LOW IMPACT DEVELOPMENT
Stormwater is the largest source of toxic pollution to Puget Sound. Studies by the Department of Ecology show that 75% of the toxic chemicals entering Puget Sound are carried by stormwater runoff that flows off of hard, developed surfaces and into our waterways. To protect our region’s salmon, orcas, and community health, we must reduce toxic stormwater pollution now. One of the most effective ways to reduce stormwater pollution is to filter out stormwater contaminants through Low Impact Development, or LID.
LID strategies, like green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain gardens, use or mimic natural processes to filter stormwater runoff before it can reach our waterways, protecting water quality and aquatic habitat. LID also provides urban flood protection and cleaner air, and can increase property values, community aesthetics, and local recreation opportunities.
WASHINGTON’S STORMWATER PERMITS
Under the Clean Water Act, cities and counties are required to manage their stormwater runoff to protect water quality. The Washington State Department of Ecology sets rules for local jurisdictions on how to achieve the goals and requirements of the Clean Water Act by issuing Municipal Stormwater Permits. These permits are part of the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), so they are often called NPDES permits. After over a decade of legal action and advocacy on behalf of the public, Puget Soundkeeper and Washington Environmental Council (WEC) succeeded in making LID a required part of NPDES permits in the state of Washington, starting in 2012.
INTEGRATING LID INTO STORMWATER MANAGEMENT
Beginning in 2012, cities and counties in Washington with an NPDES permit were required to update their development codes and regulations to make LID principles and practices the “preferred and commonly used approach” by the end of 2016. This meant writing LID into the municipal codes (local laws) that govern development, redevelopment, and new construction projects. To track whether cities and counties were complying with these new requirements, Soundkeeper and WEC created Nature’s Scorecard.
In 2016, Puget Soundkeeper and WEC began evaluating whether Puget Sound cities and counties were complying with the LID requirements in the NPDES permits by planning for walkable, green, and healthy communities. We reviewed the municipal codes for all 83 Puget Sound counties, cities, and towns with NPDES permits, and engaged directly in their code update processes – sending letters, meeting with staff, calling council members, and testifying at public meetings to ensure the best possible results. And that’s not all: we asked for the public’s help to call, email, and testify at local hearings to show support for LID and clean water.
Nature’s Scorecard includes a scoring rubric as a tool to assess how municipalities are progressing when it comes to protecting waterways and managing stormwater from new and re-development projects. The Scorecard was first issued in December, 2017. Now, Soundkeeper and WEC have reissued the Scorecard to demonstrate improvements made as a result of the initial publication, and your activism.
The 2019 Scorecard presents a snapshot of how municipalities around the Sound are performing, measured against guidance provided by the Department of Ecology to meet the NPDES permit requirements. The Scorecard shows how each municipality has performed, as well as how the region has progressed overall, demonstrating significant progress over the last two years. Nature’s Scorecard is intended to be a tool that can help you take part in local policy and drive this important transition that will protect our communities and waterways for generations to come. See how your community scored!
Between 2017 and 2019, our region has seen a more than 20% increase in the number of high-scoring communities. This progress is evidence that YOU can make a difference: your calls, emails, and testimony have helped move the dial on stormwater pollution.
However, we know there is more work to do. 16% of Puget Sound cities and counties are still dragging their feed on LID code updates, and must catch up to the rest of the region if we are truly going to see the changes we need.
LOOKING AHEAD: RETROFITS
While new development and redevelopment projects are required by law to manage stormwater on-site, older developments may have been constructed before stormwater management was required or before water quality standards were more protective. To protect our waterways and aquatic life, we need all developed areas to treat stormwater, not just new construction. Municipalities must increase investment in retrofitting existing development with modern stormwater controls.
Stormwater retrofits correct and upgrade existing development to protect water quality and meet stormwater management best practices. This means addressing already-developed areas to ensure that they are treating stormwater as well. Stormwater retrofits are critical to protecting our waters, as some municipalities in Puget Sound are already 99% developed.
The Department of Ecology has recognized that “addressing stormwater impacts from new development and redevelopment at the site and subdivision scale will not adequately address legacy impacts from previous development patterns and practices… It is clear that we cannot protect the state’s waters without also addressing degradation caused by stormwater discharges from existing developed sites. For that reason stormwater programs must include planning and developing policies that address receiving water needs, including development of policy and regulations, and retrofit provisions.”
The draft 2019 NPDES Permits for larger Western Washington municipalities (Seattle, Tacoma, and King, Clark, Snohomish and Pierce Counties) contain minimum requirements for retrofits, but these requirements do not go far enough to protect our communities. Further, as drafted, there are no set minimum requirements for the remaining 75 or so small cities, towns and counties in the Puget Sound region.
Retrofits are critical to protect orca, salmon, and our communities from toxic stormwater pollution. Soundkeeper and WEC will continue to engage with municipalities moving forward as we plan for the future, together. Contact your local representatives and tell them that you care about water quality and community health and that you want to see more green stormwater infrastructure retrofits in your community.
This project was privately funded by individual donations to Puget Soundkeeper and Washington Environmental Council. No public funds were used. Evaluating how cities and counties incorporated LID is a Near-Term Action in the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda.