The Importance of Rewriting Storm Water Regulations
Goochland High School
This paper observes the negative and harmful effects of water pollution and storm water runoff on the environment and the surrounding community. The most common form of water pollution is sediment runoff. It then goes on to explain the research and effectiveness of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and their positive effects. BMPs are conservation practices that can preserve or improve the state of the environment. The argument stated in this essay refers to the use of storm water regulations in the United States. Most regulations are too strict to allow for any conservation practices because they can be very costly and ineffective if carried out improperly. If the storm water regulations are rewritten to allow for BMPs, then the state of commercial and non-commercial water sources could be greatly improved.
The Importance of Rewriting Storm Water Regulations
Think about all the bodies of water on our planet. Every river, lake, stream, and is essential to the way our world functions. Unfortunately, our society has done very little to preserve these water sources and as a result, our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans are suffering from many forms of pollution. Every oil spill, discarded water bottle, and obstructive dam continually add to our already-polluted waters, and very little is being done to reverse this problem. The most prominent issue being studied today is storm water runoff. The collection of fine sediments, chemicals, and debris, are a serious pollution concern. Many solutions and technologies have already been developed, but the number one controversy that is holding us back is storm water regulations. Storm water regulations are the basic guidelines that all states follow when constructing storm drains and other runoff structures as well as controlling the pollutants that are discharged from water treatment plants (CLW, 2004), but they limit the actions needed to reduce the runoff pollution. In order to fix the mess our society has made with urbanization and waterway pollution, storm water regulations must be changed to allow for new solutions and technologies that deal with sediment pollution and storm water runoff.
Every household needs water. It's a basic necessity. We use it for laundry, cooking, lawns and plants, personal hygiene, drinking, dishes, and so on. For this very reason, it is important that the water we use is of good quality. The contamination of water sources affects all aspects of life from heath care to limitations of commercial water use. If we used the same murky water for cleaning as we do for consumption, then our health would deteriorate quickly, causing a large chain of disastrous events. The government puts a lot of emphasis on maintaining the cleanliness of commercial water. There are hundreds of regulations regarding the use and treatment of commercial water sources, but for some apparent reason, water pollution is still a prominent issue. Almost every household has some problem with hard or soft water. Hard water is water with excess nutrients and minerals, whereas soft water is the reverse. Because of this, families are buying filters or bottled water, causing a different chain of events regarding litter pollution. No matter the reason for our consumption of water, it will affect something else, which is why we need to make sure the quality of our water should be in the best shape possible. Another reason our water sources are deteriorating quickly is the public's lack of awareness. The average American citizen can say very little about our issue of water pollution, and even less about ways to prevent it. This makes it more difficult for the people to practice safe water management habits. When the common masses know nothing about the contamination of water sources, it will be even harder for them to be corrected.
Starting with the basics, water pollution is defined as a body of water that is "adversely affected due to the addition of large amounts of materials" (Krantz, 1996). This means that when a body of water is inadequate for its original intended purpose, it is deemed "polluted". There are hundreds of ways for this to happen. One example is a direct form of pollution, such as an oil spill. When the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Alaskan Prince William Sound, it destroyed every habitat within that area as well as killing off many species of local aquatic wildlife (Exxon Valdez, 2010). Another direct form of water pollution is litter. This is a very obvious and preventable problem that can clog up waterways and choke out plant and animal life. In highly concentrated areas such as cities, sewer backup can cause major damage to federal budgets, urban developments, and human health. Overflows of sewage intake can be caused by increased rainfall or poor sewage systems, but the most detrimental reason is the violation of sewage laws by humans. In the last three years, over 9,400 out of 25,000 sewage systems have reported traces of untreated human waste, chemicals, and other hazardous materials in our lakes, rivers, and other waterways which can cause serious damage to the environment and the heath of nearby communities (NY Times, 2009). But not all areas experience the same issues. Different parts of the United States are affected with different water problems. The west coast is currently researching the best uses of the limited amount of water sources, while the east coast is studying storm water management and sediment runoff.
