Environmental Protection

charles river

Two Impervious Acres Will Require a Permit in Charles River Watershed

Under a pilot program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require new measures to control stormwater pollution in the Charles River watershed.

The proposed program, which is available for comment, requires large industrial, commercial and multi-family residential facilities in three communities in the Upper Charles River Watershed to reduce polluted runoff from their properties. This initiative is part of a continuing, multi-faceted effort to restore the Charles to environmental health.

The proposed rules and instruction on how to comment can be found at EPA's Charles River Website. The official comment period will remain open until June 30.

The EPA action will apply to properties with two or more acres of impervious area (parking lots, roofs, roadways). The agency is piloting the approach in Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham, Mass.

Large impervious areas are one of the last major unregulated sources of water pollution, and a chief culprit in dramatic algae blooms – including toxic cyanobacteria – that have plagued the Charles in recent years. Extensive impervious cover also aggravates the severity of flooding because those areas diminish the amount of land that can naturally soak in and filter rainwater.

The federal Clean Water Act mandates that stormwater sources that degrade water quality below minimum standards be managed to reduce the harm they cause. Numerous studies have demonstrated a direct link between pollution in stormwater and large impervious surfaces such as those coming under regulation with this permit.

“Today EPA is asking everyone to do their fair share to protect our most precious resource – a clean environment that supports healthy communities and a robust economy,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “This effort will spur creative thinking to develop appropriate green infrastructure to help capture stormwater before it is channeled into our rivers, lakes and streams. EPA will provide maximum flexibility and a reasonable time-frame to ensure that together we all will protect the Charles.”

Currently, municipalities bear the burden for managing all of the stormwater that flows from public and private properties through their storm drain systems. The proposed pilot program will shift some of that burden to the private properties such as mall parking lots and commercial and industrial office parks that shed substantial volumes of contaminated stormwater through municipal pipes. Under existing regulations, virtually all of these facilities are not required to control stormwater, even as municipal governments face tightened stormwater requirements.

The permit is designed to encourage private property owners and municipalities to work together to produce a comprehensive approach to stormwater management, but property owners can choose to control their own stormwater to specified standards or work with their town government on a community-wide approach. Facilities can choose from a simple menu of stormwater controls and receive specified credits to meet their reduction requirement. Analyses conducted by EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection indicate that municipal-wide programs will produce greater benefits at lower costs.

In the pilot towns, stormwater controls will address local water quality problems and provide benefits downstream. Commercial, industrial and high-density residential facilities with two or more acres of impervious area in the three communities will be required to apply for a Clean Water Act permit for stormwater discharges which eventually reach the Charles River. The permits will require that these facilities reduce phosphorus discharges by 65 percent through a variety of stormwater management practices. Permittees will be required to infiltrate stormwater into the ground where feasible, thus restoring underground aquifers’ use as a drinking water source. Ultimately, these requirements will likely apply to the entire Charles River watershed.

EPA will work with communities and regulated facilities to develop financing approaches, for example stormwater utilities, which have been successful elsewhere.

"To effectively reduce the impacts of stormwater on the Charles River, we need to be aggressively tackling all sources of pollution," said John Kassel, president of Conservation Law Foundation. "We applaud EPA's decision to address polluted runoff from the parking lots and large commercial developments that now dominate our landscape and to require the innovative, low impact development approaches that will make a real difference in the Charles and beyond.”

EPA will hold two public informational meetings:

  • 7-9 p.m. on May 12 at the Tri-Country Regional Vocational Technical School at 147 Pond Street in Franklin; and
  • 6-7 p.m. on June 22 at the same location.

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