Sustainable Stormwater Management: The Next Wave in Water Pollution Regulations?

As we previously noted, last fall Massachusetts proposed sweeping new regulations designed to reduce phosphorus discharges in stormwater. In response to a very large number of comments, MassDEP is taking a second look at the regulations, though the bookies in Las Vegas are laying odds against there being any significant changes made when the regulations reappear.

Now Maryland is also getting into the act, although it is taking a slightly different approach. Under a statute enacted in 2007, developers in Maryland must incorporate the concept of “environmental site design” into their plans. ESD means

using small-scale stormwater management practices, nonstructural techniques, and better site planning to mimic natural hydrologic runoff characteristics and minimize the impact of land development on water resources.

The Maryland statute will be enforced by counties and municipalities. Therefore, the Maryland Department of the Environment has released a Model Stormwater Management Ordinance for use by local governments in implementing the statute.

As one of the contentious issues in the Massachusetts debate has been when redevelopment would subject a property to the requirements of the regulations, it is notable that the Maryland ordinance defines redevelopment as

any construction, alteration, or improvement performed on sites where existing land use is commercial, industrial, institutional, or multifamily residential and existing site impervious area exceeds 40 percent. [Emphasis added.]

To that, I can only say, uh-oh.

One final note on stormwater – Oregon just enacted legislation limiting the phosphorus content of certain soaps.  This is not significant in its own right. However, in Massachusetts, many of the comments from developers and industrial interests noted that the types of stormwater controls proposed by MassDEP may not be the most cost-effective way to reduce nutrient loading to water bodies, and specifically suggested that programs targeted at consumers using products containing nutrients might be a better way to attack the problem in the first instance.

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