Clean Water Blog

CLEAN WATER - PART FOUR

After the passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972, the quality of the nation’s waterways improved.  As wastewater from urban areas and industrial discharges of pollutants were reduced, the impact of stormwater runoff from urban areas became apparent.  In response, the EPA undertook a comprehensive five-year research project in 1979 called the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program (NURP) to study 28 major metropolitan areas across the country. After 2,300 significant rainfall events were studied, the results indicated stormwater runoff from urban areas contained a substantial amount of pollutants, including sediment.

In response to the study and resulting CWA amendments made by Congress in 1987, the EPA begin treating municipalities and construction sites as point sources of pollution, meaning they would have to obtain and follow the requirements of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
permits.  Beginning in 1990, municipalities were required to obtain a special kind of NPDES permit – a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, permit.  Initially, with some exceptions including Lawrenceville, only municipalities having a population of at least 100,000 were required to obtain these permits.  The permitting requirement has since been expanded to also cover smaller populations.

The fundamental idea behind the MS4 permits was to create the concept of a storm drainage system as being a type of public utility, in much the same way a drinking water system or sanitary sewerage system owned and operated by a local government is a public utility.  MS4 is therefore defined as being “A conveyance or system of conveyances that is:  Owned by a state, city, town, village, or other public entity that discharges to waters of the United States; and designed or used to collect or convey stormwater (e.g., storm drains, pipes, ditches).”  As with other aspects of the CWA, the Georgia EPD took on responsibility for issuing and enforcing the NPDES MS4 permits in Georgia.

MS4 permits are renewed every five years.  MS4 permits for Georgia municipalities cover the period beginning May 1, 2019 through April 30, 2024.  It is typical for the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to increase the requirements that “Phase 1 MS4s”, such as Lawrenceville, must meet for each five-year cycle.  In 2019, all Georgia Phase 1 MS4s were required to submit a new Stormwater Management Program (SWMP, sometimes referred to as “Swamp”) to the EPD for review and approval. The new SWMP conforms to the increased requirements of the new permit in effect during the current five-year cycle. Lawrenceville submitted its proposed SWMP to EPD in November, and is following it while awaiting feedback.  COVID-19 has put limitations on everyone in government.  When the 2019-2024 SWMP has been approved by the EPD, it will be posted on the City’s website.

Phillip Serrian
Engineering Department
City of Lawrenceville

                                                                ___________________

CLEAN WATER - PART THREE

Happy Earth Day, on this 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. 

The Clean Water Act (CWA) encouraged states to assume responsibility for its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements, including authority to take enforcement actions against violators.  Georgia, in response, created the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within the Department of Natural Resources, which assumed the day-to-day role allowed to the states by the CWA. This gave the EPD permitting rights in the state of Georgia.  

At the same time, metropolitan Atlanta was booming.  Thousands of forest acres were being converted to urban use annually, resulting in significant erosion and large quantities of sediment flowing off construction sites and into area lakes, streams and rivers.  In response, the Georgia legislature passed the Erosion and Sedimentation Act of 1975 (GESA).   On April 24, 1975, Governor George Busby signed GESA into law, making Georgia one of the first states in the nation to adopt a law addressing the prevention of water pollution caused by construction site runoff.

GESA placed the EPD in charge of enforcing the law, and also provided the EPD with the ability to delegate that authority to local governments.  EPD may certify a county or municipality as a Local Issuing Authority (LIA) if the county / municipality enacts an ordinance which meets or exceeds the GESA requirements and the State’s NPDES General Permit.  Years ago, Lawrenceville adopted such an ordinance, the Soil Erosion, Sedimentation and Pollution Control Ordinance, and became an LIA.  This meant Lawrenceville had the authority to issue Land Disturbing Activity (LDA) permits, without which all but very minor activities that disturb soil are illegal.  The SES&PC Ordinance can be found on the City’s website.

