Storm discharge rules come to life for developers

By Thomas Wilson

   Two commercial developments underway in Elizabethton are having to deal with storm water discharge regulations governed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and designed to reduce pollution of lakes and rivers.
   Developers of the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse are installing storm water discharge basins on their property sites to meet EPA regulations for pollutants discharged from storm water runoff.
   "This is a nationwide EPA program," said Johann Coetzee, deputy director of public works for the city. "It is a requirement of cities and developers."
   The new regulations are part of Phase II of the EPA's Storm Water Program that places new responsibilities on small municipal and county governments to create and administer storm water pollution prevention programs. The Storm Water Phase II Final Rule is an EPA regulation placed into effect last year to protect water resources from polluted storm water runoff. The storm water program was promulgated under the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 to govern storm water discharges from property sites. It requires communities to implement activities that will reduce the amount of pollutants entering the storm sewer system and, ultimately, rivers and lakes.
   City representatives from the planning, public works and building departments met Tuesday morning with engineers and contractors working with the Lowe's superstore to discuss construction of the site's Phase II storm water discharge system. Representatives of Tysinger, Hampton & Partners of Johnson City who serve as the engineering company for the Lowe's development presented guidelines required under Phase II regulations for the Lowe's store.
   The Lowe's site will have two storm water drains constructed on the 16-acre property. The construction company of J.R. Vannoy & Sons based in Jefferson, N.C. are contracted to build the Lowe's store. Construction costs of drainage basins falls to private developers.
   The EPA issued the Phase II rules in October 2003. The city became accountable under federal storm water standards on March 10, 2003.
   "It is an important component of this development, knowing city, state and federal regulations will be met," said David Ornduff, city director of planning and development.
   The new Wal-Mart Supercenter store has two storm water drains completed and a third under construction. Coetzee inspected a storm drainage basin under construction at the Wal-Mart site Tuesday morning.
   To construct the storm water discharge system, two rectangular basins made of concrete walls several inches thick are buried below ground side by side. The basins collect oil, gas and debris washed by rainfall and deposit them into concrete catch basins. Porous metal grates located inside the basins collect the solid debris while metal barriers trap oil and keep other sedimentation from entering the water filtration pipes that discharge into the Watauga River. Two more concrete structures are placed on top of the drainage basin to allow access and removal of debris and sediment held inside the filtration system.
   "During the first inch of a rainstorm, they collect the pollutants, debris and sedimentation, which are taken out," Coetzee said.
   He said a torrential rain event would wash most discharged storm water into the Watauga River. However, minor rainfall or rain up to 1 inch would be collected in the drainage basins and reduce pollutant discharges into the river.
   The rules affect areas including Johnson City, Elizabethton, Kingsport, and Bristol, as well as Carter, Washington, Sullivan, and Hawkins counties. Communities must evaluate existing storm water systems, construction site runoff, watersheds and illicit discharges to meet the new regulations. The federal government mandates that all counties adopt a storm water education program and small municipalities must implement storm water management programs by the end of the first permit term, typically a 5-year period.
   Phase I of the program relies on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage to address storm water runoff. The NPDES permitting system identifies "medium" and "large" municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) generally serving populations of 100,000 or greater, construction activity disturbing 5 acres of land or greater, and 10 categories of industrial activity.
   The Phase II program expands the Phase I program by requiring additional operators of MS4s in urbanized areas and operators of small construction sites, through the use of NPDES permits, to implement programs and practices to control polluted storm water runoff. Coetzee said Phase II regulations require smaller communities to develop "best management practices" to significantly reduce pollutants from storm water.
   Storm water discharge accounts for a great deal of pollution discharges into waterways according to an EPA assessment conducted four years ago. According to the 2000 National Water Quality Inventory, a biennial summary of state surveys of water quality, approximately 39 percent of surveyed U.S. water bodies, are still identified as "impaired" to support one or more uses including aquatic life, fishing or swimming from pollution and do not meet water quality standards. Approximately 13 percent of impairment causes were attributed to urban discharge and storm water runoff according to the Inventory report.