The most common and serious form of pollution, is sediment runoff. It causes $16 billion in environmental damage annually. In a natural habitat, rainfall is taken in by meadows and forests, with little to no runoff. The nutrients are absorbed by plants and the streams and ponds provide clean, fresh water sources to wildlife. In an urban setting, fields of grass and groves of trees are replaced by flat pavements, poorly managed watersheds, and obscuring dams. Buildings and roads are built up, and natural habitats are destroyed or contained. Storm water drains are constructed, but can be easily backed up or littered, causing extra, unnecessary water pollution. After a large rain storm, particles from soil and rock erode into land surfaces and waterways which is then carried and transported by wind and precipitation. These particles can carry anything from excess nutrients like phosphorus to endocrine disrupters. There are many factors that cause sediment pollution. Rainfall, erosion (30% is natural, 70% is brought upon by humans) , soil content, melting snow, slope of land, and farmland are a few to name. This causes many serious problems such as endangering fresh water supplies and killing of large fish communities. The sediment in the water can limit the amount of sunlight into streams and rivers which is essential to fish and plant life. This results in changes in feeding habits and decreases the overall productivity of water sources (Hangsleben, 2006). Another preventable problem is the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into our waterways which can also contaminate our water sources. This form of runoff is a result of agricultural practices. A large portion of the United States is dedicated to farm land and the production of natural resources or produce. Farmers use a large amount of fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals to keep their crops healthy, but during rainfalls and watering cycles, it all runs off into our waterways. This is not confined to rural districts though: suburban areas have also been known to produce high amounts of water pollution by the fertilizing of lawns and personal gardens. By improving water source management, agricultural practices and construction regulations, the amount of pollution can be decreased dramatically.
When an engineer or researcher designs a new conservation practice, this is referred to as a Best Management Practice, or BMP. The purpose of a BMP is to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of human urbanization on the natural environment. They can range from anything such as grassed waterways and rooftops to rain gardens strategically placed in areas of heavy storm water runoff. They can be simple, like choosing a paint color that blends machinery into an environment, or they can be complex like monitoring and production technologies. One of the most effective BMPs used today are pervious surfaces. This can be applied to parking lots, cul-de-sacs, and turf pavers. When a surface is porous, it reduces the amount of storm water runoff by absorbing the excess water into the pavement. It also doesn’t allow for the collection of sediments or other hazardous materials because the water does not run along the asphalt.
The field of sediment pollution has many innovative solutions and techniques that help reduce or eliminate the harmful effects of storm water runoff. Some examples include constructing porous asphalt, grass rooftops, riparian forest buffers (a grove of trees and shrubs), bio-retention lakes, storm water wetlands, and dry ponds (Metrocouncil, nd). Each of those practices can make a dramatic change in amount of pollution in urban and rural areas, but it is important to make sure BMPs are properly constructed and maintained. If not, then there could be serious damage to the environment and require great costs to the community. BMPs like to take advantage of abundant energy sources, such as sunlight. By using a renewable resource, the cost of energy can dramatically decrease, making environmental conservation practices all the more eco-friendly. Taking part in the application of BMPs helps not only the environment, but businesses, aesthetics and the quality and production of community areas. So, why isn't every city and farm in the United States taking part in this environmentally friendly movement? The answer is storm water regulations.
The government states that, "Since 1972, the EPA's Clean Water Act has prohibited the discharge of any pollutant to waters of the United States unless the discharge is authorized by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit." (Stormwater Authority, nd). The EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency and its mission is "to protect human health and the environment" (EPA, nd). Over 40% of section 319 Clean Water Acts have been used by farmers and agriculturalists to control pollution (EPA, 2005). This percentage is surprisingly low for the amount of rural land in the United States and its large amount of sediment pollution. It makes one wonder why there is not a set of requirements that must be met by all farmers to help protect our environment. Every state has their own regulations regarding the discharge and control of storm water runoff, as required by Federal Law. This includes obtaining a Storm Water Discharge permit and providing a Consent Special Order under the authority of Va. Code § 10.1-603.2:1.1 (VSMP, 2009). They also have strict guidelines regarding the enforcement and judiciary review of those who break the regulations. Each set of requirements differ from area to area, but they all have a common theme: protect the environment as much as possible without being detrimental to businesses and state budgets. The sad truth is that most states put the issue of environmental conservation as a low priority, which leads to the reason why storm water regulations are so strict, but harmful to our environment. This assessment is somewhat contradictory. If storm water regulations are strict, then why are there no positive results in the reduction of water pollution? The term strict is being used loosely. Yes, the storm water requirements and regulations are being met, but they are the bare minimum. Unfortunately, they only allow for the minimum. Nothing else. The purpose of this strategy is to save money. The practice and application of BMPs can be very costly and if they are not carried out in the correct, intended manner, then they could deplete a local community’s budget. No one takes the time to consider the long-term effects of BMPs and their ability to reduce the amount of government spending on the treatment of sediment pollution and waterway damage (about $16 billion annually). This is why states write them off and make sure their storm water regulations don't allow for improvements to urban and rural areas. Making simple changes such as allowing easier access to construction permits of rain gardens in urban areas can make a large difference.
