Good By-laws Keep Waterways Clean

Citizens can advocate for measures to reduce pollution in stormwater runoff by speaking out at Conservation Commission and Town Meetings.

March 2015
Steve Pearlman, Advocacy Director

stormwater runnoff at DCR ponkapoag golf course“Stormwater Runoff” is responsible for more water pollution in Massachusetts than any other cause. Stormwater runoff is simply rainwater or snowmelt that picks up pollutants (including bacteria, heavy metals, oil & grease, nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides) as it “runs off” streets, sidewalks, parking lots and lawns into storm drains in the public streets. From there it goes, with little or no pollution reduction treatment, directly into our rivers, streams or wetlands.

Both federal and state law requires municipalities to control polluted stormwater runoff. Pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. EPA requires towns with storm drains to enact local Stormwater “Bylaws” requiring stormwater permits for some new development and as well as “redevelopment” of previously developed land.

Town conservation commissions also issue permits (called “Orders of Conditions”) under the state Wetlands Protection Act for all new development and redevelopment that occurs in or next to wetlands and surface water bodies.

Finally, the Wetlands Protection Act allows towns, at their discretion, to set even stricter stormwater runoff requirements for projects near wetlands through enactment of local Wetlands Bylaws.

town meeting from webExcept for the state Wetlands Protection Act itself, where the state sets the rules that municipalities then implement, both Wetland and Stormwater Bylaws are established and/or amended by communities themselves, generally through votes at Town Meetings. Such bylaws may require more than the state or feds do to reduce pollution from stormwater. These bylaws are usually drafted by Town Conservation Commissions (or, sometimes, other Town Boards or Committees), and reviewed by Boards of Selectmen, Finance Committees, etc. before being presented to voters at town meeting.

New EPA stormwater rules, expected to be finalized in late 2015 or early 2016, will require all towns with storm drains to strengthen their existing Stormwater Bylaws by no later than 2018.  The Neponset River Watershed Association will be letting you know when such meetings begin in your community (which probably won’t occur for at least a year) Stay tuned!


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