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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
City Manager Greg Burris and Greene County Administrator Chris Coulter dove right into urgent stormwater management issues at a joint meeting of Springfield City Council and the Greene County Commission. The update follows a sobering Dec. 9 meeting, where the two leaders walked the elected officials through a Joint City-County Planning Task Force Report that detailed challenges facing both governmental entities.
The report grouped issues into the following “big three” categories: law enforcement and the criminal justice system; unfunded state and federal mandates, and the City and County’s financial stability. Three “urgent issues” emerged from those categories that members suggest need immediate attention.
Those include: insufficient jail space and criminal justice capacity; lack of stormwater funding for mandated programs and improvements and the County’s unsustainable financial situation. Stormwater challenges were addressed today; the other two urgent issues will be discussed in upcoming meetings.
Dan Hoy, who served as a co-chair on a 2012 Citizens Stormwater Task Force described the issue as one preserving “our namesake” – the clean water we here in the Ozarks both enjoy and rely on.
“We, as a community have thrived when water quality is good. We live and die by it. It’s pretty clear that there will be more requirements to meet. The community has a chance to address it and lay a path to deal with it and chart our own course, or we can kick it down the road to have to deal with it later,” he explains.
The Challenge:In addition to ensuring water quality in the community in which we live, work and play, City and County officials are faced with increasingly strict state and federal standards for stormwater management that will require local governments to spend millions of dollars to reduce the amount of pollution being washed into area streams during rain events. Long-standing issues with flooding and the need to maintain and replace existing stormwater infrastructure provide additional financial challenges.
The 1972 Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), which focused primarily on wastewater, was amended in 1987 to regulate stormwater as well. Over the past 25 years, enforcement of these federal stormwater regulations has steadily increased.
Upgrades to sewer and stormwater systems are increasingly required as part the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) push for more stringent enforcement of the CWA. EPA , along with its state counterparts, such as Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is imposing legal settlements - called consent decrees - on communities nationwide. These consent decrees have included billions of dollars in mandated sewer and stormwater improvements for communities here in Missouri and in most other states.
On the sewer side, the City is completing a $50 million program focused on rehabilitating deteriorated sewer lines, which are often 50-100 years old, to prevent groundwater and storm run-off from entering the system. These investments are designed to reduce sanitary sewer overflows, wet weather bypasses from the treatment plants, and to improve water quality.
Most recently, the City submitted an overflow control plan to DNR outlining a program of proposed investments in the local sewer system totaling $200 million over 10 years. Other communities in the country are being required to do the same, with very large expenditures. In Missouri, this includes St. Louis, $4.7 billion, Kansas City, $4.5 billion and St. Joseph, $462 million.
EPA and DNR are now also increasing requirements for stormwater management. Cities like Springfield and Greene County are required to have a “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System” permit (known in the industry as an “MS4” permit). Both the City and the County have had an MS4 permit for over 10 years and a new series of permits are expected to be issued later this year. Failure to comply with the existing MS4 permit can result in fines of up to $50,000 per day, depending on the nature of the violation as well as enforcement actions by EPA, DNR and citizen groups.
In part because a countywide 1/8-cent parks/stormwater sales tax sunset in 2012, the City and County lack sufficient stormwater management funding. As recently recommended by the Citizens Stormwater Task Force, an estimated $11.3 million per year is needed to maintain and replace existing infrastructure, deploy additional flood control measures and meet the known state and federal stormwater mandates for the City and County’s existing and new MS4 permits. Additional costs are anticipated as mandates are revised, particularly through new permit requirements anticipated in the 2015 City/County stormwater permit renewal.
Excessive costs could be placed on communities by EPA through the enforcement of improperly developed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). Recently, the City filed a lawsuit against EPA, citing the unreasonable TMDL requirement, and EPA withdrew the TMDL, agreeing to reconsider the issue. This is just one example of how the City/County are trying to manage stormwater obligations.
Burris and Coulter outlined the three aspects of stormwater funding needs: an anticipated $1.5 million per year in operations and permit compliance cost (anticipated to increase to $2.8 million annually by 2020); $500 million in total infrastructure replacement needs, and about $200 million in high-priority flood control needs.
“About 27% of our storm system infrastructure in Springfield is over 50 years old,” said Todd Wagner, City of Springfield Public Works stormwater engineer.
Paul Calamita, chairman of AquaLaw, an environmental law firm, provided a national perspective on the issue, encouraging Springfield and Greene County leaders to find adequate funding to comply with their MS4 permits, or face serious federal and state enforcement consequences.
“Across the country, EPA has launched major stormwater-related enforcement. There have been literally hundreds of inspections and administrative orders imposing fines – including in the state of Missouri,” Calamita said. Communities have had to pay hefty fines, followed by an order from EPA with detailed and expensive instructions on what must be done to comply.
He gave examples of several Missouri communities who suffered EPA stormwater enforcement. One community conceded that its stormwater management program was inadequate. EPA fined the community $30,000 and issued an order to implement the program EPA’s way. “They will have to do it to EPA’s standard or spend a lot of time and money to litigate it,” he said. Other communities in the region have had their stormwater management programs included in federal consent decrees.
The discussion included revisiting funding recommendations by the Citizens Stormwater Management Task Force in 2012, as well as other potential options.
A silver lining to the stormwater challenge is the response by the City, County and City Utilities to create a first-of-its kind Integrated Plan for the Environment. This planning approach will make compliance with mandates as affordable for citizens as possible, while still protecting the environment. This holistic approach examines the community’s environmental resources of air, water and land in an effort to be good environmental stewards, while getting the most benefit toward addressing community priorities for each environmental dollar that the community can afford to invest.
This holistic approach proposes to use local knowledge to examine environmental resources related to wastewater and stormwater as well as solid waste, drinking water and air quality. The planning approach has received written endorsement from both DNR and EPA Region 7. The Springfield – Greene County community is working hard to implement an Integrated Plan that will ensure that vital natural resources are protected in an affordable manner.
“I get to look at stewardship of our natural resources from a state perspective. There are certain leaders in our state that you always know you can count on to be on the front end of environmental protection, and Springfield is always at the top of that list,” said Sara Parker Pauley, Region 7 Director for the Missouri DNR
EPA Region 7 Regional Administrator Karl Brooks also praised Springfield and Greene County’s approach.
“Springfield has set the mark for communities in the Heartland. They are pointing the way forward to think holistically about all our resources: people, water, land and soil. Communities thrive when all their parts are working together,” he said.
A stormwater funding source or sources is expected to be identified in the near future.
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For more information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement, at 417-380-3352.
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