OARS Joins EPA Stormwater Regs Suit

The Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury & Concord Rivers (OARS) recently announced that it is joining with nine other river groups in filing a lawsuit to overturn the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) one-year delay in implementing new stormwater pollution requirements in Massachusetts. One hundred percent of Acton’s land lies within the Assabet watershed, which is within the larger Assabet/Sudbury/Concord watershed studied and protected by OARS.

Stormwater is water that runs off the land when it rains, carrying fertilizer, harmful bacteria, oil, gas, toxic metals, and salt into nearby waterways. For municipalities in the more populated parts of Massachusetts, stormwater discharge is regulated by a system called “MS4,” for “municipal separate storm water systems.” Under this system, a permit is jointly issued by EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to a town such as Acton. The permitted town has to create a stormwater management plan and map its stormwater collection systems, monitor outfall pipes, and prioritize cleanup of the most pressing problems. The permit also requires public outreach, stormwater recharge, and “good housekeeping” practices, such as storm drain cleaning and street sweeping.

The Massachusetts permitting system was established in 2003, as part of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). In 2008, this permit expired, and was “administratively continued.” For eight years, MassDEP, EPA, and concerned stakeholders negotiated what should be contained in the next generation permit, and the document passed through many drafts.

On April 13, 2016, EPA announced with pride that “EPA has listened to the input of local experts and we have developed an effective and state-of-the-art permit that allows flexibility for municipal leaders to tailor their efforts to their needs, which will mean better protection for Massachusetts’ lakes, streams and other water bodies.” The new permit was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2017, and a series of workshops was held to help municipalities get up to speed on the new requirements.

Two days before the new permit was to go into effect, on June 29, 2017, EPA suddenly announced that the effective date of the permit would be postponed for a year, until July 1, 2018.

OARS and the other watershed organizations involved in the lawsuit are worried that EPA’s delay of the MS4 permit is part of a pattern of actions being taken by the Trump administration to weaken or eliminate environmental protections across the country. They think that the permit could in fact be delayed by much longer than one year, while judicial review of various appeals from towns and other groups plays out. The lawsuit seeks a court order to force the agency to implement the permitting plan.

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