One of the most innovative and eco-friendly methods to reducing sediment runoff is a rain garden. Rain gardens are growing increasingly popular in communities all over the United States. Many countries are becoming involved in this effective BMP, including Europe, which has an entire area in the center of Sheffield, UK, made up of environmentally friendly gardens. This was all in an effort to regenerate the city's heritage: industrialism run on the power of water (Dunnett, 2007). Rain gardens capture storm water runoff, and the sediments and nutrients are "filtered" by the plants. This leaves clean water to freely flow into the surrounding area. A rain garden can be thought of as a cycle. Everything benefits from each other. The plants flourish from the nutrients and sediment in the storm water; the runoff is no longer polluted and will not harm the environment or human health; wildlife benefit from a new, natural habitat; and the garden itself can be very aesthetically pleasing to a community area. It doesn't require much maintenance, and is very easy for an average person to build. There are many other BMPs that do not require a lot of effort (planting trees on a hill and grass alongside roads, to name a few), but can have positive impacts on various elements of water pollution and communities' well-being.
As of today, many universities and government research facilities are studying the causes and effects of water pollution. One great example of this is the University of Virginia. They spend a great deal of funding on research projects annually. Currently, the Environmental Engineering department is working on a storm water runoff research project to help aid them in the rewriting of Virginia’s storm water regulations. The new regulations can allow for best management practices that can help reduce sediment pollution, and ultimately, many other aspects of life. Some of these changes are already taking effect. The Virginia Stormwater Management Program, or VSMP, “was developed to protect citizens, property and natural resources from unmanaged storm water runoff." (VSMP, 2009). The purpose of this program is to control sediment pollution and erosion as a result of storm water runoff. When contractors are constructing buildings, they may be required to get a permit from the Department of Conservation (DCR) issued by their localities. A permit may also be required to discharge storm water from a construction site. Because of the Clean Water Act and other Federal regulations, they have been incorporated into the VSMP permit regulations. The regulations' intended purpose is to manage the quality and quantity of storm water runoff on construction and watershed sites.
With regard to the quality of storm water runoff, pervious and impervious surfaces collect hundreds of pollutants such as animal waste, bacteria, oil and grease, sediment, litter, pesticides and deposits from airborne pollutants. These hazardous materials can easily enter our commercial waterways, making our water sources unsafe for human use. The quantity of storm water is increased when impervious structures replace meadows and woodlands. Without nature to absorb the rainfall, its runs off on paved sidewalks and concrete rooftops, collecting the said pollutants. The VSMP regulations hope to manage these factors with respect to building permits and government requirements (VSMP, 2009).
Many people do not seem to realize how important water is to our survival and progress. Every country, business, community, and individual use it, and it affects all aspects of life. When the quality of water decreases, everything it affects fall behind it. That's why it is crucial that our world start managing our water consumption and handling. There is no single source we can target, so it will not be an easy issue to tackle. This can not be possible until local, state, and national storm water regulations are altered to allow for changes in our lifestyle. With the interest of money, most storm water regulations are very strict, not authorizing conservation practices or environmentally friendly systems; anything that can deplete a local community's budget. All the researchers in the world can come up with the best management practices ever developed, but if they aren't allowed to take effect, what good will they do? Building permits regarding the construction of BMPs must be easier to attain. The world is too afraid to change. If there is some chance that something can go wrong, most people won't even consider it, but if no one strives for a change, nothing will ever be improved. We need to take a chance on our strive to improve the Earth. Our environment is in danger because of us, and it is up to us to fix it.
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Water Pollution and Its Effects on the Environment
Water is probably the most important resource we as people have. Humans can survive without food for several weeks, but without water we would
die in less than a week. On a slightly less dramatic note, millions of liters of water are needed every day worldwide for washing, irrigating crops, and cooling industrial processes, not to mention leisure industries such as swimming pools and water-sports centers. Despite our dependence on water, we use it as a dumping ground for all sorts of waste, and do very little to protect the water supplies we have.
Water pollution is starting all over the world. Water pollution occurs when waste products or other substances, such as microorganisms, chemicals, or sewage, change the physical, thermal, chemical or biological characteristics of the water, adversely affecting living species and reducing the water's beneficial uses. When the matter gets into the water, most of the time it deteriorates and makes the water unhealthy. When the water becomes polluted, animals that rely on the water source will die from drinking the harmful chemicals and other pollutants. These chemicals will not only harm the animals but will affect the plants greatly as well. The plants will stop growing and eventually will die. There are several threats to our water resources. Oil Spills kill thousands of seabirds and can wreck water desalination plants and industrial plants drawing their water from affected coastlines. However, oil can get into the sea from many other sources, and cause just as much damage. Poor management of existing water resources can lead to those resources running out or at least shrinking. Much of the pollution in rivers and seas comes from chemicals, mainly from agriculture. The effects of pollution can vary from localized damage to disturbance of the ecology of an entire waterway. The impact of pollution depends on the type and amount of contamination, the period of exposure, and on the characteristics of the waterway itself.
The enormous problem of water pollution could be solved by using filters on the sewage tanks that pump out harmful chemicals and by having the big corporations pay to clean up the water that they have polluted. More public awareness should also be raised as exampled in Earth Day. Earth Day is a good start, but it is only one day. People need to be taught more and learn more about pollution as a whole and their environment.