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Rivers Alliance Comments on Bill 5709 on Stormwater Sewer Permits

(Track this bill)

TO: Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. James Albis, Chairmen,
And the Members of the Committee on the Environment

Testimony from Rivers Alliance of Connecticut
Public Hearing, February 27, 20155

We are aware that many towns have raised loud objections to DEEP’s new stormwater rules. But, as the testimony of Connecticut Fund for the Environment indicates, it is odd for a legislature to direct an administrative agency not to enforce an apparently valid permit. Moreover, stormwater is the leading polluter of the state’s rivers and the Sound. I hope the Committee will play a constructive role in establishing good stormwater management. We would be pleased to assist, and have several suggestions, including bringing the DEEP Stormwater Manual up to date.

Comments from Rivers Alliance of Connecticut on the MS4 Draft General Permit for Stormwater


TO: Chris Stone, CT DEEP

FROM: Rivers Alliance of Connecticut

DATE: January 8, 2015

It is our understanding that DEEP will be making major revisions to this proposed permit, therefore I will not go into much detail.

The Department of Corrections, Curtis Read in Bridgewater, and most other commenters make a persuasive case that the proposed permit has too many new requirements. These requirements should be better supported by an analysis of how well the existing permit has served water protection and how it could most effectively be improved. Absent feedback on progress (or not) in the past few years, it is understandable that towns object to many of the new reporting requirements. Skepticism toward the value of the work proposed in the draft permit could be allayed by an explanation of how past data has been used, how new data will be used, how the required tasks will protect water quality, and what degree of improvement is expected.

Many of the comments in opposition are not entirely negative but include positive recommendations, such as a management-plan template, limits on the use of lawn treatments, a focus on the worst places for stormwater damage (perhaps with a requirement for retrofits in these places to manage the first flush). We know that you will consider these recommendations, and we look forward to your report on reasons for accepting or rejecting them.

Negative comments based on the complaint that the entire permit is an unfunded mandate seem detached from the everyday reality that legally and ethically one is not supposed to send waste and debris onto another’s property. If wastewater from my failing septic system is bubbling up on a neighbor’s property, I can’t refuse to repair the damage on the grounds that my neighbor is imposing an unfunded mandate. Similarly a community should expect to be asked not to sluice contaminated stormwater downstream to some other community. Most, perhaps all, towns understand this and make some sort of effort to be good neighbors.

Rivers Alliance is not unmindful of the importance of cost in local management. Thus, we agree with the objections to the new requirement for using engineers. The requirement is consistent with a recent state trend to outsource work to professionals having some set of credentials that supposedly will guarantee a good outcome. The result too often is impressive, costly paperwork but not effective work in the field.

As Connecticut Fund for the Environment illustrates in its power point, the state needs an effective stormwater permit as soon as possible. Downstream harm from rain and snow runoff continues at unacceptable levels, culminating in contaminated waters and dead zones in LI Sound. CFE in its intervention asks for clear standards, specific goals, effective testing, and compliance assurance consistent with the Clean Water Act. CFE argues for the need to pay more attention to cleaning up contamination by bacteria. The EPA comments ask for more attention to other stormwater contaminants, not mentioned by CFE or in the general permit. We support these recommendations.

Greenwich has questions about the status of a TMDL within a Phase II NPS program. Rivers Alliance has similar questions on point-source programs compared to NPS programs, and looks forward to clarification.

Note that DPH asks for greater protections for drinking water sources; EPA wants more protection for impaired waters; and Rivers Alliance now asks for greater protection for high-quality natural streams and wetlands, which are being rapidly destroyed. This pretty much covers all waters.

We recommend a more pointed use of the CWA anti-degradation principle, which should benefit all waters.

We believe that all stormwater should be subject to some sort of decontamination process, preferably by filtration in natural vegetation and healthy soils.

The Navy makes a strong case for defining more of the key terms, and EPA asks you to scrap “to the maximum extent practicable” as undefined.

On ancillary issues, we join others in strongly urging DEEP to revise its stormwater-management manual to reflect current storm data and new technologies. We believe DEEP should consider mustering more state support for the creation of stormwater utilities.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We would be happy to help, if we can, in the revision of this draft stormwater permit.

Margaret Miner

Executive Director


Dec. 12, 2014

New Municipal Stormwater General Permit


Photo courtesy Town of Groton, CT
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated a number of permit programs, administered by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), to deal with stormwater pollution. One of these permits is the "Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems General Permit" (abbreviated MS4) that requires each municipality to take steps to clean up the stormwater entering its storm sewer systems before it enters water bodies.

A revision of this permit will be presented at a Public Hearing on December 17, 2014.

Written comments on the general permit will be accepted at the hearing and following the hearing until January 9, 2015. Each commenter at the hearing will be allowed 3-5 minutes, and public and elected officials will get to go first. DEEP describes the process thus:

"The hearing will consist of informational presentations by the parties, a discussion of possible revisions to the proposed general permit, and the collection of public comment on the record. Based on the significant number of comments received to date and comments anticipated from the public hearing, Department staff will work with petitioners and intervenors after the December 17 public hearing on mutually acceptable revisions to the proposed general permit to resolve as many issues as possible."

As of Thursday, Dec. 11, there were three insignificantly different versions of the draft revised permit on DEEP's website in three locations. Click here for the most recent.

