Stormwater Pollution

From Lake Champlain to Maine’s Casco Bay to Massachusetts’ Charles River, many of our water bodies do not meet basic water quality standards for public health and recreation. Dramatic growth has expanded paved areas, reducing the ability of natural landscapes to soak up stormwater. As water flows across pavement, it collects pollutants as it goes, a toxic brew of nutrients, pesticides, bacteria, metals, chlorides, sediments, petroleum residues, and automobile fluids. Some 11 million gallons of oil and gas – equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill – run off America’s streets, parking lots, and driveways every eight months, according to the Pew Oceans Commission. Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of precipitation events in New England, further exacerbating pollution from stormwater runoff.

CLF has long known that the triple threat of aging stormwater infrastructure, unchecked sprawl, and climate change would wreak havoc on New England’s fragile waterbodies. Indeed, stormwater pollution is the most pressing threat to water quality in the region today. Facing outdated regulations and entrenched opposition to change, CLF has tirelessly pursued new approaches at the regulatory and policy level.

To curtail encroachment of paved surfaces, we need forward-thinking urban planning to prevent unnecessary sprawl. CLF is working on legislative efforts to improve local and regional land use planning, promote more sustainable development patterns, and ensure more innovative stormwater regulation.

Stormwater management over the last century has meant industrial storm water detention and cleaning facilities. But low-impact development, more compatible with nature’s own rhythms, is more resilient to stress. Green infrastructure – permeable pavement, wetlands and stream restoration, tree replanting – allows water to percolate into the ground, where it can be cleaned and stored by natural systems. Often less expensive than industrial stormwater management, these green infrastructure improvements create social and economic benefits as well by making cities more livable.

Using a first-of-its-kind legal strategy, CLF called for full enforcement of the Clean Water Act by forcing existing – as well as new – industrial and commercial development to install available, affordable stormwater treatment measures, such as low impact development.

Over the past decade, CLF has made incremental progress in improving stormwater management practices. Late in 2010, CLF’s efforts were rewarded when the EPA issued new storm water permit guidance for the country adopting many of CLF’s recommendations. The new guidelines represent a dramatic shift in EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act, providing more stringent control of stormwater pollution – a shift that will result in improved water quality in New England and around the country.