It is not this blog’s intention to be only a history lesson, but also to educate on the many ways of keeping our waterways clean and healthy.  Erosion and sedimentation are key topics in this area.  In Georgia, sedimentation is the #1 pollutant affecting our waterways.  Even before land disturbing activities associated with rapid urbanization became the state’s main source of sediment, overuse of the land by farming and forestry enabled significant amounts of erosion to occur, resulting in heavy sediment loads being introduced to the state’s waterways.  Providence Canyon, located south of Columbus, is known nationally as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon”.  Providence “Canyon” actually consists of 16 canyons, all of which were carved by rainwater running off eroding farm land.  They were formed during the 1800s, when all-too-often farming practices did not in any way attempt to control soil erosion. 

There are many reasons sediment is detrimental to waterways.  It reduces the carrying capacity of storm drainage systems and waterways, increasing the frequency of flooding.  It fills in the shallow portions of lakes, interfering with both aesthetic and recreational enjoyment, and decreasing property values.  It fills in drinking water reservoirs, increasing water treatment costs and decreasing availability.  Sediment buries fish eggs, rendering them unable to hatch.  It can clog gills, making it more difficult for fish to intake oxygen.  It also kills the macroinvertebrates (crawfish, worms, snails, and certain insects in their larval form) fish depend on for food.  Sediment also clouds water, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching beneficial aquatic plants, and making it harder for fish to find food.

Phillip Serrian
Engineering Department
City of Lawrenceville

                                                                  ___________________


CLEAN WATER - PART TWO


The 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act was the result of numerous compromises between legislative ideologies and interests.  Many legislators believed the Federal government’s role in addressing the pollution problem should be to encourage and support state government efforts to tackle the issue.  Others wanted Washington to take the lead.  The final version of the law was largely symbolic, and ultimately ineffective in making headway against the problem it was intended to address.  In the decades after adoption of the law, there were essentially no legal actions taken against polluters, and the country’s water quality declined.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire, focusing the nation’s attention on the seriousness of the country’s water pollution problem.  In that same year, water pollution caused the deaths of more than 41 million fish - a record number.  In addition to water pollution, the nation was choking on air pollution.  In response to these environmental problems, the first Earth Day was observed by people across the nation on April 22, 1970.  The 50th anniversary of that first Earth Day will be observed in countries around the globe this month.

In 1972, under constantly increasing pressure from an American public sick of and frightened by the country’s ever-increasing pollution problems, the U.S. Congress heavily amended the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act, even changing the name to the Clean Water Act (CWA).

One of the outcomes of the CWA, especially as it applies to modern-day Lawrenceville, was the creation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  Under the NPDES, which was to be administered by the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), permits would be required for all municipalities discharging sewage (today known as “wastewater”) into waterways and industrial facilities piping liquid waste into waterways.  These activities were considered to be “point source” discharges, as opposed to “non-point source” discharges such as stormwater runoff, which the NPDES program did not regulate, even if the runoff came from a heavily urbanized area or a factory.

More to come next week, on Earth Day.

Phillip Serrian
Engineering Department
City of Lawrenceville

___________________


CLEAN WATER - PART ONE

Clean water is essential to living a healthy life.  Both Gwinnett County and the City of Lawrenceville are dedicated to providing Lawrenceville residents with the cleanest (and best tasting) drinking water technologically possible.  But the water that comes out of our faucets is far from being the only water that impacts our lives.  There is also the water in our streams and lakes.  And that water, and the steps the City of Lawrenceville takes to ensure its cleanliness, will be addressed in this blog.

At one time in the United States, America's waterways were widely considered to be a primary means of waste disposal.  Factories and cities routinely disposed of all manner of solid and liquid wastes in the nearest large stream or river, giving little thought to the impact such practices would have on the wildlife living in or dependent on the waterway, and the people residing downstream who used it for recreational purposes and, in many instances, a source of drinking water.

The American people, following the Great Depression and World War II, began to express increasing concern about the poor and worsening condition of the nation's waterways, and their elected officials took notice, the result being that in 1948 the federal government enacted the first law requiring the country's water pollution problem begin to be addressed.

So . . . what does all this have to do with the City of Lawrenceville?  As we old timers say "Stay tuned".  There will be more on this subject in the future.

Phillip Serrian
Engineering Department
City of Lawrenceville