EPA Issues Revised General Permit for MS4s in Massachusetts

The concrete circular run-off pipe discharging water

On April 13, 2016, EPA issued a news release for the much-anticipated revised General Permit for Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) in Massachusetts, which was signed into effect April 4, 2016.

What you need to know:

  • Permit becomes effective July 1, 2018
  • A Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply for coverage under the permit will be due September 29, 2018
  • 5-Year permit term
  • Covers 260 municipalities in Massachusetts plus state and federal facilities
  • Permit has the same six minimum control measures as the 2003 MA MS4 permit

The permit allows the following:

  • Permittee may prioritize catch basin inspection and cleaning based on their knowledge of the system
  • Credit for past work
  • Up to ten years to complete illicit discharge requirements
  • One year to update from 2003 Stormwater Management Plan

Other key facts:

  • Permit contains no end-of-pipe limits
  • No retrofits required during the permit term
  • Routine road maintenance and paving are exempt from post-construction requirements

For more information from EPA, please click here.

Informational Public Meetings are being held throughout the state where requirements will be explained and questions can be asked:

Western MA:
Monday May 9, 2016 at 9:30am
Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
60 Congress Street, Springfield

Southeastern MA & Cape Cod:
Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 12:30pm
Lecture Hall A, Science Building
Cape Cod Community College
2240 Route 132, West Barnstable

Northeastern MA:
Thursday May 19, 2016 at 8:00am
Haverhill Campus
Northern Essex Community College
100 Elliot Street, Haverhill

Central MA:
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 8:30am
495/MetroWest Partnership
200 Friberg Parkway, Westborough

Boston Area:
Monday, June 6, 2016 at 9:00am
EPA Region 1
5 Post Office Square, Boston

Tata & Howard has extensive experience assisting municipalities in meeting MS4 permit requirements. Please contact our Stormwater Project Manager Jon Gregory, P.E. directly at 508-219-4016 or jgregory@tataandhoward.com for assistance or if you have additional questions.

MassDEP agrees to co-issuance of new MS4 stormwater permit with EPA

MassDEPDespite serious concerns over costs to municipalities and timing of implementation, MassDEP has agreed to co-issue the new MS4 stormwater permit with EPA. According to a March 31, 2016 letter from MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg to US EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding, MassDEP agreed to co-issue the permit in spite of concerns in order to remain involved with cities and towns on permit implementation. The letter states, “MassDEP would have preferred some time for additional discussion of important issues. Nevertheless, MassDEP needs to be involved with EPA and cities and towns on how this permit is implemented. This is too important an issue for our environment, for our cities and towns and for the Commonwealth.”

The letter further stated that EPA had not addressed all comments previously submitted by MassDEP, and that the proposed permit would present significant hurdles to municipalities. The complete letter can be read here.

It Takes a Village to Manage Stormwater

stormwater_street_drainWhat’s the big deal about stormwater? After all, it’s just rain, right? Not really. Rain or snow that lands on pervious, or porous, surfaces such as forests, gardens, or fields soaks into the ground and is naturally filtered and cleaned by layers of dirt and rocks, after which it finds its way to groundwater and drinking water supplies. Stormwater is precipitation that runs off impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, paved areas, lawns, and bare soil, directly into lakes and streams. Because it does not infiltrate and is therefore not filtered prior to entering ground or surface waters, stormwater is contaminated by everything it picks up along the way. These pollutants include but are not limited to pesticides, motor oil, gasoline, antifreeze, road salt, trash, fertilizers, sewage, bacteria, and pet waste, and they wreak havoc on drinking water supplies.

Common problems associated with waters polluted by stormwater include bacterial and nitrogen overload, low-oxygen dead zones, toxic algae blooms, litter-strewn waterways, damage to coastal marshes, and beach closures. In addition, pollutants carried by stormwater can harm or kill fish and wildlife, destroy vegetation and wildlife habitats, and foul drinking water. And all of these problems come with a very high environmental and monetary price tag. The most cost-effective way to manage stormwater pollution is to prevent it in the first place, which requires the cooperation of the government, municipalities, and individuals.

How the Government Helps

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted stormwater regulations under its Clean Water Act, which aims to protect our nation’s water so that it is clean, drinkable, fishable, swimmable, and healthy. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Three specific contaminants of concern are bacteria, phosphorus, and nitrogen, and many of our nation’s rivers, streams, and lakes are already widely contaminated by these pollutants.

NPDES Municipal Storm Water Permitting Program regulates stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). MS4 refers to systems including roads with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels, and storm drains that are owned or operated by a state, district, county, city, town, or other public body (created by or pursuant to state law).

Phase I of the NPDES stormwater program for MS4s requires operators of medium and large MS4s, or those that serve populations of 100,000 or greater, to implement a stormwater management program in order to control polluted discharges from these MS4s. Phase II extends coverage of the NPDES stormwater program to certain small MS4s, but utilizes a modified approach to how the stormwater management program is developed and implemented. 

