EPA to Staunch Flood of Storm Water Runoff Polluting U.S. Waterways

EPA to Staunch Flood of Storm Water Runoff Polluting U.S. Waterways

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to tighten old storm water rules

Little Black Creek has a long history of abuse.

The stream in western Michigan runs through an industrialized area, and its sediment has some of the highest levels of cadmium found anywhere in the Great Lakes. Its banks are so eroded and its water so contaminated that it is unable to sustain its native, cold-water trout.

And, every time it rains, one of Little Black Creek’s biggest threats rushes in.

Nearly one-third of the land around the creek is buried under urban concrete, asphalt and buildings. Rain water is shunted into storm drains, pushing the contaminated sediment downstream and delivering a fresh load of toxic runoff and snowmelt from city streets to Little Black Creek.

Across the country, stormwater runoff hammers thousands of rivers, streams and lakes. Communities are left to struggle with the consequences of too much pavement and too little oversight.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to tighten federal stormwater rules that have been criticized by environmental groups and deemed ineffective by a national panel of researchers.

Experts say careful planning of developments, homes and buildings can alleviate nearly all the contamination from urban runoff. But few builders and developers are voluntarily incorporating such techniques into their plans, and regulating runoff has been left to states and cities.

Under the EPA's current permitting system, builders must limit stormwater runoff to the "maximum extent practicable." But a 2008 National Research Council report criticized the rules and recommended that the agency set guidelines for flow and contaminants.