“Stormwater Management” – Much more than protecting home and people from too much water!

  By Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

  Clallam County, WA – 8/6/02 - What comes to your mind when I say “stormwater management?” 

As I shared with Clallam County Senior Planner Steve Gray with the Department of Community Development (DCD), the vision that comes to my mind is a way of protecting property and lives when there’s too much rain, and it overflows, creating flooding. 

When I was growing up, that’s exactly what it meant: drainage pipes as a way to divert water from flooding our yard during the rainy season. 

Gray agreed that most people understand stormwater management in the same way. 

The meaning of the term has been changed, however.  Today, “stormwater” means “the water that runs off surfaces such as rooftops, paved streets, highways, and parking lots. It can also come from hard grassy surfaces like lawns, play fields, and from graveled roads and parking lots.” (Definition by the WA State DOE).

I live in a rural area where there’s an average rainfall of 17 inches per year.  That’s not much!  Further out toward the coast – past Forks, Washington – the rainfall increases to as much as 144 inches a year – but that’s in the rainforest, and no one lives there.

Clallam County already has a stormwater management ordinance in place, under the direction of the Department of Public Works. It addresses water “quantity” – in other words, working toward solutions to flooding.  It’s a fairly small document, compared to later models, consisting of approximately 10 pages. 

When the county commissioners passed the latest version of the Critical Areas Code, the 1992 version of the DOE’s “model” stormwater management plan was incorporated by reference.  It falls under the administration of the DCD, and covers water “quality” “problems” in addition to “quantity” issues.  Gray said that this plan “only” covers approximately 30% of the county (actually, it’s closer to 50%, according to a former county commissioner).

The Critical Areas Code has been considered so onerous that citizens gathered signatures on an initiative to repeal it. (That initiative was short-circuited, however, from reaching the voters at the ballot box by the same county commissioners who have placed the proposed stormwater management plan on the “priority” list.  It was thrown into the courts, where it will be heard at the appeals level on Sept. 4.)

Now our rural county is looking at passing a more all-inclusive “stormwater management ordinance” based on a new, “one-size-fits-all” model, over 1,000 pages written by the state Department of Ecology.  It sets out far more stringent rules and regulations, and would be very costly both in time and money to both landowners and the county taxpayers, Gray admits.

I asked Mr. Gray if there were any other rural counties that have passed an ordinance of this magnitude. He responded that they were “looking” for other rural counties, but hadn’t found any so far.  In other words, our county is the first. 

The guidelines under consideration will cover the entire county, and will affect any property that has 2,000 or more square feet of “impervious surfaces”, and/or 7,000 or more square feet of “land-disturbing activities.”  The square footage adds up quickly, and would, according to Gray, affect everyone who wishes to build a new home and possibly add on any additions.

“Impervious surfaces” includes roof tops, walkways, patios, driveways, parking lots or storage areas, concrete or asphalt paving, gravel roads or parking areas, packed earthen materials, and oiled, macadam or other surfaces.”  “Land-disturbing activities” include any activity that results in a movement of earth or a change in the existing soil cover (both vegetative and nonvegetative) and/or the existing soil topography.  Activities include, but are not limited to, construction, clearing, grading, filling, excavation, and compaction that is associated with stabilization of structures and road construction.

Ed O’Brien, one of the authors of the DOE model plan, will be one of the speakers at the planning commission’s workshop on Wednesday, August 7.

We’ll keep you up-to-date as this new layer of bureaucracy and regulations unfolds.

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