Stormwater pollution is the biggest threat to clean water in New England today.
Back when New England’s landscape was largely one of forests, fields, and meadows, rain and snowmelt was absorbed by the ground and filtered of pollution long before it drained into our rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean.
Today, many of those woodlands and fields have been replaced by acre after acre of strip malls, office parks, and other industrial development – along with their watertight flat roofs, huge parking lots, and miles and miles of roads. Now when it rains or snow melts, instead of being absorbed by the ground, all that water rushes off these mirror-like surfaces, picking up debris, pesticides, metals, chemicals, oil, and other pollutants along the way. The result? A contaminated soup of dirty water draining into our waterways.
In fact, 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 rain and snowstorms in New England, making the problem of stormwater pollution even more dire .
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. We’re not standing by as waterways from Lake Champlain to Maine’s Casco Bay to Massachusetts’ Charles River fail to meet basic water quality standards for public health and recreation.
Facing outdated regulations and entrenched opposition to change, CLF has tirelessly pursued new approaches at the regulatory and policy level.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.
We’re also working to increase low-impact development, which is more compatible with nature’s own rhythms and 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 also create social and economic benefits by making cities more livable.
Using a first-of-its-kind legal strategy, CLF has 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.
Learn more about our priority stormwater campaigns below – including how you can help move our work forward.