On Thursday, the state Department of Ecology will tip its hand on its plan for new stormwater regulations for Washington’s cities and counties in a meeting at its headquarters.

Folks concerned about saving Puget Sound say the stakes are high. Stormwater—and the millions of pounds of pollution that it carries, plus the damage it does when it blasts through salmon streams like a fire hose—is considered the prime threat to the health of Washington’s inland sea.

The regulations from Ecology will in turn dictate how cities and counties set rules for how houses, businesses, public buildings, roads, and parking lots will be built. While the slow economy recently has tapped the brakes on growth in the Northwest, our population is expected to keep swelling, which means more development and challenges to protecting our waterways.  

Acid rain man_Flickr_pfly

The aspect of the new rules that’s getting the most attention deals with when and how to require the use of low-impact development, which is the practice of trying to help stormwater soak into the ground where it falls, rather than shunting it away through storm drains and gutters and into rivers, lakes, or the sea.

Ecology didn’t decide to tackle the low-impact development question just for kicks. After a coalition of green-leaning groups challenged the department’s existing stormwater regulations as being too weak, Ecology was ordered by the Pollution Control Hearing Board to spiff ’em up.

Excerpts from the state’s marching orders (pages 57-58):

  • “…we conclude that under state law, the permit must require greater application of LID techniques, where feasible…”

    “…the testimony presented by PSA (Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and People for Puget Sound), the Utilities and Ecology’s technical experts leads to the indisputable conclusion that application of LID techniques, at the parcel and subdivision level, is a currently known and existing methodology that is reasonable both technologically and economically to control (stormwater) discharges…”

    After the ruling dropped, Ecology formed two advisory committees to tackle the matter of defining low-impact development, and determining when it should be required.

    The meeting Thursday will be Ecology’s public unveiling to the committees of the new rules (though you can get a sneak peak of what’s going to be presented in the meeting materials).

    Details of the meeting:

    When: Aug. 12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Where: 300 Desmond Dr. S.E., Lacey, in the Ecology Headquarters Auditorium

    Acid rain man photo shot at Richmond Beach, located north of Seattle, by Flickr user pfly under a Creative Commons license.