New Stormwater Permit a Win for Clean Water

After years of delay and with the help of a successful lawsuit by conservation groups, a new, much stronger permit for stormwater discharges by municipalities in Massachusetts finally took effect on July 1.

The permit was issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency and requires municipalities to take additional steps to protect rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds from polluted stormwater runoff. Contaminated stormwater is the biggest pollution problem in the Neponset River Watershed and across the state.

A Remarkable Win for Clean Water

At stake was the revised Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or “MS4″permit, which was supposed to take effect a year ago in July 2017. Two days before its effective date, former U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unilaterally postponed it for another year even though it was already final and 10 years overdue. A coalition of nine watershed associations led by the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance sued the US EPA, arguing that Pruitt’s action was illegal, and put the health of Massachusetts residents and water bodies at risk.

Faced with the coalition’s lawsuit, EPA chose not to further delay the permit’s implementation, and on July 1, 2018, allowed the stormwater permit to go into effect. The river groups were represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene C. Freidel. Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey also had urged EPA in a court-filed brief to end its delay.

“This was a significant victory for the Neponset,’’ said Ian Cooke, Executive Director at the Neponset River Watershed Association, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We have been working side by side with our communities to help them get ready to implement this new permit for several years now. There was no legal basis for the delay, and it caused widespread confusion. I’m pleased we were able to prevent further backsliding by the administration. The benefits for residents in terms of recreation, drinking water protection, wildlife, and public health will be dramatic.”

“Pruitt’s delay of Massachusetts’ MS4 permit was part of the Trump Administration’s pattern of rolling back and delaying environmental protections put in place by the prior administration,” said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We were concerned that if we did not challenge this illegal delay, the EPA would have been emboldened to simply continue delaying indefinitely. We appreciate the participation of our member organizations, such as NepRWA, and eight other watershed groups around the state. Massachusetts is lucky to have such an engaged an active environmental community.”

What Will Change

The revised MS4 permit requires towns to update their stormwater management plans, monitor outfall pipes, and prioritize cleanup of the most pressing problems, such as the discharge of untreated sewage into nearby waterways via storm drains. The permit also requires public outreach, stormwater recharge, and “good housekeeping” practices such as storm drain cleaning and street sweeping, as well as requiring developers to do a better job cleaning up parking lot runoff.

“Our towns are geared up and ready to meet the new MS4 standards, and NepRWA is actively working to help make them successful. We are looking forward to some real progress in getting pollutants out of our streams and ponds over the next few years,” said Chris Hirsch, Environmental Scientist at the Neponset River Watershed Association. “This means safer swimming, fishing, and boating for people; and a cleaner habitat for fish and wildlife.”

Read learn more about the MS4 permit and how you can help stop polluted stormwater runnoff at YourCleanWater.org.

-Ian Cooke, Executive Director, August 2018

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