Stormwater is an important resource. With rainfall, some of it runs off over land and soaks into the soil. It thereby recharging groundwater as it makes its way towards lakes and streams. Proper storm water management helps prevent related pollution.
Runoff is trapped by features in the natural landscape that allow rainwater to filter into the ground. Ponds and wetlands retain this resource while grasslands and forests freely absorb it. These natural features also remove pollutants and lower the rate of surface runoff. But, development can interfere with the natural absorption process. It hinders the ability of nature to moderate runoff naturally. The result is soil erosion, flooding and pollution. This turns a beneficial resource into a costly and dangerous problem.
Developing a strategy to manage this problem requires a basic understanding of the water cycle. The factors in this sequence that act as retainers of moisture are the upper atmosphere, ice caps and snowpack, plant life, ground terrain and bodies of water. Liquid transport phase brings precipitation from the upper atmosphere. There is also a vaporizing phase between these different factors.
Four things may happen with the initial precipitation. It may become surface run-off, or evaporate, or infiltrate foliage or penetrate the soil. State and federal environmental laws govern the standards required of different actors involved in managing aspects of this process.
The lead federal agency is the EPA. It has been entrusted with the responsibility to protect the environment. EPA initially developed policies that targeted the discharge from its point source. Early policy targeted industrial and municipal sewage treatment facilities.
Subsequently, diffuse pollutant sources, also known as non-point sources have been recognized as significant contributors to pollution in many areas. Generally urban stormwater is diffuse in nature. But as it is discharged through outfall points it is classified as a point source. Consequently, the federal agency has begun to regulate such discharge as a point source by requiring urban governments to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
In this regard, it should be kept in mind that the Clean Water Act governs the legal standards for water resource protection. In 1990 was developed Phase I of the compliance program complying with its requirements. Under its purview fell municipalities with populations over 100,000. They were made responsible for developing and implementing compliant programs. Municipal governments with smaller populations came under the purview of Phase II of the regulations.
Since local governments have purview over the control of land use and development, state and federal laws require urban communities and other public bodies to put in place storm water management programs. These should have the end result of producing conditions that mimicked conditions where there was an absence of built up interference. The precautionary policy direction has the intent of preventing complications caused by development. The laws governing management of this resource are not rigid. They are flexible enough to take into account the individual characteristics of individual municipal units.
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