Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Local governments fight new state storm water permits

by September 25th, 2012

Many Puget Sound and Western Washington local governments are appealing the state permits requiring them to upgrade how they deal with storm water pollution. At least 12 cities, King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Clark County and Cowlitz County filed appeals by an Aug. 31 deadline to change the state’s permits’ new requirements due to go into effect on Aug. 1, 2013. Among their contentions: the proposed new permitting plan is inflexible, overly broad, carries insufficient cost-benefit requirements and doesn’t sufficiently articulate how related fees will be used.

The U.S. Clean Water Act of 1972 mandated that all states set up regulations and permits to tackle a long list of water quality matters. Washington did so, and is federally required to update its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – storm water drainage – permits every five years.

The state ecology department issued three blanket storm water drainage permits for Washington’s local governments on Aug. 1 – one for incorporated cities of more than 100,000 people and unincorporated areas of counties of more than 250,000 people; one for cities of 10,000 to 1000,000 and the rest of the counties in Western Washington; and one for the counties and smaller cities in Eastern Washington.

These measures are to set conditions on rain water and melted snow that over hard surfaces while collecting organic and toxic pollutants that eventually flow into Puget Sound and the state’s lakes, rivers and streams. These measures are supposed to be in place by 2015 for the big cities and counties, and by 2016 for the rest.

Public Data Ferret’s Washington State+Environment archive

“It’s a whole lot easier and cheaper to prevent runoff and pollution as we plan our developments, than to try to manage stormwater after the fact. Importantly, the new permits give local governments the time they need to develop their programs so they can comply with new permit requirements,” said Ted Sturdevant, ecology department director, in a summer press release.

King, Pierce, Snohomish and Clark counties are each pursuing their individual appeals to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board. Meanwhile, Cowlitz County, Auburn, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Burlington, Des Moines, Everett, Kent, Issaquah, Mount Vernon, Renton, Seatac, Snoqualmie are combined on one and combined appeal to pool their money since their objection are the same and need legal representation that is expert on those issues, said Bellevue City Attorney Lori Riordan and Renton City Attorney Lawrence Warren. The Seattle law firm of Foster Pepper PLLC is handling that appeal, also to the state pollution control board. Bellevue’s Riordan is coordinating the cities’ relations with Foster Pepper.

No Eastern Washington governments filed appeals by the deadline.

Ecology department spokeswoman Susan Howard said the appeals were expected – noting that the agency is frequently caught between environmentalists who want stricter restrictions and and local governments who want less-expensive restrictions.

“The big thing for local governments is that it is costly,” Warren said.

The Foster Pepper appeal argues: “In many cases, Ecology imposed these requirements without considering their cost, feasibility, or practicality, and without considering their impact on or reconcilability with other local government programs.

The appeal said many of the state’s permit requirements are not flexible, and affect land-use planning without sufficient cost-benefit analyses. It noted that 85 local governments are covered by the permits. “The permit is simply not appropriate to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” the appeal said.

The appeal document also objected to requirements that 40 percent of the storm sewer drain openings be screened by 2017 with another 12 percent added annually afterwards. It objected to catch basin inspections every two years. It also claimed the state has not nailed down where the permits’ fees would go and what they would be used for.

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