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Water | Environment

A step toward greener stormwater rules in Washington

SEATTLE — Grassroots campaigns have been cropping up throughout the state, encouraging neighbors and communities to embrace green stormwater methods to prevent pollution from runoff.

But rain gardens, roof gardens and bioswales may soon be the law of the land for Washington cities and counties.

State environmental regulators today released the latest draft rules that spell out what stormwater methods will be required for new development and redevelopment in Washington’s cities and counties in the coming years.

Q: Why change the rules?

A: “In the past stormwater management was really about how to get water away from people,” said Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant. And the fastest way to move water is by sending it through gutters, pipes and storm drains.

Q: What’s wrong with the conventional method?

A: These old methods are a problem because stormwater runoff washes oil, grease, dirt, heavy metals and other pollutants into streams, rivers and eventually Puget Sound. In fact, stormwater runoff has become the largest source of pollution entering the Sound.

“Polluted runoff is our number one urban water quality problem,” Sturdevant said. “And the most significant way we can stop adding to the problem is by requiring low-impact development (also called green stormwater methods), so that water can soak into the ground and replenish groundwater supplies.”

Q: Will every new house sport a rain garden and a pervious driveway?

A: No.

The draft rules are a compromise between what environmentalists, local government officials and building developers want. And it’s taken years of discussion to get to this point.

“These stormwater draft rules are coming at a time when everyone is looking around and saying, ‘How do we pay for it?’ We have to be sensitive to the economic reality of today,” Sturdevant said.

To give local governments time to prepare, these rules won’t actually start until 2013, and some of the rules will be phased in between 2013 and 2020.

Do green stormwater methods work?

The new Washington Stormwater Center is doing the research. Read more about it.

Q: Who’s disappointed?

A: Members of environmental advocacy groups.

They say the latest draft rules are full of loopholes.

“This permit is our biggest chance to make real progress in the restoration of Puget Sound,” said Chris Wilke, the executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “Unfortunately it fails to deliver on proven solutions to reduce toxic runoff.”

Gerry O’Keefe, the executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, declared the rules “a solid start.”

“It’s not perfect,” O’Keefe said. “But it’s time that we move forward. If we’re going to wait for perfection, I’m afraid we wouldn’t get anywhere.”

Q: How can you get involved?

A: The Department of Ecology will hold workshops and public hearings starting in December. Anyone may submit comments online. The comment period for these rules will end Feb. 3.

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