EPA on Track to Propose Rule Governing Stormwater Discharges at Construction Sites

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The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water is conducting a cost-benefit analysis and is proceeding on schedule with a proposed stormwater construction rule to regulate discharges from development and redevelopment projects, an agency official said May 9.

Connie Bosma, municipal branch chief in the Office of Water, said the agency is considering various options and expects to propose the rule in September as planned. A final rule is expected to be published in 2012.

Bosma addressed regulatory issues during a joint meeting of two committees of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies--the Facility and Collection System Committee and the Stormwater Management Committee. The meeting was part of NACWA's National Environmental Policy Forum, which continues through May 11.

In developing the stormwater rule, Bosma said EPA is looking at proposing different standards for redevelopment and for new development. The agency also is evaluating how to phase in the regulation and how to take into account plans that have already been approved by localities. EPA wants input on what kind of phase-in to require, she said.

In addition, Bosma said different options are being considered for existing stormwater retrofit practices at municipal sewer systems. One option involves development of long-range plans, including needed additional retrofitting practices, an approach Bosma said could be quite costly. The other option, which she referred to as an “iterative approach,” would ask municipal sewer systems to develop their own retrofit plans and cycles, allowing for community flexibility and control.

Population Levels, Density Considered.

In analyzing various options, Bosma said EPA is considering community population levels and density limits.

In 2010 EPA also sent multiple survey questionnaires to property owners and developers, municipal sewer system authorities, state regulators, and EPA regional offices to obtain their input.

In January, NACWA submitted comments to EPA expressing concerns about the possible mandatory retrofit requirement, saying its expense would place a tremendous financial burden on local communities (17 DEN A-4, 1/26/11).

When EPA announced it was considering a proposed rule, it said one provision could be to require municipal sewer systems to address stormwater discharges in areas of existing development by retrofitting the sewer system, drainage area, or individual structures with improved stormwater control measures.

EPA in December 2009 first announced its intention to begin a rulemaking to strengthen its stormwater program under the Clean Water Act, particularly by reducing the impact of stormwater discharges from developed sites to the nation's waters. The agency followed up with several “listening sessions” around the country to obtain public input.

State and municipal officials have urged EPA to consider costs and encourage flexibility as it develops a rule regulating stormwater runoff for development and redevelopment.

Meeting on Sanitary Sewer Overflows.

In another area, Bosma addressed a planned proposed rule to curb sanitary sewer overflow discharges of untreated sewage from municipal storm sewer systems. EPA has been considering development of a rule to protect the public from the harmful effects of sanitary sewer overflows, including peak wet weather flows, at municipal wastewater treatment plants (175 DEN A-7, 9/13/10).

Combined sewer systems already are covered under a policy issued in 1994. Sanitary sewer systems carry sewage only, while combined sewer systems carry both sewage and stormwater.

In June 2010, EPA said it planned to develop the proposed rule. Sanitary sewer overflows are often caused by blockages or breaks in sewer lines. They can release untreated sewage into basements or from manholes and onto city streets and playgrounds and into streams (75 Fed. Reg. 30,395, 6/1/10; 102 DEN A-7, 5/28/10).

While the planned proposal has been on the back burner, Bosma said EPA plans to revisit the issue at the end of June with potentially affected “key stakeholders.” EPA will publish a notice of the meeting soon in the Federal Register, she said.

“We will use that meeting to determine where do we go from here,” she said.

EPA budget and personnel issues have contributed to its delay, Bosma said, but she added the agency has not abandoned the issue and still wants to propose a rule. However, during the upcoming stakeholder session, “if there is tremendous controversy and people are too far apart, it's going to take a lot longer in terms of timing,” she said.

Guidance on Combined Sewer Overflows.

In another area, Bosma said EPA plans to publish guidance on compliance monitoring of combined sewer overflow (CSO) long-term control plans. The guidance will address how to address assessments, she said. The agency has developed proposed guidance, which it plans to release soon for public comment, she said.

In August 2002, EPA inspector general said the agency should work with municipalities to periodically monitor water quality to ascertain whether CSO projects actually are having a beneficial effect (176 DEN A-9, 9/11/02).

By Linda Roeder