urban runoff

State caught in crossfire with proposed stormwater control rules

How far should Washington go to rein in the largest source of water pollution fouling Puget Sound and many other water bodies in the state?

Friday is the deadline for the public to weigh in on a preliminary proposal by the Washington Ecology Department that is drawing fire from environmentalists as being too lax and from builders as being potentially super-costly. A second, formal public comment period will start this fall.

At issue is stormwater, the pollution-laced runoff that streams off the developed landscape after rainstorms, carrying a foul stew of pesticides, toxic metals, fecal matter and other pollutants. Washington is the first state in the nation where a judicial ruling forced state regulators to require builders to employ a series of green-building techniques known as “low-impact development.”

Now the Ecology Department has set out to determine just how much building methods will have to be adjusted to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which the state administers. The ruling by the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board requiring the changes says they must be employed “where feasible.”

But what does that mean?

 Does it require that almost every bit of rainwater be soaked up by sponge-like “rain gardens,” porous pavement, vegetated roofs and other “green infrastructure” techniques?

 Does it mean builders should just do the best they can, given the local terrain they’re building on?

 Or should developers have to go even further, mostly building up with multi-story construction instead of building out, so that a minimal amount of ground is covered, leaving intact most trees and other plants, along with native soil, to slurp up the stormwater?

Opinions vary. Ecology has advanced a tentative set of ideas based on the notion that the full-bore treatment isn’t likely to work everywhere.

Byline: