Construction Site Stormwater Rules Include Numeric Limits

The Environmental Protection Agency has toughened its regulations on stormwater pollution from construction sites.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency has toughened its regulations on stormwater pollution from construction sites.

EPA said its latest rule marks the first time that it has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges.

The expanded regulation is effective in February and will be phased in over four years. It requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

Developers of sites that impact 10 or more acres at one time must monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies.

The agency said soil and sediment runoff is a major cause of water quality problems and it reduces the depth of small streams, lakes and reservoirs.

Separately, EPA was seeking public comment on whether it should extend the 2008 stormwater construction general permit by one year to June 30, 2011. The permit applies only where EPA is the permitting authority (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Idaho, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.).

It regulates the discharge of stormwater from construction sites that disturb one acre or more of land, and from smaller sites that are part of a larger development plan.

EPA said the extension would give it time to coordinate a revised permit with a separate effort underway to establish national effluent limitation guidelines for the construction industry.

Water Quality Database

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has launched a 3-year project to create the largest drinking water quality database in existence. The interactive resource will cover 48,000 communities in 45 states and the District of Columbia, the group said.

In an analysis of 20 million tap water quality tests performed by water utilities between 2004 and 2009, the environmental watchdog group found that water suppliers detected a total of 316 contaminants in water delivered to the public. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set enforceable standards for only 114 of these pollutants.

Another 202 chemicals with no mandatory safety standards were found in water supplied to approximately 132 million people in 9,454 communities across the country.

"The nation's tap water has been compromised by weak federal safeguards and pitiful protection of drinking water supplies," said Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Research at EWG.

In reacting to the report and launch of the online database, Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, said water professionals nationwide share EWG's interest in protecting water resources and assuring safe water at the tap.

"More than 96 percent of health-based Safe Drinking Water Act violations occur at small utilities with fewer than 10,000 customers. These utilities often struggle with the expense of upgrading facilities to meet new regulations. The large expense of installing new treatment is borne by the small populations in these communities. The government could help by creating a federal water infrastructure bank that provides low-interest loans to communities needing to improve their systems," Curtis said.

By failing to clean up rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water for hundreds of millions of Americans, EPA and the Congress force water utilities to spend heavily to make contaminated water drinkable, EWG said.

According to industry market studies, utilities spend more than $4 billion a year on water treatment chemicals alone. Less than one-twentieth that amount is invested in source water protection and pollution prevention, an average of $207 million a year.

Fish Contamination

EPA said a new study has found concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish in nearly all of the states.

The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding EPA's recommended levels at 49% of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were at levels of potential concern at 17% of lakes and reservoirs.

The agency said the four-year examination of chemical residues in lake fish tissues detected mercury and PCBs in all of the samples collected from 500 lakes and reservoirs.

Peter Silva, assistant administrator for water, said EPA already has launched efforts to further reduce toxic mercury pollution in lakes and rivers.

EPA is conducting other statistically based national aquatic surveys that include assessment of fish contamination. Sampling is underway for the two-year National Rivers and Streams Assessment and results are expected to be available in 2011. Collection of fish samples for the National Coastal Assessment will begin in 2010.

Green Infrastructure

A coalition of water groups is supporting legislation introduced in the House of Representatives to promote the use of green infrastructure technologies to address water quality challenges.

Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), and Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) filed the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act to establish an EPA program for grants to communities and federal research.

Backing the bill were the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Rivers, the American Public Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Clean Water Action, and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.

Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director, said the bill would help wastewater systems use cost-effective green technologies to address stormwater flows and other problems.

He said, "EPA has endorsed and supports the use of these innovative solutions that mimic nature, but regulatory barriers have hindered their widespread use. This bill will start to break down those barriers and promote greater use of green infrastructure across the nation."

The coalition said a 2008 National Research Council report identified numerous benefits from green infrastructure, including increased water supplies, the creation of green jobs, cost savings for communities, and a reduction of stormwater runoff, surface water discharge, as well as stormwater flows.

In other Washington news:

    – EPA has launched the Water Laboratory Alliance to give water and wastewater utilities access to laboratories that have the analytical capability to respond to a water contamination event.
    – Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, has criticized Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Utah and the District of Columbia for failing to spend any federal stimulus funds on wastewater projects. Projects must be contracted by Feb. 17 or the funding will not be available.
    – The House of Representatives has passed the Energy and Water Research Integration Act (H.R. 3598). It requires the Department of Energy to better integrate water into existing federal energy research efforts.
    – EPA has ordered seven municipal sewage collection systems in East San Francisco Bay to improve wet weather sewage discharges. The systems – Oakland, Emeryville, Piedmont, Berkeley, Alameda, Albany, and the Stege Sanitary District – serve 650,000 persons.
    – EPA has awarded Great Bend, Kan., $291,000 for improvements to its sanitary sewer system. The funds will help rehabilitate or replace 13,775 feet of sewer and 27 manholes.
    – The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that concentrations of several major pesticides mostly declined or stayed the same in "Corn Belt" rivers and streams from 1996 to 2006. The drops parallel declines in agricultural pesticide use.
    – EPA has awarded Clemson University $900,000 and the University of Illinois $897,225 to study the potential effects of carbon dioxide sequestration on underground sources of drinking water.
    – The agency granted Wayne, Neb., $520,400 to replace a 25-year-old wastewater treatment plant. WW

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