Press Release | July 21, 2009

EPA Clears Up Stormwater Program

An audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that Shelby County’s stormwater management program falls far short of numerous federal requirements aimed at keeping polluted runoff from reaching streams, rivers and ground water.  Conservation groups say the results emphasize the need for partnerships among local governments, such as the Storm Water Management Authority (SWMA), to fully implement and enforce stormwater measures in the most cost-effective manner.

Read the report here (pdf).

Under an EPA Clean Water Act permit, cities and counties must develop programs to monitor and control muddy and polluted runoff from construction sites and urbanized areas within their boundaries. Shelby County, like most municipalities in the state, has relied heavily on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to fulfill many of its stormwater management obligations.  Unfortunately, ADEM itself does not have an adequate program for stormwater, according to conservation groups. And according to the audit, the federal permit does not allow the state’s larger cities and counties to rely on ADEM stormwater programs.

Conservation groups also say that regulated entities, particularly the Business Alliance for Responsible Development (BARD), have misinformed local governments in an attempt to weaken their programs to implement pollution control. As a way to press SWMA’s members to leave the partnership, BARD has frequently referred to Shelby County as a cost-effective model for stormwater management that meets all federal regulations.

BARD also sued SWMA itself in 2006, contending that the authority was overreaching and doing too much to control stormwater pollution. An EPA audit of the SWMA member governments and of those cities in Jefferson County that have pulled out of SWMA is underway now. Conservation groups anticipate that this EPA audit will clarify that SWMA has been conducting necessary and legally required activities.

The EPA audit clearly outlines requirements that local governments must meet to comply with federal law: permit and inspect stormwater runoff from industrial sites and construction sites, rather than leaving that to ADEM;  adequately monitor water quality;  and have a program to control post-construction (long-term) runoff from paving and roofs of new development. These requirements will entail significant additional measures to protect water quality, making partnerships among localities to share staff, technical information and other resources all the more efficient.

GIL ROGERS Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center: 
“The EPA is quite clear on what is needed to keep polluted and muddy runoff out of our streams, rivers and groundwater. This audit shows the benefits of participating in a cost-effective partnership, and that relying on ADEM is anything but sufficient.”

BETH STEWART, Executive Director of the Cahaba River Society: 
“CRS has offered to partner with Shelby County and its cities to strengthen their stormwater program and safeguard water quality and water supplies. Newer “low impact development” stormwater practices can cost developers less, support property values, and save local governments future expenditures to curb flooding.”

EPA also prepared separate audit reports for other entities in Shelby County covered by the federal permit (Alabaster, Helena, Indian Springs, Moody, Pelham, the Alabama State Parks Division,  and the Alabama Department of Transportation) and found similar deficiencies. Shelby County and these other government entities are scheduled to meet with EPA in Atlanta today to review the audit, as part of EPA’s enforcement process.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.