Water Board Defends Storm Water Permit

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, July 7, 2003 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Under fire from the environmental community, the State Water Resources Control Board continues to defend its General Industrial Storm Water Permit (GISWP), which is currently being reviewed pursuant to state and federal water quality law.

The GISWP, first adopted in 1997, is a self-implementing permit that satisfies storm water management obligations under state and federal law for thousands of industrial facilities statewide. It represents an important step in the state’s effort to control so-called “non-point source” water pollution. At the heart of the program is a facility-specific storm water management plan which includes an inventory of potential sources of pollution and documents specific actions to control those sources. These “best management practices” (BMPs) range from general housekeeping activities to physical structures designed to separate storm water runoff from chemicals and process equipment. Permittees are required to monitor their storm water discharges to evaluate the effectiveness of their BMPs. If monitoring results indicate excessive contamination, the facility operator is required to upgrade the BMPs.

CMTA supports this process because it recognizes the highly variable and unpredictable nature of storm water. Storm water cannot be controlled in the same fashion as a discrete “end-of-pipe” wastewater discharge of known quantity, composition and duration.

The environmental community continues to pressure the Board to jettison the current approach in favor of the point source model, where facilities would be held to specific storm water discharge limits for target pollutants. Their approach would require industrial facilities to install catch basins and on-site treatment systems to retain and remediate storm water before it could be released from the property. For most facilities, this proposition would be cost-prohibitive, and in the event of a storm that overwhelms treatment system capacity, would expose operators to penalties for violations of permit limits that would be beyond their control. These facilities would also be subject to citizen suits for such violations under the federal Clean Water Act.

In response to this pressure, the Board is proposing a number of changes to the 1997 permit. These include requirements for quarterly facility inspections, additional storm water sampling requirements, visual inspections before each storm event and new requirements for Group Monitoring Programs, including mandatory inspection of new group participants within 120 days. These and other changes amount to a substantially more stringent and burdensome permit.

The proposed changes to the GISWP are currently being workshopped and the adoption hearing is expected in the fall. CMTA continues to encourage the Board to stick with the basic framework of the 1997 permit and to avoid imposing new requirements that do not measurably enhance compliance with the permit or lead to tangible improvements in water quality.
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