Riverkeepers Sue Over Storm-Water PermitsClean water - Three nonprofits
say state-issued licenses are a "free pass" for cities to pollute rivers
Boaz Herzog, Oregonian
January 31, 2006
pollution permits violate Oregon and federal clean water laws and statewide planning goals, according to
a suit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by three nonprofit environmental groups.
issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to municipalities in the Portland area don't set
enforceable pollution limits for storm water, which may result in discharges that harm the Columbia and Willamette rivers, the
Tualatin, Willamette and Columbia Riverkeeper groups claimed in the suit. They were joined as petitioners
in the suit, filed Jan. 20, by Portland activist Liz Callison.
Storm-water runoff is a big source of
pollution in the Willamette River and the primary source in smaller urban tributaries. Runoff can carry
oil, pesticides, sediment and animal waste.
But it would be unreasonable to force municipalities
into strict limits because they have little control over pollutants in runoff and no control over rainfall
amounts, said Kevin Masterson, storm-water coordinator for the state DEQ.
It's so varied and
unpredictable, he said.
The cost of managing storm-water runoff has escalated in recent years for
Portland and other municipalities, and may become more expensive if litigation imposes more stringent
The average $4 monthly bill for customers of Clean Water Services, which manages resources
for the Tualatin River watershed, could at least double or triple "easily," if the Washington County
utility is forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replumb its system to meet specific storm-
waterpollution limits, Mark Jockers, a spokesman for the utility said.
"We need to make sure we're
investing smartly," he said.
The Riverkeeper groups argue in the suit that storm-water permits
issued in 2004 should be remanded because they do not ensure that discharges meet Oregon water quality
The federal Clean Water Act does not set pollution limits for storm water the way it does
for sewage and industrial wastewater, but it does call for limiting contamination "to the maximum extent
The state DEQ, overseen by the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, failed to show
that storm-water pollution permits will control discharges to such an extent, the suit claims.
2004, Oregon boosted requirements for monitoring pollutants in storm water and required studies of the
effectiveness of storm-water management plans. The changes, however, set no fixed limits on storm water
pollution levels, which is typical of such permits nationwide.
State land-use laws require that
waste discharges -- including storm water -- cannot exceed or violate water-quality standards set for each
river, according to the suit. DEQ-issued storm-water permits leave it to cities and counties to set
nonbinding goals for reducing contaminants, the suit said.
The permits amount to a "free pass" for
municipalities, said Chris Winter, a Portland attorney representing the environmental groups. "The DEQ is
more concerned about providing municipalities with flexibility than public health and environmental
quality," Winter said.
Permit holders have argued that it would be unreasonable to force them into
strict limits because they have little control over pollutants in runoff and no control over rainfall
amounts, which are highly variable.
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