Regulating Rainfall in the United States: Lack of consensus delays national “Stormwater Rule”




Note to Reader:

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required under a 2010  settlement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to propose a new rule to  strengthen the stormwater program. The original deadline was September 2011,  and there have been several extensions. Since  EPA missed a June 2013 deadline, it is now in breach of the settlement.

The rule proposal, the settlement says, would “expand the universe of regulated stormwater discharges,” requiring new controls for newly developed and redeveloped sites and possibly even old developments. It could also expand the number of cities and towns regulated as Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) under the Clean Water Act.


Why is EPA taking so long to write a “Stormwater Rule”? It’s complicated

The projected rulemaking by the United States EPA addresses a number of key areas of action, particularly the implementation of a specific on-site performance standard in new and redeveloped sites as projects are built. Other considerations include establishing a single set of stormwater requirements for all municipal separate storm sewer systems.


Lack of Consensus

“Environmentalists trumpet the rulemaking as vital for cleaning up U.S. waterways,” wrote Annie Snider in an analysis published by Environment and Energy Publishing in July 2013.

“Environmental groups also contend that the rule is the most important thing the Obama administration can do to boost so-called green infrastructure, which uses marshes, trees and rain gardens to soak up water and filter pollution rather than more expensive concrete structures that primarily control water flow.”

“But industry says the rule stands to be one of the most expensive ever promulgated by EPA, with the potential to chill development across the country.”

“Moreover, businesses are worried about how EPA will deal with the regional and site-specific differences that play a key role in how much stormwater runoff leaves a property.”

“Given the stakes, few are surprised the rule has stalled,” observed Annie Snider.


Mimic the Water Balance: Can the United States Learn from British Columbia?

“The Canadians do appear to be ahead of the US in this field because the US EPA took a really bad approach to Low Impact Design that was based on the premise that enforcing every site to the same standard would somehow fix the problems of water quality in the US,” commented Paul Crabtree, leader of the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative, after he had reflected on a commentary by Jim Dumont on the view from British Columbia.

“The USA EPA approach has done some good, but has several crippling drawbacks: a) analysis of the stream/watershed is not part of the protocol: b) sprawl and greenfield development are incentivized since compliance is easier for those development types: c) the regulations became enormously cumbersome (100’s of pages long) because the premise was arbitrary, not based on good science, and required tremendous negotiations in order to achieve passage: and d) the resultant implementation is usually an expensive quagmire that is hated by all except those who are profiting from it.”


To Learn More:

To download and read the complete article, click on Why is EPA taking so long to write a “Stormwater Rule”? It’s complicated 

Also, click on Proposed National Rulemaking to Strengthen the Stormwater Program

To read the context for the observations by Paul Crabtree, click on Low Impact Development in the United States: “EPA approach has done some good, but has several crippling drawbacks,” says Paul Crabtree.