Stormwater is an important resource. With rainfall, some of it runs off over land and soaks into the soil. It thereby recharging groundwater as it makes its way towards lakes and streams. Proper storm water management helps prevent related pollution.
Runoff is trapped by features in the natural landscape that allow rainwater to filter into the ground. Ponds and wetlands retain this resource while grasslands and forests freely absorb it. These natural features also remove pollutants and lower the rate of surface runoff. But, development can interfere with the natural absorption process. It hinders the ability of nature to moderate runoff naturally. The result is soil erosion, flooding and pollution. This turns a beneficial resource into a costly and dangerous problem.
Developing a management strategy means understanding the natural hydrologic cycle. The liquid retaining elements of this cycle are the atmosphere, snowpacks and ice caps, vegetation, land surface and fluid retaining bodies. There is a liquid transport phase of precipitation from the atmosphere and a vapor evaporation phase between these elements.
Four things may happen with the initial precipitation. It may become surface run-off, or evaporate, or infiltrate foliage or penetrate the soil. State and federal environmental laws govern the standards required of different actors involved in managing aspects of this process.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency was created by the federal government to be responsible for protecting the environment. The USEPA at first focused on point source discharges of pollutants. These were mainly wastewater from municipal treatment plants and industrial facilities.
Subsequently, diffuse pollutant sources, also known as non-point sources have been recognized as significant contributors to pollution in many areas. Generally urban stormwater is diffuse in nature. But as it is discharged through outfall points it is classified as a point source. Consequently, the federal agency has begun to regulate such discharge as a point source by requiring urban governments to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
Originally enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act, contains the legal requirements for protecting water resources. In 1990, Phase I of the NPDES Program was developed by the USEPA in response to 1987 Amendments to the Clean Water Act. Municipalities with populations exceeding 100,000 began to develop and implement programs meeting its requirements. Phase II of the regulations required urban municipalities with smaller populations to develop and implement such programs.
Developments can cause flooding and erosion by disturbing a natural cycle. They can also contribute to pollution of lakes, streams, rivers and estuaries. The regulatory goal is to absorb or retain such effluent so that it conditions before development. Preventing problems caused by complications from developing requires precautionary policies. Because local governments are principally responsible for managing land use, federal and state laws require programs to maintain pre-developmental runoff conditions. In short, runoff should not be significantly different from what it was before a site was developed. The mandates allow flexibility in storm water management that suits the individual conditions of a municipality. They have the flexibility to meet the intended goals of governmental policies to protect our resources and quality of life.
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