BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 1, 2008 (ENS) - The U.S. EPA and the state of Massachusetts are about to impose stormwater permit controls on industrial, commercial and high-density residential facilities in the Charles River watershed.
Stormwater containing high levels of phosphorus is blamed for neon blue-green algae blooms of toxic cyanobacteria that have taken over the river in the summer months for the past several years.
The federal and state actions will require the owners of industrial, commercial and residential facilities in the upstream towns of Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham with two or more acres of impervious area - such as parking lots, roofs, and roads - to operate under a Clean Water Act permit.
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"Polluted stormwater runoff causes serious water quality problems, and is the next great challenge for cleaning the Charles River," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of the EPA's New England office.
"By working closely with Massachusetts and our other partners, we will make great environmental improvements, while at the same time providing facilities with flexibility and time to meet the new standards," Varney said. "Working together cooperatively, we can solve these problems."
The new actions, announced in November, will ensure that property owners take responsibility for runoff from their sites.
In a separate but related action, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is enacting a statewide requirement for facilities with five or more acres of impervious area to reduce stormwater runoff.
"Many of our state's waters are severely degraded as a result of stormwater pollution," said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles. "Now is the time to take action to reduce pollution and return more water to the ground, where it will be cleaned naturally and added to our water supplies."
Under both the federal and state actions, new requirements will be phased in to reduce polluted stormwater runoff at sites with large paved areas, including shopping malls and industrial areas.
While the statewide standard will be five acres, Massachusetts is proposing to match EPA's two-acre requirement in the Charles, where a higher level of control is needed to address chronic water quality problems.
"Until now, managing stormwater has largely been the responsibility of the cities and towns," said Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. "It is critical now for other property owners to step up to the plate and do their part. This new program creates a level playing field by requiring that the responsibility for managing stormwater be shared by municipalities and private property owners."
Cities and towns across Massachusetts have invested in improving their sewer and stormwater infrastructure, yielding substantial water quality benefits, said Varney.
"Our work will also help local municipalities, who up until now have shouldered the burden alone to take action to reduce pollution to our rivers, lakes and other waterways," he said.
Commercial, industrial and high-density residential facilities with two or more acres of impervious area will be required apply for a Clean Water Act permit for stormwater discharges which eventually reach the Charles River.
The permits will require that these facilities reduce phosphorus discharges by 65 percent through a variety of stormwater management practices. Ultimately, these requirements will likely apply to the entire Charles River watershed, said state and federal officials.
"EPA's extension of the Clean Water Act to include polluted stormwater runoff from commercial and industrial parking lots is both bold, and necessary," said Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association.
"We will never clean up urban rivers without cleaning up existing runoff from pavement. This bold move will aid cities and towns meet their requirements, and help restore a more natural balance to the way water works in metropolitan regions, not just in the Charles River, but ultimately across the United States," Zimmerman said.
"It is time for existing commercial and industrial developments to do their fair share to clean up the stormwater pollution that is threatening public health and recreation in New England's waters," said Christopher Kilian, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Clean Water and Healthy Forests Program. "The EPA took this precedent-setting action because the Clean Water Act's mandates don't allow this pollution to go unaddressed."
In October 2007, EPA and the state began a process to limit phosphorus entering the Charles River by establishing a new Total Maximum Daily Load for discharges of phosphorus into the lower Charles River.
Since 1995, the EPA's Clean Charles Initiative has coordinated efforts between EPA, state and local governments, private organizations, and environmental advocates. Cities and towns along the Charles have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in stormwater and sewer improvements.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.