Storm water runoff is a huge source of pollution in the nation's waterways. In most cities, storm water is not treated, unlike the sewer system. This means everything storm water picks up before entering storm drains — litter, silts, oils off the streets, fertilizers off of lawns — is deposited straight into a community's rivers, lakes, and streams. Aware of the threat storm water poses to the country's water system, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set up the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Storm Water Program to protect the country's waterways from pollution.
Since 1990, the EPA has mandated that construction sites larger than 5 acres and communities with storm water conveyances serving populations of more than 100,000 need to apply for an NPDES permit. Technically, these community storm water conveyance systems are called municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). MS4s are required to develop a storm water quality management program.
On March 10, 2004, Phase II of the NPDES rule went into effect, expanding the regulations to include smaller communities and lowering the construction site threshold to 1 acre and greater. Construction sites smaller than 1 acre but part of a larger common plan of development must also abide by these rules.
Operators of construction sites subject to these rules must have a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP). The SWPPP must include a set of best management practices, or BMPs, specific for the site. Some BMPs are general housekeeping items, such as protecting garbage dumpsters from rain. Other BMPs are more directly targeted at minimizing the amount of exposed earth, helping storm water infiltrate the soil, or keeping sediment on site. In addition, BMPs can be temporary or structural.
The storm water rules set forth by the EPA are not just empty threats. In May 2004, the EPA came down on Wal-Mart with a $3.1 million fine for having inefficient storm water controls on 24 construction sites in nine states.
The punishments are not just going out to private contractors and companies. In 2002, the EPA conducted an audit of the "Truckee Meadows Storm Water Quality Management Program." The Truckee Meadows is in Washoe County, NV, and includes the cities of Reno and Sparks. Since the Truckee Meadows is a Phase I community, the EPA expected a fully implemented program. It was far from fully implemented. Consequently, the EPA applied pressure to both the state of Nevada and the Truckee Meadows to accelerate the implementation of the program.
At the 2004 National Pavement Expo West, E. Terri Svetich, storm water coordinator for the Truckee Meadows, spoke about programs implemented in her area for storm water and air quality. The NPDES permit she implements was issued jointly to the cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe County, and the Nevada Department of Transportation. This area, part of the Truckee River Watershed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe, is collectively known as Truckee Meadows.
This entity's Storm Water Quality Management Program involves:
- intergovernmental coordination, which links the co-permitees and allows them to share resources.
- storm water discharge monitoring in local waterways, both quarterly and after storms.
- illegal discharge detection and elimination.
- structural controls and land use planning for new development and redevelopment.
- public education and outreach.
- regulation of storm water discharges from construction and industrial sites.
- municipal operations, which includes BMPs such as street sweeping and catch basin cleaning.
One particular BMP Svetich has seen contribute to a reduction in water pollution and air pollution in Truckee Meadows is street sweeping. The Truckee Meadows municipalities own their own sweeping trucks, conduct their own sweeping practices, and set street sweeping intervals specified by the Washoe County Air Quality Management Division. Using vacuum and regenerative air sweeper truck models helps the municipalities meet the air quality (PM10) requirements set by the EPA and reduce the amount of pollutants reaching the storm drain system.