Draft Stormwater Permit for Massachusetts Town Relies on BMPs

A draft stormwater permit proposed June 20 for Worcester, Mass., outlines a new five-year plan to control stormwater pollution discharges to streams, ponds, and lakes.

Proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the permit would update a 1998 permit. The new permit provides better protection to area water bodies from elevated bacteria and nutrient levels and seeks to achieve pollution reductions by using a series of required best management practices – rather than setting end-of-pipe pollution limits.

"EPA has worked closely with our partners in the Commonwealth, as well as with Worcester officials, to design a stormwater permit that will help provide important protections to the environment, without breaking the bank," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office.

"Given the importance of reducing stormwater pollution, MassDEP is working on a comprehensive initiative to reduce stormwater pollutants statewide," commented Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Municipalities such as Worcester must obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their stormwater system of pipes and catch basins to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. The draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater discharge permit would apply to Worcester's municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4), which includes 330 outfalls discharging to streams and lakes. MS4s can contribute pollutants to receiving waters by transporting stormwater runoff, commingled at times with sewage or other illegal discharges.

The draft permit follows two years of discussions among the city, MassDEP, and EPA. The two environmental agencies have developed an approach to ensure that discharges from the MS4 do not cause or contribute to violation of water quality standards, requiring the city to reduce pollutants in discharges from its MS4 to the maximum extent practicable.

Within the 347 miles of pipe in this separate stormwater collection system, there are known and unknown illegal sewage connections contaminating stormwater and Worcester's water bodies. This draft MS4 permit proposes conditions while authorizing the discharge of this stormwater drainage.

MassDEP determined that many of Worcester's water bodies continue to fail to meet basic water quality standards. Problems include bacterial contamination, which can make water unsafe for human contact; phosphorus pollution, which can lead to discoloration, noxious weeds, algae scum, and oxygen levels low enough to suffocate fish; and excessive levels of toxic metals.

Stormwater pollution is one of the leading causes of Worcester's water bodies failing to meet water quality standards. Area waters that will be better protected due to the new permit include the tributaries at the headwaters of the Blackstone River such as Beaver Brook, Tatnuck Brook, and Mill Brook, as well as the popular Lake Quisigamond, Indian Lake, and Salisbury Pond.

This draft proposal is one of several actions under way to clean up Worcester's water. Worcester and surrounding communities also are constructing upgrades at the Upper Blackstone treatment facility which treats wastewater. This facility is the largest dry-weather source of phosphorus pollution and heavy metals such as cadmium and copper.

Worcester, like many older cities, also has overflows of mixed sewage and stormwater that contribute to the degradation of water quality. The city is working to address its single remaining combined sewer overflow. Worcester is also taking steps to prevent overflows of raw sewage caused by defects in the sewers due to blockages resulting from debris and grease and by illegal connections of sump pumps and roof leaders into the sewers.

Worcester currently spends approximately $2 million annually in operating costs on programs associated with stormwater management – mostly on street sweeping, catch basin maintenance, and other system maintenance.

EPA estimates the additional annual cost of the complying with the draft storm water permit to be $1.3 million – with the majority of the cost funding efforts to identify illicit sanitary connections to the storm drain system. If the cost burden of complying with the new permit were to be spread evenly among only Worcester households, EPA conservatively estimates that the new permit would result in a $1.50/month cost per household.

To review the draft permit, visit www.epa.gov/ne/npdes/Worcester.

A public hearing has been scheduled for July 30 at Worcester. EPA and MassDEP will accept public comments on the proposed permit until Aug. 4.

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