Conservation Groups Petition EPA for Better Regional Controls on Polluted Runoff

Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Blog, Coastal Debris, Coastal Development | 0 comments

Adapted from a press release issued this week by some 10 regional conservation organizations: 

Conservation groups filed petitions this week urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exercise its authority to safeguard rivers, lakes, and streams from polluted runoff from existing commercial, industrial, and institutional sites that are currently failing to adequately control their pollution. Polluted runoff – rainwater that picks up oil, dirt and toxins while flowing over streets and parking lots – is a leading cause of water pollution in the United States.

BlueWaterBaltimoreStormwaterConservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and American Rivers, along with Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society, Blue Water Baltimore/Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, California Coastkeeper Alliance, PennFuture, Potomac Riverkeeper, and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, jointly filed the petitions calling on EPA to exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act, known as Residual Designation Authority (RDA), on a regional scale spanning EPA Regions 1 (New England), 3 (Mid-Atlantic states) and 9 (Southwest states and California) to manage runoff from sources that are already contributing to violations of state water quality standards.

These regions, which are home to some of the nation’s most iconic and threatened water bodies, could provide replicable leadership for the rest of the country. The petitions seek to hold commercial, industrial and institutional facilities accountable for controlling runoff that carries toxic pollutants, including lead, zinc, copper, nitrogen and phosphorus, off of their roofs, parking lots, and sidewalks into nearby waterways when it rains or floods.

Much of untreated polluted runoff comes from these types of sites, such as acres of shopping mall parking lots, industrial rooftops, and other commercial surfaces that were built decades ago. However, many of these sites are not currently responsible for reducing their runoff pollution. Yet, because city storm sewer systems have pollution control and cleanup obligations, taxpayers often are responsible for paying for infrastructure improvements to manage runoff.  CLF, NRDC and American Rivers are asking EPA to grant their petitions so that the costs of managing this pollution will be more equitably distributed and that these sources take responsibility for the pollution they generate.

The petitions filed today are consistent with similar recent initiatives.  In 2009, after years of advocacy, New England-based Conservation Law Foundation secured two RDA permits for sources of polluted runoff, both of which require sites to be improved to reduce their share of stormwater pollution into five impaired brooks in Burlington, Vermont and urban Long Creek in Southern Maine.

The current petitions, like the ones previously filed by CLF, demand that EPA issue a permit to sources of stormwater pollution requiring them to reduce their impact to currently polluted waterways.  That can be done by using techniques like green infrastructure to reduce runoff. Green infrastructure refers to solutions like permeable pavement and green roofs, which allow polluted runoff to filter into the ground instead of rushing off into nearby streams. If granted, the petitions could serve as a model for cost-effective clean water safeguards throughout the country to restore our nation’s waters for swimming, fishing, and wildlife.

“Green infrastructure is a simple, common-sense solution to our water pollution woes. EPA knows there are chronic water pollution problems that green infrastructure can effectively tackle, but Americans need the agency to lead by insisting on pollution controls for sources that are fouling our waters,” said Jon Devine, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Clean waterways are not only vital for public health, they support healthy economies that generate billions of dollars and support millions of jobs across the nation.”

“When polluted runoff flows off of these sites, we all pay the price in the form of basement backups, flooded streets, rivers that are unsafe for swimming, and beach closures,” said Jeff Odefey, Director of Stormwater Programs for American Rivers. “Taxpayers shouldn’t shoulder the entire bill for managing runoff while these sites continue to pollute our rivers, lakes, and streams. It’s time for existing sources of pollution to take responsibility for their impact. These petitions ask EPA to use its existing authority under the law to make sure everyone is part of the solution.”


Polluted runoff is one of the leading causes of pollution in the United States. As water flows over pavement, it collects a toxic mix of metals, chlorides, petroleum residues, and automobile fluids. Large volumes of runoff exacerbate flooding, contribute to basement backups, and create sewage overflows. The costs of this pollution are far-reaching, including:
•    For two beaches in California, illnesses associated with swimming in water contaminated by polluted runoff cost the public over $3 million every year.
•    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that polluted urban runoff contributes to 25 percent of economic losses from flooding, totaling nearly $1 billion every year.
•    From closed beaches to unsanitary drinking water and safety hazards, billions of dollars in health care are estimated to be spent every year on the approximately 7.1 million mild-to-moderate cases and the 560,000 moderate-to-severe cases of infectious waterborne disease in the U.S.
•    When approximately 25 percent of land surface is impervious to water, rivers and streams lose most of their biological diversity.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the duty to manage polluted runoff from sites that contribute to violations of water quality standards or are significant contributors of pollutants to our waters. Polluted runoff is one of the only growing sources of water pollution across the country. The good news is that we have a much better understanding of how to reduce it – including capturing and treating runoff from already existing sites. These petitions ask the EPA to get existing sources of polluted runoff to do their fair share to reduce their impact.

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