City responding to state directive based on EPA rules

Wednesday, September 9, 2009
When a truck's brakes failed recently, it went across a dry stormwater detention area and crashed into its brick wall.

As they've been resisting a $10,000 state penalty for insufficient records on stormwater management, Lewisburg's leaders are taking steps toward revising an ordinance to comply with federal law on what to do about water when it flows down hill.

While that sounds like the feds want Americans to resist gravity, the issue is less about water as the pollutants water carries while flowing to creeks, streams, rivers and lakes. And it's as simple as the muddy waters after a rain storm that eventually settle on stream beds. If there's too much sedimentation, then bottom dwelling plants and animals die.

It's also as dramatic as a rural water utility refraining from drawing water from a creek because mud might clog its water pumps. It happened when mud flowed from a State Route 840 construction site and 30,000 customers of the Turnbull-White Bluff Utility District in Dickson County had only so much water available until the creek water cleared. That was in 2000.

This week, Lewisburg's City Council is responding to an order from Paul Davis, director of the Water Pollution Control Division of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). It says the city hasn't been controlling stormwater after a building project is completed, "nor is there documentation of steps to be sure the city is abiding by such environmental protections at its buildings." Davis' order calls for "corrections and the creation of a storm sewer system map ... to comply with requirements."

Silt fences are now common at construction sites. Frequently, they're made of orange or black plastic screening and installed with the lower part buried so mud carried by surface water is trapped by the fence to prevent siltation of streams. That's to deal with muddy water during construction. The long term effect of new buildings, roads, parking lots and landscaping is also addressed in the TDEC order based on federal law.

Changes to Lewisburg's stormwater management ordinance include a requirement that the volume and velocity of water flowing from a newly-developed building and related structures be no greater than it had been before the new building was constructed.

There's a frequent complaint heard at planning commission public hearings from residents opposed to a new development: It will worsen flooding from stormwater. If not used much lately in Lewisburg because of the recession, it's a common refrain elsewhere when developers have increasingly replied that their project will actually reduce problems from stormwater, largely because of requirements such as those to be added to Lewisburg's ordinance.

TDEC's director of water pollution control issued his order to Lewisburg on June 23. City Attorney Bill Haywood has replied and the state requested more information.

Lewisburg hired St. John Engineering of Manchester to help city officials respond to the state order. The firm has composed about four more pages to the city's Stormwater Ordinance. The draft is 39 pages long. It's among the recent steps toward compliance with TDEC's order.

The draft was scheduled for consideration Tuesday night as the city's new stormwater ordinance. Ordinances and their amendments are enacted on three successful votes by the Council. A public hearing is anticipated at the next meeting of the Council. That's currently set for Oct. 13.

"We've had $20,000 in the budget for stormwater for the last several years," City Manager Eddie Fuller said last week as the Council's September meeting agenda was being prepared.

TDEC enforces rules and regulations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the issues being addressed by the city now are a result of the Clean Water Act of 1972 when Congress decided to protect the waters of the nation from pollution. In the first decades of the law, sewage treatment plants came under the control of federal regulations enforced by state agencies. Here, TDEC issues National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES ) permits to utilities for control over effluent from such plants.

Litigation to clarify congressional intent, and to make EPA enforce the law, preceded enforcement of some parts of the Clean Water Act. In the 1990s, municipalities and their engineers were becoming more aware of their responsibility to have systems in place that clean stormwater before it flows into streams, creeks, rivers and lakes. This new responsibility leads to an NPDES permit for stormwater discharges and is to prevent sediment from being carried by stormwater draining from a construction site.

"Fugitive sediment that has escaped the construction site and has collected in streets must be removed so that it is not subsequently washed into storm sewers and streams by the next rain..." according to a proposed section of Lewisburg's stormwater ordinance.

Lewisburg's responsibilities for storm water management were "triggered by the 2000 census that shows the city has more than 10,000 people," the city manager explained last week.

"2003 is when Lewisburg started this," Fuller said.

"If you disturb more than one acre (for a construction project) you're required to get state and city stormwater permits," Fuller said. "Permits are also needed if a property owner wants to fill a lot," he said.

Lewisburg's Stormwater Department is located in the historic Ladies Restroom building on North First Avenue between the Sheriff's Department and Lewisburg's public square.