|"Despite the fact that we have a good program of stormwater regulations, we're seeing a lot of shellfish waters closed in North Carolina—a lot.'"|
|Gloria Putnam ,
North Carolina's Coastal Nonpoint Source Program
To help limit the stormwater runoff that can pollute coastal waters, state permits often restrict impervious surfaces and require the installation of stormwater treatment systems. But with little funding typically available to determine developers' permit compliance and system maintenance, are coastal waters cleaner?
"Here's the sad part," says Gloria Putnam, coordinator for North Carolina's Coastal Nonpoint Source Program. "Despite the fact that we have a good program of stormwater regulations, we're seeing a lot of shellfish waters closed in North Carolina—a lot."
She notes that North Carolina has limited resources to conduct stormwater permit compliance inspections within its 20 coastal counties. "It just doesn't routinely happen," says Putnam.
To determine the level of stormwater permit compliance, the Coastal Nonpoint Program in 2004 collaborated with the Division of Water Quality permitting staff to conduct a permit compliance study within the five southern coastal counties.
Using Coastal Nonpoint Program and state funds, a staff person was hired to conduct a review of over 500 sites to assess stormwater permit compliance. The sites were randomly selected from over 3,600 permits issued between 1998 and 2002.
An important element of the survey was developing an inspection checklist, Putnam says. "Finding compliance isn't usually black and white like it's written in the rules. For the study, it needed to be sound and defensible, and we needed to be able to compare inspections."
The study found significant violations in the installation and maintenance of stormwater treatment systems. In addition, it appears program requirements may be exacerbating sprawl as developers are choosing a permitting option with impervious surface limits and developing more land rather than the high density option that requires engineered treatment.
The numbers in the study were "lower than what I was thinking they might be, and that's positive," says Putnam, "but certainly it shows we need to work towards increasing compliance."
As a result of the survey, a staff member is being hired to develop outreach materials for stormwater system maintenance and installation. The permitting staff also will be able to use the survey checklist to review permits that are up for renewal, which are now receiving inspections.
While it may not be a result of the survey, Putnam says, the state has received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for several stormwater compliance officers. She also notes that there are efforts underway to revise the state's regulations governing stormwater generated by new development.
"I think the compliance study was beneficial," Putnam says. "We've seen clearly that we have some problems, but there have been a lot of positives that have come out of this, and we're continuing to improve what we're doing."
She adds, "Any permitting program needs to be evaluated. How else do you know if you're reaching your goals?"
For information, or to receive a copy of the survey, contact Gloria Putnam at (919) 733-5083, ext. 567, or firstname.lastname@example.org.