Federal Stormwater Legislation Introduced

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WV Makes Change to Selenium Standard

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Water groups are supporting federal legislation that would help communities develop advanced stormwater strategies to manage polluted runoff and protect clean water.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-N.M.) have introduced the Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act in their respective chambers.

Udall said, "Our bill provides a cost-effective alternative to reduce the leading cause of water pollution and help communities across the country relieve pressure on aging infrastructure, reduce flooding and create more green spaces, which provide natural filters for pollution. Best of all, it would help create jobs and stimulate the economy at the same time."

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) said polluted runoff carries contaminants into rivers and streams that impact public health as well as reduce the water quality and biotic integrity in receiving waters. Examples of these impacts include beach closures and shutdowns of fisheries. The legislation would create regional centers of excellence; establish planning and implementation grants to support locally-driven, community-based investments in innovative stormwater infrastructure; and promote the incorporation of innovative stormwater infrastructure across the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) policies and programs. No hearings have been scheduled on the bills.

Eileen O'Neill, WEF interim executive director, said, "The impacts of stormwater runoff continue to increase as we develop the landscape, and it is becoming apparent that the use of natural systems such as green infrastructure can be an effective and cost-efficient approach to address these impacts. This legislation, which seeks to establish technical stormwater centers of excellence as well as innovative financing solutions to stormwater infrastructure needs, is closely aligned with WEF's goal of driving innovation in the water sector."

Ken Kirk, executive director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), said, "As more cities and towns across the country pursue creative solutions to manage stormwater and combined sewer overflows, there is a growing recognition that innovative stormwater management techniques can meet these needs in a more cost-effective and environmentally-effective way."

NACWA said communities are implementing innovative technology like green infrastructure to better manage stormwater, save money and improve quality of life more broadly. "This is contributing to a broader shift we are seeing among clean water utilities as they transform from basic providers of wastewater services to full-blown resource recovery agents," the Association said.

Change to Selenium Standard Sparks Debate

Kentucky community and environmental groups have sued the EPA regarding its recent decision to permit the state to change its water quality standards for selenium, a pollutant common to mountaintop removal coal mines.

In mid-November, the EPA allowed the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection to change how toxic selenium pollution in streams and rivers near mountaintop removal mines is measured for the purposes of determining compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The EPA agreed that the state could rely on tests of tissue samples from fish, rather than the current practice of directly sampling the water discharged below mountaintop removal mines and other selenium sources. Selenium can accumulate in fish and aquatic wildlife over time, causing deformities and reproductive failures.

The plaintiffs, in a lawsuit they filed in December in Western Kentucky U.S. District Court, said that the tissue-based standard is scientifically indefensible and that the state has made only vague statements about how it would be enforced.

Eric Chance, a water quality specialist for Appalachian Voices, said, "The main point of this standard is to protect fish, but testing fish tissue can never tell you how many fish the selenium pollution already killed. I don't think EPA or Kentucky has seriously thought through how this rule would work in the real world."

Bruce Nilles, a director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said, "A straightforward approach has been replaced with a highly-complicated system that will be hard to enforce, and it could allow mountaintop removal companies to mine without accountability for the environmental destruction they force on the communities of Appalachia."

Sean Sarah, the Sierra Club's eastern region communications manager, said that other Appalachian states still use stream testing for selenium: "I hate to say it, but this decision goes so strongly against the science that EPA uses, it must have been a political decision."

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now a Houston, Texas-based freelance writer.

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