With Farm Bill in Limbo, Bay Cleanup Funds Are at Risk
With Gridlock in D.C., Farm Pollution Control Program to Expire on Sept. 30

Virginia Runoff Permits a Bit Leaky?

Sewer with rain by Schlyer RAVE ilcp
After years of delay, Virginia regulatory officials have issued an official draft of the first of new water pollution permits for Virginia’s 11 largest cities.

The permits are for managing the cities’ stormwater runoff, the rain water that washes off thousands of acres of urban streets, parking lots, and lawns and sweeps harmful pollutants -– nutrients, oil, grease, and dirt -- into Virginia streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

The required permits typically are for five-year periods, but all 11 of these big-city permits expired years ago, some as early as 2006. That means Virginia’s largest urban areas have continued to operate stormwater runoff systems under the rules of their old, expired permits. EPA’s concern – and that of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) – is that those old permits contain none of the specific pollution reduction requirements Virginia pledged to meet as part of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay clean water blueprint.

Business-as-usual runoff management won’t restore clean water to Virginia streams and the Bay. In fact, science shows that runoff pollution in the Bay watershed is getting worse, not better. The need for more effective runoff controls, especially in Virginia’s largest cities, is crucial if the state is to meet its clean water goals.

IStock_000000891221LargeOf the 11 expired permits, Virginia regulators have so far proposed only one new one, for Arlington, Va. The proposed draft permit is now under review by EPA. CBF has examined Arlington’s draft permit and concluded it shows significant progress toward meeting the initial commitments Virginia made in the state’s Bay cleanup blueprint.

That blueprint calls for Arlington to limit nitrogen runoff to about 56,000 pounds a year, phosphorus runoff to 9,000 pounds a year, and sediment runoff to 2.4 million pounds a year by 2025. Virginia regulators are allowing cities like Arlington to phase in those limits over the next 13 years. They can achieve 5 percent of the needed pollution reductions over the next five-year permit period; another 35 percent in the subsequent five-year permit; and the remaining 60 percent of the reductions in the next five-year period, taking them to the 2025 end goal. 

Arlington’s proposed permit obligates the city to reduce runoff pollution to achieve that initial 5 percent benchmark. That’s good, says Peggy Sanner, CBF’s Virginia senior attorney. However, the permit lacks specifics about how that will be achieved and is not specifically tied to the larger state/federal blueprint that is driving the pollution reductions. That concerns Sanner.

“Lacking such specifics, it is difficult to know how Virginia, EPA, or citizens can hold Arlington accountable to the permit’s 5-percent reduction requirement,” Sanner said. “As the first of the big-city permits, Arlington’s could set a bad precedent for ensuring clean water success in the Commonwealth.”

Whether or not EPA shares similar concerns remains to be seen. The agency is expected to work with Virginia to reach an agreement on the new permit.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photos: Top, Krista Schlyer/ILCP; bottom, iStock

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