Tag Archives: Pollution Control Hearings Board

Agreement addresses highway stormwater issues

For older state highways, the method of managing stormwater typically is to dump it directly into ditches and streams. This is the historical approach: get rid of the water as quickly as possible. But, as the result of a legal settlement announced this week, we are likely to see more retrofits in the future.

Washington Department of Transportation has been improving its stormwater systems for new highways and a few older systems, but the latest federal stormwater permit issued by the Washington Department of Ecology did not go far enough, according to the group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.

Represented by Earthjustice, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance appealed the permit to the Pollution Control Hearings Board. The settlement was not everything the environmentalists wanted, but it is a solid step in dealing with aging highways.

Bob Beckman, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, explained the group’s position in a news release:

“Government agencies, businesses, and citizens are all working together to protect and restore Puget Sound, but the state’s department of transportation wasn’t carrying its share of the weight. There is a lot more work to be done, but we feel that this is a step in the right direction. The state highway system should not be held to a weaker standard than industries, local governments and the public.”

So what was included in the deal?
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The push is on for low-impact stormwater management

Washington state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board last week decided that big cities and counties are different from small ones when it comes to stormwater management.

That’s not exactly what environmental groups wanted to hear. They make a good argument that stormwater is stormwater, no matter where it comes from, and it needs to be cleaned up.

But, as I described in a story in story last Tuesday, the hearings board recognized that big cities and counties have more resources to develop and enforce sophisticated stormwater programs, including requirements for low-impact development wherever feasible.

The decision that LID would not be mandated for smaller entities came as a relief to officials in Kitsap County and dozens of cities across the state struggling to implement the Washington Department of Ecology’s 2005 stormwater manual (or its equivalent). Once that goes into effect, developers may actually choose to use LID to keep their costs down, according to experts.

Art Castle of the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County has long argued that LID should be encouraged but not mandated, because it does not work for all sites. Castle, who is leading the charge to write LID guidelines for Kitsap developers, anticipates that it will be the method of choice if the rules provide adequate “flow credits” for systems such as rain gardens. Without adequate flow credits, developers could be forced to install both low-impact systems AND traditional stormwater ponds.

It’s all a matter of engineering, and there remains some disagreement about how much water such systems can handle. That’s why studies are under way in several jurisdictions.

According to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, Ecology made a mistake in not requiring cities and counties to move deliberately toward adopting standards to reduce or eliminate surface water runoff.

In a decision issued in September, the board decided that the largest cities and counties need to require low-impact methods whenever site conditions allow.

In last week’s decision, the board said smaller jurisdictions need to “identify barriers to implementation” of low-impact development and to set up a time schedule to take actions to remove those barriers.

The latest decision affects Kitsap, Thurston, Skagit, Whatcom and Cowlitz counties along with 80 cities ranging from 3,000 people to more than 100,000 — including Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo and Port Orchard.

Download the full decision (PDF 296 kb) from the hearing board’s Web site.

Read what the environmental appellants had to say following the ruling.

Going back to the Kitsap Home Builders for a moment, the LID guidelines have been submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology in draft form. Once approved (and Castle says some amendments are needed), this document could save developers lots of money by helping them move their LID projects through regulatory authorities with the least hassle.

The document, called “LID Guidance for Kitsap” (PDF 8.2 mb) is not just a helpful design manual for engineers, but it provides the most complete description of LID that I have seen. Read just the overviews, or dig as deeply as you want into the technical aspects of LID. Other information can be found on the Home Builders Web site.

Here’s the description of integrated LID design, which encourages developers to look at the natural landscape before laying out their plans.

Integrated LID design looks at stormwater as an important asset in a functioning watershed. Design goals include preserving natural flows over and through the site as much as possible. Design strategies include preserving natural drainage patterns and minimizing impervious surface to reduce runoff, which in turn facilitates detention, infiltration and evapotranspiration via a healthy soil and vegetation system. All components of the system are designed to complement one another.

By comparison, conventional design tends to be more linear and disintegrated. Site layout is driven primarily by tradition and convenience; sites are cleared, graded and paved. Stormwater is treated as a hazard to be removed from the site as quickly as possible via hard conveyances. Resulting flow rates and volumes are delivered to large central detention facilities to capture and store the water until it can be released back into the system downstream of the site. Components of the system are designed to manage the problem caused by the next component upstream.

