Stormwater permit under review again
State revises guidelines every five years
Posted: December 17, 2013 at 5 a.m.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing one of the most commonly held permits in the state, the general permit for stormwater runoff.
The general permit, held by almost 2,000 permanent facilities and thousands more entities engaged in temporary construction projects, governs how permit holders must deal with the runoff that results when rainfall hits impermeable surfaces such as asphalt.
The stormwater generalpermit outlines how holders must manage stormwater discharge with respect to state waterways and sewer systems in an effort to minimize the pollution by bacteria and other materials - often sediment dislodged during construction activities - of waters that are often current or potential drinking-water supplies.
Ryan Benefield, deputy director for the Environmental Quality Department, said the stormwater permit is one of the department’s most widely held permits throughout the state, and even minorchanges to its language during the renewal process can have major effects on permit holders.
“It’s a very significant effort we take on every five years,” Benefield said.
The current version of the general permit expires June 30. It spans more than 40 pages and has specific stormwater control requirements for more than 30 sectors of industry including timber and leather tanning. The permit is part of a larger family of regulations known as the National Pollutant DischargeElimination System, mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.
According to documents from the Environmental Quality Department, the current renewal process began with a stakeholders workshop in May. After the workshop, a draft of the updated permit was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors state environmental regulatory agencies to ensure compliance with federal guidelines.
After the EPA approved the draft in early November, the Environmental Quality Department opened a public comment period that ended Friday, concluding in a public hearing for the permit at the department’s North Little Rock headquarters.
Representatives of about a dozen entities filed comments with the department, mostly over small details.
Stephen Cain, an environmental compliance manager with the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation in Little Rock, said the current renewal of the state’s stormwater general permit is his fourth experience with the process since beginning work at the cooperative about 15 years ago.
In a four-page letter dated Dec. 9, Cain outlined five concerns with the new permit, including the department’s decision to move limits for liquid waste known as “effluent” out of a separate document called a stormwater pollution prevention plan and into the state permit. Cain said this would add another regulatory layer, unnecessarily restricting businesses’ ability to cope with problems as they arise.
“The things that are required are all things I’d call ‘good business practices’ anyway, but when [the Environmental Quality Department] moves them into a permit, they’re making them a criteria that you must live by,” Cain said.
Benefield said moving theeffluent limitations to the permit, rather than requiring permit holders to address them in their stormwater protection plans, was in keeping with the EPA’s national permit.
Charles Nestrud, a lawyer with Chisenhall, Nestrud and Julian in Little Rock who said he has worked in environmental law for about 35 years, submitted comments to the department on behalf of his client Riceland Foods Inc.
Nestrud, along with other commenters including Cain, complained that some of the permit’s wording was ambiguous, especially as it related to effluent limitations.
“You just want to be clear on the front end,” Nestrud said. “I think that was the gist on the part of my client. If you don’t know you’re out of compliance until an inspector shows up and tells you, that is not a good situation.”
Cain also worried that anything not “nailed down” in the language of the permit would leave his industry at the mercy of individual inspectors.
“Two inspectors may look at the same thing completely differently, because it’s subjective,” Cain said. “To me, it opens the door to subjective inspections.”
Stormwater runoff in Northwest Arkansas is of particular importance to the Beaver Water District, one of four water districts to draw drinking water from Beaver Lake. The lake is the primary source of drinking water for about 420,000 residents, and draws its water through a 1,200-square-mile watershed that spans Benton, Carroll, Washington and Madison counties.
Stormwater runoff, which district chief operating officer Alan Fortenberry said is already considered the lake’s main source of pollution, is likely to become even more of a problem as modern development continues to expand into rural areas of the watershed.
According to the Beaver Lake Watershed Protection Strategy, presented in a symposium earlier this year by the Beaver Lake Watershed Alliance, municipal areas inNorthwest Arkansas - primarily Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville - are anticipated to double by 2050, vastly increasing the amount of asphalt and other impermeable materials in the watershed.
Fortenberry said one premise of the general permit is that it makes exclusions for construction zones and other activity in areas where runoff would likely impact bodies of water termed “extraordinary resource waters,” “ecologically sensitive waterbodies,” and “natural and scenic waterways,” requiring entities to acquire individual stormwater runoff permits.
Comments submitted to the Environmental Quality Department from the district’s staff attorney, Colene Gaston, pushed for the Environmental Quality Department to extend that philosophy to permits granted for activity where runoff would likely affect sources of drinking water - such as Beaver Lake - that don’t necessarily receive any of the special designations mentioned above.
Fortenberry said he would like to see such activity near drinking-water sources require individual permits and the elevated level of regulatory scrutiny that goes along with them, although he understood it was unrealistic to expect the Environmental Quality Department to require individual stormwater runoff permits for everyone doing business within the watershed.
“Philosophically, you have to think about how far to take that,” Fortenberry said. “If we had our way, we wouldn’t want to see anyone contaminate the entire watershed, but we realize that’s a stretch. So with this regulation, we’re looking at people polluting streams that feed into the White River and Beaver Lake.”
“There’s always balance,” Nestrud said. “If things are necessary to protect the environment, they get adopted. And then there’s what goes too far, and interferes with industry’s ability to operate. Every time there’s a proposal, you’ve got to strike that balance.”
Northwest Arkansas, Pages 9 on 12/17/2013