Click here for the old permit that has been in use for 15 years.

On July 7, 2014, CT DEEP issued their Public Notice, posted the draft of the revised General Permit Fact Sheet.

On August 6, 2014, DEEP held an Informational Meeting with a presentation.

Click here for a presentation from the CT River Coastal Conservation District about the new rules.

Comments from 40 towns, 6 COGs or RPAs and others.

Long Island Sound Study shared a link on their Facebook page from The Ridgefield Press: "Cost of clean water rules worries town" 

The Hartford Courant wrote a supportive editorial on November 10. Courant editorial Hate That Dirty Water

Rivers Alliance is still studying reasons for changing the current permit and most practical way of achieving results. Certainly the first step should be to reduce the volume of stormwater by arranging for it to soak into the soil before reaching stormdrains.



NOAA and Noah in New England

The Northeast is getting more rain than it can handle, and we should expect more of the same and worse. The National Climate Assessment released in June by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that this region is experiencing increasing frequency of intense, heavy rain events. Between 1958 and 2010, there has been a 70 percent increase in the precipitation falling in strong storms. The Assessment predicts this trend will continue. Yet Connecticut is still using data from 1961 in designing septic leach fields, detention basins, stormwater pipes, dam spillways, and other critical infrastructure related to stormwater management. Engineers are allowed to use precipitation projections in TP 40 (Technical Paper 40) issued by the National Weather Service in 1961. Using old data holds down costs of construction and repair but raises the likelihood of sewage overflows and flooded streets and homes. It’s time to start building for now and the next 50 years.



Rainfall Data Catches Up to Weather

By Martha Smith, Analyst, Southwest Conservation District

OK, a rainfall pop quiz for you.

A 100-year-rain storm
a.) occurs once every 100 years, or
b.) has a 1% (1/100) statistical chance of occurring in any year.  

A 25-year-rain storm
a.) occurs once every 25 years, or
b.) has a 4% (1/25) statistical chance of occurring in any year.

If you chose “b” twice, congratulations. You understand commonly misunderstood terms — terms used with increasing frequency given recent storm events.

Our climate is constantly changing, and yet in the Northeast the “design storm,” or the expected amount of rain in a storm used to design infrastructure, has mainly been based on the venerable Weather Bureau publication Technical Paper 40, or TP40 for short. This standard 50-year-old reference was based on rain storms measured before 1960.

Design storm data is a critical component of many civil engineering design projects. For instance, if someone is designing and building a storm drain, they use design storm data to make sure the storm drain and associated piping will not overflow or back up for the anticipated amount of rain. 

A design storm is the likelihood of a specific amount of rain falling in a designated time period. Design storms range from rainfall durations of 5 minutes up to 10 days, and also range from high probability of occurrence (1-year storm) to lower probability (500-year storm).  

Most people are aware that rainfall patterns have changed in the Northeast, and scientific studies have validated this impression. In response, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) teamed up with the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) and Cornell University to update the rainfall data set. For explanation on statistics and the data used to calculate design storms, you can check the “Extreme Precipitation in New York and New England” website at http://precip.eas.cornell.edu/.

The new data set includes extreme precipitation through 2008, and, no big surprise: there are some changes for the Northeast. In Connecticut, the rainfall in normal smaller storms (1- to 10- year design storms) has not changed significantly. But the less frequent larger storms are much wetter. As an example, previously in Fairfield County, 7.2 inches rainfall was the 100-year, 24-hour design storm; now it’s 9.1 inches. Similarly, New Haven County’s 100-year, 24-hour storm increased from 7.1 inches to 8.3 inches rainfall.

On a practical level, what does this mean? It means engineering design standards will have to change if we are to reduce the risk of storm damage to bridges, roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. Hydrological expertise will be needed to determine exactly how engineering design standards need to change.

Unfortunately, the state and localities are moving slowly, if at all, to upgrade their design standards. Greenwich stands out as a municipality that has done so. The state Department of Transportation is doing a pilot study of infrastructure vulnerability in the Northwest Corner under conditions of climate change and extreme storms. But there is no coordinated, comprehensive effort to adopt uniform, realistic standards statewide. 

Meanwhile, storm impacts to existing infrastructure are likely to continue to be a greater problem than in the past. Connecticut now has larger areas of impervious surfaces than in 1960. This means more stormwater flowing into streams; and, where combined sewers exist, this water will flow into and sometimes flood wastewater treatment systems. In addition, replacement of aging infrastructure has been lagging. It’s a little like expecting an aged worker to perform physical labor harder than they ever did in their youthful physical peak. Thanks to the work of NRCS, NRCC and Cornell, engineers, as well as state and local officials, now have access to a rainfall data set that reflects current conditions. It is important to use this data as the basis for planning and permitting related to storm water.  

I close with one last question for today’s rainfall pop quiz.

Rainfall data shows increasing intensity of storms in Connecticut, so we should
a.) build infrastructure designed for present rain storms
b.) assess existing critical infrastructure, such as bridges, for adequacy to withstand extreme storms
c.)  maintain our stream gauge network
d.) all of the above  

If you chose “d,” congratulations.




Rivers Alliance of Connecticut
PO Box 1797, 7 West Street 3rd Floor, Litchfield, CT 06759-1797
rivers@riversalliance.org, www.riversalliance.org