New stormwater permits ramp up protections for Eastern Washington waters

Managing urban runoff in Eastern Washington in a way that reduces pollution to lakes, rivers and streams is the focus of a new, updated permit issued by Washington state's Department of Ecology...

OLYMPIA, WA, Aug. 1, 2012 -- Managing urban runoff in Eastern Washington in a way that reduces pollution to lakes, rivers and streams is the focus of a new, updated permit issued today by Washington state's Department of Ecology (Ecology).

The new municipal stormwater permit will require the most populated areas of Eastern Washington to step up actions to control polluted runoff beginning in August 2014.

The permits phase in requirements to employ "low impact development" (LID) techniques. LID uses vegetation and soil to naturally filter rainwater and snowmelt that otherwise carries pollution across hard surfaces and down storm drains into rivers and waterways.

"It's a whole lot easier and cheaper to prevent runoff and pollution as we plan our developments, than to try to manage stormwater after the fact. Importantly, the new permit gives local governments the time they need to develop their programs so they can comply with new permit requirements," said Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.

During rainstorms and snowmelt toxic chemicals and bacteria are carried into lakes and rivers. Stormwater runoff pollution from urban areas is the greatest threat to Washington's waters, even in Eastern Washington.

The permit gives local governments until the end of 2017 to implement LID practices in Eastern Washington and the flexibility to tailor the practices to local conditions.

Ecology expects $1 million in state funding to develop and provide LID training each year for the next 5 years.

Art Castle, executive vice president of the Business Industry Association of Washington said: "The new technical training effort for low impact development implementation will provide the necessary technical educational opportunities for both the public and private sector for successful implementation across the state."

The Washington Stormwater Center (www.wastormwatercenter.org/) is assisting Ecology by creating a training plan for low impact development. The state created the Center as a resource in Washington for integrated water quality permit education, permit technical assistance, stormwater management, and new technology research, development, and evaluation.

The new Eastern Washington permit will also require communities to monitor for how effective their programs are. For example, local governments will be required to investigate whether or not a specific action is making difference in achieving the goals of the stormwater program.

Measuring effectiveness will help answer questions like if they sweep streets more frequently, does it reduce the amount of sediment that accumulates in catch basins? If they conduct an additional construction inspection, does it reduce the amount of sediment that accumulates in catch basins?

The new, updated Eastern Washington Phase II Municipal Stormwater permit expands the coverage area for Yakima County to include the unincorporated Sunnyside urban growth area. This change takes effect in August 2014.

The Eastern Washington municipal stormwater permit covers 18 cities and the urban areas of six counties. Here is a short roundup of progress under their municipal stormwater permits since 2007:

* In Yakima, stormwater program officials found sewage pipes from homes, warehouses, and even a local hospital mistakenly connected to the stormwater system, and had them corrected.

* In Yakima County, former agricultural land with abandoned drainage pipes that now has housing and a shopping mall on it had sewer pipes misconnected to the stormwater system. These are now corrected.

* Over the last three years, the city of Pullman found and eliminated 12 illicit stormwater connections where sewer water mistakenly was flowing into storm drains. They were discovered while conducting their stormwater asset inventory, outfall, and dye testing programs as part of the permit program.

* Wenatchee helped a fruit packing company fix a problem when the sewer pipe was plugged with the waste from apples, and it overflowed into the stormwater system.

* Ecology staff is working with the wine industry to improve wastewater management practices.

* At Ecology's Yakima office, poor practices by a carpet cleaner in disposing of wastewater led to an education effort to all the carpet cleaners statewide to inform them how to prevent pollution from their waste cleaning water.

Here are highlights of specifics about the new, updated Eastern Washington permits and what happens today:

* Ecology reissued the existing Eastern Washington Phase II permit without modification to be effective beginning September 1, 2012, and

* Ecology updated Eastern Washington Phase II permit to become effective beginning August 1, 2014.

More information about the new permit: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/stormwater/municipal/2012Reissuance.html

Ecology's Web site: www.ecy.wa.gov

More information about water quality programs in Washington: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/wqhome.html

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