State Stormwater Permits

Using Greener Strategies to Improve Clean Water with Stormwater Permits

American Rivers is promoting green infrastructure solutions within state urban stormwater permits. Some of the greatest improvements to manage the impacts of stormwater can happen on urban landscapes: natural landscapes minimize stormwater runoff to just 10% while as much as 55% of rain runs directly to streams when urban landscapes are at least 75% developed. Green infrastructure is a proven solution that is easily implemented in urban areas.  For instance, one study estimated a 56% reduction in rooftop rain runoff if 80% of commercial buildings in Washington, D.C. were vegetated with green roofs. 

Several permit programs are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) including stormwater from construction and industrial activities, as well as Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) to reduce pollution from stormwater. With few exceptions, general permits are written by states. Municipalities then write detailed permit compliance measures to meet the goals of the state’s general permit.

In West Virginia, American Rivers submitted comments on the draft general MS4 permit. The Natural Resources Defense Council and local partners have joined American Rivers in defense of the robust permit, which was drafted by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection and has been challenged by several municipalities. 

In Pennsylvania (.ppt), American Rivers submitted extensive comments on Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) draft general MS4 permit while leading a coalition of 17 partners to also submit comments and speak to PA-DEP at hearings.  American Rivers continues to work with these partners while PA-DEP finalizes the general permit.

American Rivers’ goal is to ensure that green infrastructure is instituted in each state’s permit.  Specifically:

  • Permits must implement practices to reduce pollution using green infrastructure because:
    • They are cost effective. Green infrastructure is often less expensive to install, maintain, and operate than traditional ‘hard” infrastructure. And green infrastructure efficiently provides economic benefits through reduced pollution and flooding.
    • The growing field of greener technologies, coupled with the cost effective nature of green infrastructure practices, allows permit managers to exercise flexibility and apply technology that is best suited whenever it becomes available.
    • EPA is promoting green infrastructure within regulation. When challenged, EPA supported permits for west coast states that utilized green infrastructure. Outside the permit structure the use of these practices is being readily accepted in eastern localities including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
  • Permits must highlight the concerns of impaired waterways. Permit practices must yield measurable results consistent with pollution clean-up plans.
  • The public must be well engaged in permit development and administration throughout a permit’s five-year life span. The easiest way to educate and actively include citizens is through the implementation of community based green infrastructure solutions such as rain gardens.

These are basic principles that can be addressed in any MS4 permit – whether for Pennsylvania’s densely situated small urban municipalities characterized by sprawl and outdated infrastructure, or West Virginia’s rurally located small urban municipalities.