New stormwater permit designed to improve water quality in eastern Massachusetts

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BOSTON, MA, Jan. 27, 2010 -- Pollution control measures contained in a draft Clean Water permit would help control excessive pollution from stormwater runoff from 84 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.

The new draft permit, known as the "North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit," would require communities to continue to build upon stormwater management programs designed to reduce pollutants discharged from municipal storm drains to rivers, lakes and bays which they started in the previous permit issued in 2003.

Stormwater pollution is a leading cause of surface water quality impairments in Massachusetts, due to elevated levels of nutrients, disease-causing bacteria and other pollutants. The draft permit for the 84 communities is designed specifically to reduce elevated levels of phosphorus in the Charles River, and pathogens in the Charles River, Neponset River and the Shawsheen River. When finalized, the permit will apply to communities in a geographic area north to Newbury and Gloucester, west to Wilmington and south to Weymouth. A complete list of communities is below.

In this draft permit, EPA has applied the success and knowledge of the past six years of effort by these cities and towns to address a significant source of water pollution. The proposed permit includes "best management practices" such as removing illegal sewage connections to storm drains, street sweeping, public education and steps to expand the infiltration of stormwater rather than diverting stormwater into sewer systems. These measures will help prevent water pollution caused by stormwater in Massachusetts.

"Our work to revise this permit will have tangible benefits for these communities and our environment. Controlling pollution from stormwater will mean fewer days that beaches and shellfish beds are closed due to high bacteria levels, and a healthier environment for everybody to enjoy," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator for EPA's New England office. "We want to make sure that today's investments provide good returns for a cleaner, healthier environment and vibrant communities."

This regional Small Municipal General Permit will cover publicly owned storm water systems in urban areas, mostly located in the northeast portion of the Commonwealth. The region covered includes the watersheds of the Charles River, Neponset River and the Shawsheen River, all of which have been the subject of previously approved targeted watershed plans designed to restore these rivers to acceptable state water quality standards.

The new draft permit also follows similar draft municipal stormwater permits for urban areas in New Hampshire. In the coming months, EPA expects to release draft permits covering the remaining urbanized areas of Massachusetts, including watersheds in the southeast coastal area of Massachusetts, the greater Merrimack River watershed, and in watersheds contributing to Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.

To improve the effectiveness of stormwater management programs and reduce the adverse effects of stormwater runoff on surface waters, the proposed permit includes enhanced detection of illegal discharges and requirements to identify, isolate and remove sanitary and other wastes from the stormwater system. The draft permit also includes measures to encourage low impact development and green infrastructure techniques, requirements for monitoring of stormwater discharges, and measures to implement approved watershed restoration plans called total maximum daily loads or TMDLs.

Susan Beede, Policy Director for the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance said, "Stormwater is the biggest polluter of rivers and streams in Massachusetts. It carries pollutants to waterways and damages habitat for fish and other aquatic life, particularly in urban areas. Yet stormwater is also a valuable resource -- it's rainwater -- that we need to treat and infiltrate into the ground to replenish ground water supplies. We hope that EPA's proposed permit will significantly improve stormwater treatment and increase stormwater recharge."

A requirement of the federal Clean Water Act is that these permits are reevaluated every five years to ensure that they continue to protect waters and the environment. The previous permit was issued in 2003.

EPA is seeking public review and comment on the draft MS4 permit until March 31, 2010. EPA will also hold a public meeting and hearing on the draft permit on March 18 at 9:00 a.m. in the Thomas P. O' Neill Federal Building, 10 Causeway Street, Boston Mass. Following consideration of public comments, a final permit should be available later in 2010.

More information on the Draft North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit: www.epa.gov/region01/npdes/stormwater/draft_manc_sms4gp.html

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