Stormwater Pollution

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Storwater runoff in Chinquapin Creek


Program Description: Stormwater runoff is the biggest threat to water quality in the Baltimore Harbor/Patapsco River watershed.

Program Goal: The Goal for this campaign is to reduce stormwater pollution from industrial, municipal and construction sources by (1) ensuring polluter compliance with environmental laws; (2) promoting law reform (i.e., improving through litigation environmental law, regulations or permits); and (3) promoting government accountability for enforcement and compliance with environmental law.

What is stormwater runoff? It is the polluted water that washes down the streets and into the gutters and stormdrains, and directly into the local stream, river, or Harbor. This water carries high levels of sediment, oil, toxics and other pollutants from construction, industrial and municipal sites into our waterways.

Facts to know:

  • more impervious surface (pavement, roofs, etc.) = more polluted runoff.
  • stormwater runs UNTREATED into our streams, rivers, and harbor.

As the population of the Chesapeake Bay watershed grows — some project the population to exceed 19 million before 2030 — these impacts will significantly increase due to development accompanying this population boom.

What does the Clean Water Act require: The Clean Water Act mandates stormwater controls (through a permitting system) for municipalities, industry, and construction sites. However, state agencies and local governments have been slow to respond. Stormwater pollution has been exacerbated by the unwillingness of state agencies to take enforcement action against polluters, or to prevent these polluted discharges through meaningful regulation.

Stormwater Regulation: Stormwater discharges are typically regulated under Clean Water Act permits called NPDES permits (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System). The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Point sources are discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Industrial, municipal, and other facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters. NPDES permits come in two varieties: General Permits and Individual Permits.

  • General Permits are boilerplate permits that provide general requirements for all entities that seek permit coverage. However, this type of permit has been far less effective in controlling pollution than the individual permitting approach because it fails to take into account site-specific details.
  • Individiual Permits are site-specific permits that delineate what a particular business/municipality/wastewater treatment plant/etc. must do to prevent discharging polluted water into the waterways. These permits tend to be more effecting in controlling pollution, as long as they are properly enforced.

Fortunately, regulation of all three major categories of stormwater pollution—construction activities, industrial activities, and municipal separate stormwater systems (MS4s)—can be markedly improved by the type of assertive citizen advocacy and legal action that WATERKEEPER does best.

Learn more about our stormwater pollution programs:

Industrial Stormwater Program

Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco River are lined with industrial facilities. Over 3,000 industries are located in the watershed—many of the on the waterfront. These facilities have the potential to generate significant pollution if it is not adequately controlled.

What are we doing?

  • WATERKEEPER is tracking industry compliance with the Clean Water Act to ensure local businesses are not polluting our river.
  • WATERKEEPER will work with Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to develop a stronger General Permit for Industrial Activities, which will be re-written in 2011.

Municipal Stormwater Program

The City of Baltimore, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County all operate under individual municipal separate stormwater system (MS4) permits in Baltimore City.  It is critical that these permits are protective of water-quality and require the municipalities to prevent pollution as much as possible. Each MS4 permit is renewed every five years.

What are we doing?

  • WATERKEEPER is working with the municipalities to develop a stronger permit that ensures our waterways are protected.
  • WATERKEEPER has successfully petitioned MDE to declare Baltimore Harbor and the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River as “impaired” for trash pollution. Learn more about our Trash Program.

Construction Stormwater Program

Sediment carried by stormwater runoff from construction sites in Maryland has been documented as one of the leading sources of pollution to streams and rivers. Water quality problems can be avoided if developers understand the rules of the game and are willing to follow them. Land disturbing activities greater than 1 acre require regulation under the Maryland NPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Construction Activity. MDE is currently in the process of rewriting this permit. Learn more about the water management permit process from MDE. MDE is also writing new regulations under the Stormwater Management Act of 2007.

What are we doing?

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