Curt Spalding: Stormwater regulations will reduce pollution in waterways

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BOSTON >> All across New England we keep seeing the same thing: rivers, ponds, and even coastal water showing signs of stress and decline due to excess nutrients and other pollutants that are deposited directly into waterbodies when stormwater flows after storms.

It's often most obvious in warm weather, when algae blooms can turn the water's surface a bright neon green. But even when not obvious to our eyes, water quality data confirm that the ecological health of our natural community is suffering.

The good news is that we have effective and affordable ways to work on this problem. Further, good old-fashioned New England common sense confirms that sometimes, low-tech is just as good as high-tech, and that preventing pollution makes better sense than cleaning the mess up later.

Here in Massachusetts, EPA and our Mass DEP colleagues have just released an updated general permit that will guide the actions for more than 200 municipalities. This will update stormwater management efforts across Massachusetts, meaning better protecting rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and wetlands from pollutants.

We've worked on this for a long time, and we've solicited a lot of input from the mayors, town managers and public works directors who will be charged with doing this work, as well as from watershed organizations and other stakeholders. We have listened to the input of local experts to develop an effective and state-of-the-art set of requirements — and the tools to implement them — maximizing flexibility so municipalities can tailor their efforts to their individual needs and local conditions.

Many of the solutions to our stormwater issues rely on commonsense tasks: sweeping roads to remove dirt and debris before entering storm drains; inspecting drain pipes to ensure there are no sewer pipes illegally connected to them; routing stormwater to woods and lawns to allow Mother Nature to help filter out pollutants before they collect in our waterways.

EPA is aware of the concerns from taxpayers and government officials about adding costs to stretched-thin budgets. We've worked hard to tailor the updated measures so that municipalities already working to comply with current requirements should only see a modest increase. We've provided flexibility, extended deadlines and we will have a tool to help municipalities estimate their costs. We've made the effective date for the permit a full 18 months from now, so that local managers have time to build this work into their budget cycle.

We are proud to work with our state and local partners in an effort to better protect the lakes, streams and other water bodies we all cherish.

Curt Spalding is regional administrator of EPA's New England Office in Boston.


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