The State of Stormwater

The State of Stormwater

By Gary Belan, American Rivers

Looking at stormwater from a national level is difficult, particularly since it is a highly localized issue. Stormwater sources, impacts and management all generally occur at the neighborhood, town and regional levels. However, there are a variety of localized issues that will have a significant national impact on the way that stormwater is managed. The most significant is the state of New Jersey’s enactment of the strongest stormwater management plan in the country.

A highlight of New Jersey’s management plan is the requirement that all Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4’s) obtain permit coverage and establish stormwater management programs. Additionally, all projects must be designed with stormwater management measures so that the post-construction peak runoff rates for two, 10 and 100-year storm events are 50, 75 and 80 percent, respectively, of the pre-construction peak runoff rates. One of the most beneficial and controversial aspects of the plan is the requirement of a 300 foot no-development buffer along ‘Category One’, or ‘pristine’,waterways.

The buffer mandate was challenged by the New Jersey Builders Association, but was upheld April 12th, 2006 by the state appeals court on the grounds that the state Department of Environmental Protection has broad legal authority to manage stormwater. Not only is this victory a tremendous success for water quality in New Jersey, but it has national implications as well. New Jersey’s stormwater management plan should be seen as a model that can be applied in other states looking to protect their waterways from development. New Jersey’s creation of the plan and affirmation of the plan’s legality by the state appeals court is an acknowledgement of the link between traditional development and stream and water quality, and proves that this concept can be promoted and established on a state level.

While New Jersey has implemented possibly the strongest management plan in the country, it shouldn’t be lost that other areas around the country are starting to take stormwater, and its links to development, seriously. Portland, Oregon has instituted a very progressive policy to limit sprawl and improve stormwater in the city. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recently revised their stormwater management, gearing it toward urban development and redevelopment by recognizing site constraints, urban soil properties, and infrastructure conditions.

There have been attempts to implement better stormwater laws, management and funding at a truly national level. Unfortunately, as close as we have come, progressive national stormwater legislation, has yet to make it all the way through Congress. More positively, the U.S. Green Building Council, along with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council have come together to develop a national rating system for neighborhood development with a strong emphasis on stormwater. Full implementation and results from these ratings are still a couple of years away.

But despite the seemingly glacial pace things are taking here in Washington D.C., various local and state-wide governments and organizations, like in New Jersey, have worked together to develop their own innovative stormwater plans, and by doing so they are setting examples that are fast becoming national standards.

For more information:
Gary Belan, American Rivers
PH: (202) 347.7550 x 3027
F: (202) 347.9242



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