Agencies promote 'model' stormwater management plan to county planning commission

by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Clallam County, WA – 8/7/02 - The Clallam County planning commission met to hear state and local agency planners promote a state "model" stormwater management plan on Wednesday, Aug. 7.  For approximately 2-1/2 hours, presenters attempted to convince attendees that the model plan should be adopted as law despite the fact that it is not required by the state. The only non-government representative spoke against adopting the measure, offering the financial burden as the primary reason.

The planning commission workshop took place from 6-9:30 p.m. at the Clallam County Courthouse.  The commission has been directed by the county commissioners to make a “stormwater management plan” a high priority.

Representatives from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), the governor’s appointed Puget Sound Quality Management Action Team (PSQMAT), the Clallam County Department of Community Development (DCD) and the Clallam County Department of Natural Resources (DNR) each took turns explaining to the planning commission members why they felt the commission should forward a proposal to the county commissioners to adopt the DOE’s “model” Stormwater Management Plan for implementation into local ordinance.

The model plan being reviewed for consideration by the commission is not mandatory for the county, would cost potentially  hundreds of thousands of dollars to developers and county taxpayers, and would affect virtually every property in the county that owners want to develop or re-develop, with highly restrictive regulations, said the government employees as they made their presentations.

The "model" stormwater plan would require that virtually every home would be required to comply with stringent bureaucratic rules and regulations, pay fees for a variety of permits and inspections, and would price many people out of the housing market as a result.

The “model” plan consists of 1,033 pages, and calls for regulation, monitoring and enforcement covering any property that creates 2,000 or more square feet of “impervious surfaces.”  These include 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.

Also subject to regulation would be any “land disturbing activities” of  7,000 square feet or more -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."

"Impervious Surfaces a Problem, says county employee

Valerie Wilson, Clallam County Natural Resources planner, explained that "land development increases the amount of stormwater by ' hardening the watershed'."  With “impervious surfaces”, she said that pesticides “might” get picked up.   She said she has seen a “big sheen of oil on the Safeway parking lot”.  We’re seeing water when you don’t normally see water, she said.  In “some” cases, there are pollutants.  We don’t know “all the problems – just some,” she said. 

"We want to 'mimic nature'" insisted Valerie Wilson, Clallam County Department of Natural Resources.

"Impervious surfaces" include rooftops, driveways, streets and highways, parking lots, hard grassy surfaces like lawns and compacted fields," she explained.

"We want to 'mimic nature'", Wilson stated, after reviewing the various other watershed plans that had already been developed in the county.

Stormwater 'near and dear' to speaker's 'heart'

“Stormwater is near and dear to my heart,” so I’m happy to speak on this today, stated John Cambalik, local liaison for the Puget Sound Water Quality Management Action Team (PSWQMAT) for Jefferson, Clallam and Kitsap Counties. He explained the origin and authority of the Team.  The Team's long-term plan is to protect the "health and biodiversity" of the Puget Sound.  He said that the Clean Water Act calls for protection of an "estuary of national significance", which includes the Puget Sound.


John Cambalik, local liaison for the Puget Sound Water Quality Management Action Team (PSWQMAT) for Jefferson, Clallam and Kitsap Counties tried to explain that even though Clallam County is not required to pass a stormwater management plan under the new DOE guidelines, they should do it anyway.

He promoted the concept of "low impact developments (LID's)" as a method to help keep the costs down.  LID's are one method of creating a "sustainable community" where government dictates what you can or can't do with your property.

“Stormwater impacts all other priorities,” Cambalik stated.  He reviewed the EPA’s (federal Environmental Protection Agency’s) “Phase II – Minimum ‘6’ Requirements”, which include: stormwater controls for development and re-development; review of site plans, inspection of construction sites; permanent stormwater facilities; source control programs; detection and elimination of illicit discharge; programs for public education and involvement; an implementation schedule; integration into the watershed planning process; stable fund source development; and low impact development (LID) provisions.

A Low Impact Development (LID) is “an innovative, ecosystem-based approach to land development and stormwater management”, Cambalik explained.  It is “not a planning tool, nor a substitute for good planning,” he added.  The primary goal of LID is to “design each development site to protect, or restore, the natural hydrology of the site so that the overall integrity of the watershed is protected.  This is done by creating a ‘hydrologically functional landscape.’”  An LID workshop will be coming, he said. 

