EPA will require new measures to control stormwater pollutions in the Charles River watershed in Massachusetts. Under a pilot program that could be expanded to the entire watershed and perhaps the nation, large industrial, commercial, and multi-family residential facilities in three communities in the Upper Charles River Watershed will be required to reduce polluted runoff from their properties… The EPA action will apply to properties with two or more acres of impervious area (parking lots, roofs, roadways, etc.) in the towns on Milford, Franklin and Bellingham.”

And:

“Large impervious areas are one of the last major unregulated sources of water pollution, and a chief culprit in dramatic algae blooms… that have plagued the Charles in recent years…

The proposed pilot program will shift some of burden [of managing stormwater that flows from public and private properties] to the private properties such as mall parking lots and commercial and industrial office parks that shed substantial volumes of contaminated water through municipal pipes. Under existing regulations, virtually all of these facilities are not required to control stormwater, even as municipal governments face tightened stormwater regulations…

Under the EPA program, permittees will be required to infiltrate stormwater into the ground where feasible, thus restoring underground aquifers’ use as a drink source… Ultimately, these requirements will likely apply to the entire Charles River watershed. EPA will work with communities and regulated facilities to develop financing approaches, for example stormwater utilities, which have been successful elsewhere.”

Apologies — I know this is a lot of quoting for one measly blog post, but it’s all such important stuff and I didn’t trust myself to paraphrase it nearly well enough.

It’s heartening to see the EPA and many communities thinking creatively about these Very Important Issues. Cities and towns are facing these questions as a result of federally-mandated regulations for discharging stormwater. The question is increasingly becoming: should we change the way we are developing, or should we put a lot of money in to a bigger (and deeply imperfect, ecologically — and functionally — speaking) sewer system? Lots of developers and business owners aren’t going to like stormwater utility fees as a method for encouraging the preservation of pre-development hydrology, but it’s at least one tool in the toolbox.

We’ve got the opportunity to really change the way we build for the better, and that’s a good thing.

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