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Enviros say new stormwater guidelines too lax

Thirteen of Clubs photo
Stormwater runoff must be reduced and monitored under draft rules just issued by the state Department of Ecology.

It’s the single largest source of pollution entering Puget Sound – rain that hits pavement and carries grease, metals and other toxins into the water.

The Department of Ecology has just issued new rules that aim to keep stormwater runoff in check. However, several environmental groups complain the new rules are full of loopholes.

Three years ago, a state hearings board issued a landmark decision, requiring cities and counties around Puget Sound to take more aggressive steps to reduce polluted runoff. 

“Unfortunately, the latest version of the permit really misses this great opportunity we had to move the ball forward,” says Bruce Wishart, with People for Puget Sound.

He was on a committee that helped draft the new rules, together with the state Department of Ecology. Wishart says the advocacy groups worked hard to make low impact development techniques a requirement for new stormwater permits.

Lacking teeth?

That means every time someone builds a new development, they’ll have to look at limiting the amount of pavement and increasing vegetation that soaks up rainwater, for example, or putting in rain gardens or cisterns to keep polluted runoff in check.  But Wishart says the new rules have no teeth.

“The draft is riddled with loopholes and exemptions for developers, which would make many of these requirements for low impact development or green building unenforceable,” Wishart says.

He says there’s a wide range of vague exemptions from the rules for things like design standards or if soils drain very slowly. And, he says there are no meaningful standards set to reduce impervious surfaces or increase vegetation in new developments. 

Ecology stands by new rules

The state department of Ecology says those criticisms are overblown. Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant spoke in a conference call with reporters. He says the new standards will address stormwater pollution more aggressively.

For example, projects that are smaller than an acre will no longer be exempt. And stormwater monitoring will be required. But the department says it has to create realistic policies and make it feasible for developers and cash-strapped to comply. 

“This is about the next several years of development and how to deal with stormwater," Sturdevant says. "So, it’s a big deal because it’s a big pollution problem. We’re talking about a lot of years. And unfortunately, this comes at a time when everyone is looking around and trying to figure out how do we pay for the things we need to do.”

Sturdevant says this next generation of clean water permits are designed to gradually increase environmental protections.  And they say they’re taking public comment on the new rules from now until February.

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