“First and foremost”, Cambalik stated, an LID is to “protect natural resources”.  This includes streams, fish and wildlife habitat, the watershed hydrology.  Also included at the bottom of the list were drinking water and water quality.  He said LID’s will “reduce infrastructure costs” and “make our communities/living space more attractive.”

Clallam County and balance of Port Angeles not required to implement the Plan

Cambalik explained that Port Angeles is excluded from the Plan because they fall under another plan, and Clallam County doesn't fall under the requirements for the plan, either..  It's  “not mandatory”, he said.  

Why go beyond the 6 (really 13) minimum elements? he asked. Because national requirements are “minimum” he said, and Western Washington “research” has been done, he said.  A smoother permit process and the ability to get grants were among the other reasons he offered.

When asked what type of enforcement there would be for noncompliance by the county or city, the answer was that “the authority board is not going to come after any county for not doing it,” by Bruce Wulkan, Program Lead for Stormwater,  PSQMAT.  “It’s subject to availability of funding,” he said, adding that the Team tries to “help local government get money for these regulations.  This is our ‘best shot’ at protecting Puget Sound,” he said.

Promoting LID's

Throughout the presentation, the concept of low impact development (LID's) were brought up as the best solution for stormwater problems.  New to the Puget Sound area according to Cambalik, the concept has been implemented on the east coast (Prince George's County in Virginia was mentioned). In following the trail on this issue, one quickly sees that "sustainable communities" are the direction being taken with this idea. A good website to see is Stormwater Management - Creating Sustainable Urban Water Resources for the 21st Century to learn that this is a worldwide concept being promoted. In reviewing the resources offered at the Puget Sound Water Quality Management Team's site, it's obvious that although "smart growth" and "sustainable development" are an integral part of the LID scheme.

Ways to Pay for Stormwater Programs described

Cambalik reviewed the various methods of getting money to pay for implementation of the model stormwater management plan.  The best method, he said, is to charge a “storm or surface water utility” fee.  Other possibilities include money from the real estate excise tax (REET), although there is a great amount of competition for those funds; money from the general fund; permit fees and drainage impact fees; road funds; grant and loan funding; revenue bonds; and efficiencies with neighboring jurisdictions.

Ecology author reviews the model “plan”

Ed O’Brien, Ecology Water Quality Program, and one of the authors of the DOE model plan, began his portion by saying there is “no way I can have you understand this manual in 20 minutes.”  He said he would discuss the last three books of the manual.

“Urban runoff is among the leading cause of water pollution in the United States and Washington”, O’Brien stated.  Urban stormwater runoff is the leading cause of urban water quality impairment in Washington, and it is increasing! He exclaimed.

He explained that stormwater runoff affects water quality with “pollutants” in the stormwater, including sediments, TSS, trash; toxic metals (copper, lead, zinc., etc); organics (pesticides, herbicides, etc.); hydrocarbons (gasoline, oils, grease, etc.) – adding that “cars are the biggest problem”.  Fecal coliform bacteria and nutrients are also problems, he said.

Land Use Management is necessary to help solve the problems, O’Brien asserted.  The stormwater management plan should not drive land use measures; it has a “project site focus” to disconnect pollutants and runoff from surface waters.  He said the GMA (Growth Management Act), Critical Areas Ordinances, Comprehensive Plans, Site Development Standards and Low Impact Developments are “standard operating procedure” and are “over and above what the manual suggests you do.”

“If you don’t use LID techniques, you will degrade the biodiversity,” O’Brien asserted.

Communities or counties have the ability to develop their own manual, O'Brien stated, but the Ecology Stormwater Staff makes the decision as to whether it's acceptable or not.  "You'd have to prove to us that there is sufficient protection," he said.  They will allow "very little deviation from Volume I, and deviation from Volumes 2-5 if equivalent resource protection is provided," he added.  

"We are trying to 'capture' single family homes and their equivalent," he said.  Noncompliance may be subject to "enforcement actions."  Basic treatment covers major streams, non-fish streams, and ground; discharges from most residential projects, he said.

Ed O’Brien, Ecology Water Quality Program, and one of the authors of the DOE model plan explains that you have to "match pre-European condition...Pre-developed conditions have to be considered as forest or prairie."

Cost to a developer of a one-acre commercial property could run about $570,000 just to implement stormwater plans to comply with the "model", he says.

