Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stormwater permit on hold

The Regional Water Quality Control Board recently remanded the Ventura MS4 'municipal stormwater' permit in response to legal pressure from the building industry. At a recent conference, building industry representatives described some of their issues with the permit, but predicted that the permit will ultimately be re-instated. Presentations from the conference are here.

Last summer, the Regional Water Quality Control Board completed a multi-year process and passed a new 'Stormwater Permit' for Ventura County. After an 11 hour hearing, the regulators adopted a permit the reflected a 'deal' forged between the 'permitees' and the 'environmental interests'. In this case, the permitees are the County and City governments. The environmental interests were dominated by NRDC and Heal the Bay.

The deal? The permit would require strict runoff reductions on new and infill development (LID) in exchange for limited municipal responsibility (MAL). The building industry took exception and followed up on their threat to file legal action - this was based on 'due process' as well as substantive claims regarding the feasibility of the new requirements.

LID - 'low impact development' - something that should be required with new development, LID aims to capture and infiltrate rain water on site.

MAL - 'Municipal Action Level' - 'municipal action' would be required where monitoring shows runoff exceeds an established threshold deemed harmful to receiving waters.

The arguments for and against LID and MAL were discussed in depth over a three year period, with regulators hoping to develop a permit that would actually improve water quality at our creeks and beaches. At odds were the building industry, who would be responsible for LID, and the cities, who would be on the hook for MALs. Both claimed fiscal and technical issues with both of these regulations.

So now the 'deal' has backfired, and the permit will go back for review. New County guidelines are on hold, and question marks resurface for both sides...

Our position remains the same - municipalities need to begin planning for a modernized water management system, to include stormwater. "Green Infrastructure" can solve multiple problems with an integrated approach to urban planning. And redevelopment should be used to help implement the plan.

Our "Solving the Urban Runoff Problem" document outlines a vision for how this would be achieved in an already developed urban area.

Hopefully this recent action will provide an opportunity for these concepts to be incorporated into the permit to the acceptance of everyone involved. A common vision is needed to move beyond the current roadblocks.

Our new video provides a fresh perspective on the issues: Know Your H2O

More: Storm water rules go back for revision