How Municipalities Help

Stormwater fees are based on the amount of impervious surfaces on a property

Increasingly, municipalities are addressing the issue of stormwater through regional collaboratives, education, legislation, and taxation. Last January, the Portland, Maine City Council unanimously voted to charge property owners a stormwater fee, which is dependent on the size of their rooftops and driveways or parking lots. The fee goes into effect this coming January and will cost the average homeowner roughly $4.50 per month, but will have a much larger impact on businesses like L.L.Bean, which will incur a monthly fee of just under $10,000. Several other municipalities in New England have implemented similar fees, including Chicopee, Fall River, Northampton, Newton, and Reading, MA, and Burlington, VT. Across the nation, over 500 municipalities, including major cities such as Minneapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Orlando, have also begun imposing stormwater fees. While many residents and businesses have complained about this alleged “rain tax,” the fees actually assist with the remediation and cleanup necessary due to stormwater pollution, which is exacerbated by impervious cover. It is possible for homeowners and businesses to reduce stormwater fees by reducing the square footage of their property’s impervious surfaces.

Regional collaboratives, aiming to comply with the NPDES Permit Program, are becoming increasingly common with MS4 permittees. These collaboratives, such as the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC) in south-central Massachusetts, hold workshops together with stormwater engineering consultants in an effort to determine the most essential tasks for stormwater management as well as the critical content of each task. With this method, these municipalities are able to pool resources to identify and implement the most efficient, cost-effective methods of meeting MS4 Permit compliance within their communities.

Green roofs help manage stormwater in urban settings

How Individuals Can Help

Mitigating stormwater pollution requires a multi-faceted best practice approach that involves not only federal and local agencies and municipalities, but also homeowners and individuals. There are many ways for individuals to reduce stormwater pollution including cleaning up and properly disposing of pet waste in a timely fashion, maintaining healthy septic systems, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and implementing cleaner automotive operations. In addition, homeowners may implement Low Impact Development (LID) practices on their property to manage stormwater and to save water. Some of the easiest and most cost-effective LID practices include installing rain barrels, rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavers. Comprehensive information on LID may be found here, and of course, public education is key. Some other important ways that individuals can mitigate stormwater pollution are as follows:

Ladybugs are a natural predator to pests such as aphids
        • Unclog residential storm drainages that become blocked
        • Cover truck loads or piles of dirt, mulch, yard waste, and other debris
        • Dispose of chemicals, such as motor oil, paint, and grease, properly
        • Have septic systems professionally inspected and pumped at a minimum of once every three years
        • Wash vehicles on on the lawn or other unpaved, porous surface
        • Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces and clean roof gutters annually
        • Check vehicles for leaks
        • Avoid pesticides by utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
        • Cover bare spots in the yard with plants, rocks, or even a water garden
        • Sweep driveways and walkways instead of hosing them off
        • Make sure all trash containers are tightly covered so that trash doesn’t enter the environment
Rain gardens filter stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, and beautify the area
Rain gardens filter stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, and beautify the area

Because the monetary and environmental cost of damage caused by stormwater is so exorbitant, it is imperative that communities take action to proactively prevent stormwater runoff before it causes damage. The old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is quite applicable in the case of stormwater, as methods for stormwater prevention are both inexpensive and simple to implement, whereas cleanup and treatment are costly. However, best stormwater management practices require cooperative involvement of governments, municipalities, businesses, and residents. In other words, it really does take a village to manage stormwater.

EPA Anticipates MS4 Permit to be Released in January 2016

On December 2, EPA and MassDep held a briefing at the State House to update legislators on MS4 permits. EPA stated that they anticipate the permit will be released as early as mid-January 2016.

ms4_permitThe December 2 briefing held at the State House was co-hosted by legislators Carolyn Dykema, State Representative for the Massachusetts 8th Middlesex District and Jamie Eldridge, Massachusetts State Senator representing the Middlesex and Worcester Districts. Jennifer Pederson, Executive Director for Massachusetts Water Works Association, was also in attendance.

The draft permit received over 1,400 comments to which EPA is in the process of responding. Key points include the following:

  • Timing: EPA is looking at spreading out the time frames for compliance. The permit will not be effective on the date it is issued; rather, it will likely be effective six months from the date of issue while also giving permittees 90 days to submit as well as providing more time on the illicit discharge program;
  • Requirements: EPA is working to realign their requirements with state stormwater standards;
  • Training: EPA is working on tools and templates to help with communication and required training, and will be holding several workshops when the permit is released;
  • Cost: EPA is looking for ways to reduce costs to permittees and indicated there would likely be different cost estimates in the final permit compared to the draft permit;
  • Credit for Previous Tasks: EPA intends to give credit for tasks that were completed under the existing MS4 permit so that permittees will not have to repeat tasks.

The legislators in attendance expressed their concern over the costs to their communities to comply, particularly since their towns’ estimated costs for compliance were considerably higher than what EPA originally stated. While EPA said that costs could potentially be adjusted once the permit was released, they also affirmed that costs to communities with TMDLs or impaired waters would be significantly higher in order to sufficiently address water quality issues. However, EPA also stressed that the impending permit is strictly for planning purposes and will not require construction of Best Management Practices.

MassDEP noted that they are currently reviewing all changes that EPA proposes to make to the permit. DEP is particularly interested in seeing if comments that MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg had previously submitted on the draft have been incorporated into the final permit.

Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions on the impending MS4 Permit.

To learn about our stormwater services, please click here.