"Treatment systems don't remove 100% of any pollutant," O'Brien stated.  "Treatment systems don't address bacteria; all discharges of stormwater from urban/suburban areas to surface waters will threaten shellfishing." The goal is to "match 'pre-development' flow duration rates, which is "insufficient by itself to protect or produce 'properly functioning conditions' for salmonids."  He added that they "assume you have to match pre-European condition....Pre-developed conditions have to be considered as forest or prairie," he explained.

Cost Issues Examined

O'Brien referred the commissioner to the Ecology website to examine the potential costs.  He gave one example of a one-acre commercial lot without infiltration.  In 1992, it would have cost $41,000 to comply; in 2001 under the new model, it will cost $570,000 (an increase of 1,290%), he explained.

There will also be costs involved for the county to fill staffing needs, including stormwater site plan reviewers, inspectors and enforcers, maintenance people, and the indirect costs of revenue collection, equipment, office space and legal requirements.

He later added that contractors would have a staff person on their payroll to "take care of the requirements".  That employee of the contractor would have to go to training.  Local governments would require a certification training program, he said.  "The state is not authorized to run a certification program."

If the model is not used, the costs to the environment would include possible reduction of salmonid populations; possible loss or significant reduction in commercial and recreation shellfish; possible loss of recreation uses like swimming.  Rehabilitation is more expensive, and a public expense, he said.  "There is not a single success story in restoring a health fish population in urban areas," he stated.

Two tools are necessary, O'Brien continued.  Land Use Management is the primary tool used to protect natural resources.  Low Impact Development will reduce the cost of stormwater management, he added.  The second tool is the Stormwater Manual, which would "manage remaining surface runoff until Zero Impact Development."

On the side of the citizens

Only one speaker was not an employee of a government agency.   Barbara Kitchen, representative of Realtors in six counties, 

"You're not alone," she said.  "Everybody's looking at this."  She said the GMA [Growth Management Act] was not required by every county.  Clallam County was not required to plan under the GMA, but chose to do so.  Nine other counties chose not to, and "they're alive and well and getting along just fine," Kitchen reported.

  “You can kiss commercial property goodbye,” she said, as she reiterated DOE’s statistics of the financial cost, ranging from $140,000 to $570,000 for fulfilling stormwater regulations on a one-acre commercial property.

She explained that the costs will be passed on to the taxpayers through increased property taxes because of inflated costs.  Increased regulation-related costs would also raise the cost of homes, driving most young people out of the home market, and increasing rents to those who can’t afford to buy.
Kitchen told the commission that even though the county had not been required to plan under the Growth Management Act, they had done so.  Nine counties chose not to, and “they’re all alive, they’re well and getting along just fine,” she said.  She challenged the commission to “look at different solutions.”

 “You can kiss commercial property goodbye,” she said, as she reiterated DOE’s statistics of the financial cost, ranging from $140,000 to $570,000 for fulfilling stormwater regulations on a one-acre commercial property.

She used a personal story to drive home the effect of the agency’s plans. "Our daughter was given an opportunity to go to Europe", she explained.  Then we found out it would cost $7,200 to send her.  She couldn’t go, although we would have loved for her to have the opportunity.  We couldn’t afford it.  She turned to the planning commission: “It’s going to cost you $7,200” she said, driving home the point that the county cannot afford to implement the expensive plan.

There are only two RCW’s mentioned: that’s your obligation – to comply with those.  “They’ve pointed out that you don’t have to comply” she said.  “Don’t spend these people’s money twice – that’s all I ask.”

Kitchen told the commission that even though the county had not been required to plan under the Growth Management Act, they had done so.  Nine counties chose not to, and “they’re all alive, they’re well and getting along just fine,” she said.  She challenged the commission to “look at different solutions.”

Questions Raised

Planning Commissioner Bob Lynette wanted to know if "we have to have that manual"  What 'stick' does the state have?"  O'Brien responded that there is only a 'potential' stick - that the county probably wouldn't get grants from the state government if they didn't choose to plan under the model or its equivalent.  But, he admitted, "a big stick doesn't exist."

The next meeting about the Stormwater Manual will be held sometime in late August or September. We'll keep you informed as it unfolds.

For the full report of the meeting, click here.

Related Stories:

“Stormwater Management” – Much more than protecting home and people from too much water! by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Planning commission faces push to “fast track” stormwater regs –Members raise questions about increased taxes, costs to property owners - by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Stormwater Management Plan carries far more restrictions on land than meets the eye by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Sustainable Development alive and well in the U.S. by Sharon Shumate

Governor Locke promotes a "sustainable Washington" - What does that mean?

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