The recent drought has made storm clouds a welcome sight in Mississippi. But while rainfall is welcome, it also washes pollution from the land into local water bodies where it can impair water quality. Mississippi is currently gearing up for dealing with new federal regulations that will require a six-pronged effort to prevent stormwater pollution.
Phase II of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Act (NPDES) stormwater regulations required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were implemented in late 1999 with a deadline of March 10, 2003 for regulated cities and counties (generally those with more than 10,000 in population) to meet the guidelines. The regulations will also reduce the size of construction sites that have to use stormwater management measures from five acres to one acre.
Jim Morris, chief of the general permits branch for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), says that while 2003 sounds like a long way off, much planning is needed in order to meet the deadline.
“When cities start reviewing what their stormwater management plan has to include, I think they’ll see there is a lot of planning they need to start doing now,” Morris said. “For instance, where is their community now? What is being done in their community to meet the requirements of stormwater regulations? And where do they need to go from there?”
Recently officials from the DEQ, other state agencies, federal agencies, and city and county officials met on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to discuss water quality issues including rural wastewater treatment and Phase II stormwater regulations.
Jeffrey Taylor, executive director of the Gulf Regional Planning Commission, said that issue is particularly important in light of the environmental impact study (EIS) currently being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The EIS is expected to focus on a wide variety of impacts to current growth, as well as potential impacts of anticipated growth over the next 20 years,” Taylor said. “Mentioned repeatedly as a significant concern is the Coast’s known problem in maintaining an acceptable water quality standard. By taking a proactive approach to work cooperatively in developing measures to offset anticipated water quality problems, we should be able to temper the severity of actions that could be imposed under an EIS. In a worst-case scenario, the Corps could impose limitations on development that would seriously impede the Coast’s economic growth.”
Taylor said that in the past 20 years great progress has been made constructing wastewater treatment facilities. He said that now wastewater from residences and businesses on the Coast is no longer a threat to water quality.
“But in order to reach the next level in complying with clean water standards, local governments will have to undertake additional measures and look beyond traditional boundaries to implement a plan that addresses all remaining non-point sources of pollution from stormwater runoff, failing septic tanks in rural areas, and other primary sources repeatedly cited as major culprits in creating degraded water quality in coastal areas,” Taylor said.
Mississippi cities will be required to meet six minimum control measures: 1. Public education and outreach on stormwater impacts. 2. Public involvement and participation. 3. Illicit connection and discharge detection and elimination. 4. Construction site stormwater runoff control. 5. Post construction stormwater management for new developments and redevelopments. 6. Pollution prevention and good housekeeping for municipal operations.
The EPA has estimated the compliance for the first five years of the program will range between $1.19 to $7.83 per capita.
DEQ has issued 4,500 permits for construction sites of five acres and more under phase one of the stormwater program that began in 1992.
“I think for the most part industry and construction businesses know there is a stormwater program out there,” Morris said. “This is a new thing for cities, except the City of Jackson, because cities weren’t regulated under Phase I. So it will be a learning curve for them.”
With the threshold for stormwater permits being reduced from five to one acre, far more construction sites will be affected. Morris said that will result in much more compliance activity necessary from DEQ, and that the agency has requested funding from the legislature for the additional personnel necessary to handle permitting.
Caleb Dana, senior principal engineer with Eco.Systems Inc. in Jackson, said that the financial impacts to meet stormwater guidelines both for industry, construction businesses and municipalities will not be burdensome.
“The business community will benefit from improved quality of living for the community because the program should result in improving the water quality,” Dana said. “The financial impacts would not be expected to be significantly onerous. A lot of this has to do with how we live on a daily basis. The best management practices necessary to comply with the regulations are things individuals, homeowners and businesses can do to improve water quality.”
Dana sees that there could be financial as well as environmental benefits both to cities and counties and private businesses that have to comply with the stormwater regulations. Currently some cities have to do expensive drainage projects to remove sediment that has filled in waterways due to erosion from construction sites. It might be more cost effective to prevent erosion that can cause downstream flooding.
“Another benefit from developers in implementing detention or retention facility is that it is going to help with localized flooding problems,” Dana said. “We will have to design facilities to handle the big storms we get. Overall, that will help lessen the impact of runoff coming from development going into drainage system. It will slow down the runoff, and help prevent flooding.”
Designed correctly, Dana said these systems can also improve the appearance of a subdivision or other development, making it more attractive, valuable and marketable.
“A lot of these methods we have talked about including grass swales and ponds provide greenscaping,” Dana said. “They make a development look more natural. That can improve property values by making it more aesthetically pleasing.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.