Local Stormwater Codes and Ordinances

In addition to any federal or state clean water requirements, local governments have an important role to evaluate their own codes and ordinances to ensure they are protecting our communities and our waterways.

American Rivers is working at the local level to review current codes and ordinances to provide sound recommendations to Planning Commissions and legislative bodies to reduce hard surfaces, create incentives to implement low impact development techniques such as rain gardens, bioretention, and green roofs, and protect buffers. These local changes will reduce polluted stormwater runoff and flooding and increase greenspace.

In Northwest Ohio, we have been working with the Toledo City Council and the Toledo – Lucas County Planning Commission to incorporate low impact development practices into the existing zoning code. We have successfully integrated rain gardens and bioretention into landscaping requirements and have removed barriers to using permeable pavement in parking lots.

In Maryland, we are working with counties throughout the state to implement an outstanding state law that requires local communities to use green infrastructure approaches.

In South Carolina, we are working with community leaders and city and county governments to create blue trails, the water equivalent to hiking trails, to help reconnect people to their rivers through outdoor activities and to build support for protecting areas along the river from unwise development by strengthening codes and ordinances.

We are also offering regional workshops offering information and practices outlined in our report: Local Water Policy Innovation: A Road Map for Community Based Stormwater Solutions. At our workshops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, stormwater managers, municipal engineers, local watershed organizers, and concerned citizens all worked together to evaluate ordinances from their communities and apply principles learned to make the language more effective for the overall protection of our rivers and streams.

Changing Local Ordinances in Your Community

Most communities have a legislative body elected by the public, such as a city council, county board, or village board, to make changes to existing ordinances or pass new ordinances. In addition to the local legislative body, your community likely has a Planning Commission or similar subcommittee that specializes in land use issues. Although the Planning Commission does not have authority to pass laws, they can give powerful recommendations to the legislative body and once an ordinance is enacted, the Commission is typically given the responsibility of implementing its requirements. Once you become familiar with the structure of your local government, start researching existing zoning codes and building and subdivision regulations to see where opportunity exists to make change.