Since I’m mentioning information sources, I should point out that Puget Sound Partnership continues to expand its information about LID.

Jay Manning visits Bremerton to talk stormwater

Jay Manning, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, was in Bremerton today to get the lowdown about low-impact stormwater management from folks at the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County.

Art Castle of the association is leading a local group of officials in the development of a “cook book” of low-impact practices designed to dovetail with state rules for managing stormwater.

Art Castle, left, pours water on pervious asphalt while Jay Manning watches. The water does not run off or pool up; it just runs through.
Kitsap Sun photo

The parking lot at the office of the Home Builders Association happens to be built with pervious asphalt and various kind of pervious pavers. Manning watched as Castle poured water from a hose onto the pervious asphalt. No runoff or pooling was evident, as the water penetrated straight into the pavement.

Castle was glad to have some time to talk with Manning, a native of South Kitsap, because the Home Builders group has run into some regulatory obstacles with respect to the upcoming “cookbook.”

For example, engineers are debating how fast water can pass through pavement within a given design and whether that rate of penetration will hold up over time. Pervious pavement depends on creating “pores” during construction and keeping those pores open as time goes on. Sometimes the owner must use a pressure washer to reopen the pores.

In this example, the debate is about finding an acceptable rate of water penetration for a given design. If the assumed rate is too low, a developer will be required to build a backup stormwater system, such as a pond. That raises the cost of development and discourages the use of low-impact methods.

If the assumed rate of penetration is higher than what actually occurs in a heavy storm, then the water runs off the pavement with no place to go. That leads to flooding of streets and other problems.

Those are the kinds of issues that Castle wanted to address with Manning.

Manning told me that this meeting comes at an opportune time, because his agency must decide how to respond to a recent ruling by the Pollution Control Hearings Board that mandates the use of low-impact development wherever “feasible.” See Kitsap Sun story of Aug. 8.

Manning asked Castle to describe when low-impact development would not be feasible. Castle said he knows of three conditions that would preclude the use of LID: on sites with steep, unstable slopes; in places where you find especially dense clays that cannot pass water; and in areas with high groundwater levels that prevent water from soaking in.

Manning said he faces a decision about whether to appeal the hearing board’s decision to court or else live with it.

“If we live with this decision,” he said to me, “then what’s that going to mean for the Phase 1 permit (larger cities and counties) and the Phase 2 permit (smaller cities and counties)?”

Basically, state requirements would have to be rewritten.

The specific ruling (PDF 212 kb) by the Pollution Control Hearings Board was for Phase 1 jurisdictions, but it signals the board’s position for the Phase 2 hearing, scheduled for October, Manning said. If Ecology does not appeal the ruling to the courts, agency lawyers could try to settle some key issues before the October hearing, he said.

State board says it’s time for low-impact development

Low-impact development is coming, one way or another, and nobody seems to be raising any serious objections.

The state Pollution Control Hearings Board issued a ruling this week that emphasizes the importance of putting water back into the ground, as opposed to building traditional stormwater ponds. It will be cheaper for developers in most cases, the board says. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Art Castle of the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County says that market forces are already moving developers in that direction. His organization is working with a task force to create development regulations designed to mesh low-impact development rules with other building codes.

Several folks working for environmental groups tell me that they recognize Kitsap County’s efforts in moving toward low-impact development, but they would like to see the techniques used everywhere. That’s why they appealed the stormwater rules issued by the Department of Ecology.

Let’s be honest about Kitsap County’s situation. The county’s current stormwater rules, developed in the 1980s and relying mainly on ponds, don’t begin to mimic natural conditions. Until much larger ponds are required, such as spelled out in the state’s 2005 stormwater manual, low-impact development may or may not be the choice of developers. A lot depends on whether they understand the alternatives and regulatory options and are willing to avoid cutting trees and compacting soils while installing new kinds of pavement and structures such as rain gardens.

The Pollution Control Hearings Board has placed everyone on firm notice that the board believes that LID is the way to go — and the sooner the better. The Home Builders Association project should help a great deal.

You can find a lot of information about low-impact development on Web sites of the Puget Sound Partnership and Home Builders Association.

At some point, the Pollution Control Hearings Board decision should be posted on its Web site. Look for the “Puget Soundkeeper Alliance” case.