Revised Stormwater Permit Will Ensure Washington, D.C. Will Meet Clean Water Goals

On Friday afternoon, NRDC and three Washington, D.C.-area environmental groups (represented by public interest law firm Earthjustice) reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency that will require D.C. to develop a legally enforceable plan to clean up local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

Every time it rains, pollutants like dirt, oil, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, and trash wash off of hard surfaces (like roofs, parking lots, and roads) into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, local streams, and other bodies of water through the District’s sewer system.

Cities have to receive a permit in order to legally discharge this pollution from sewers into waterways. Back in October, the EPA issued a permit to D.C. that authorized stormwater discharges but also required the city to start cleaning up those discharges by preventing polluted runoff from entering the sewer system in the first place.

That permit contained a lot of good requirements – like a mandate for the city to use green infrastructure controls to prevent runoff. But it also contained muddled and ambiguous language that undermined the permit’s enforceability.

Along with Earthjustice (representing Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, and Friends of the Earth), we filed a legal challenge to the permit because we believed that it stopped short of what is required by law and what is needed to fully clean up the District’s waters.

The settlement agreement reached on Friday resolves that challenge. Under the agreement, the EPA will revise the permit to improve the permit’s requirements for D.C.’s pollution reduction plan.

The revised permit will make clear that the plan’s milestones and deadlines will be incorporated as legally enforceable requirements. This will ensure that the District is held accountable for making progress toward cleaning up the rivers by a specific date. The revised permit will also make clear that the District's compliance with clean water standards will be judged by whether it meets this schedule, not just by whether it performs other permit-mandated actions that are not linked to water quality goals. 

The revised permit will additionally ensure that members of the public will be able to play a meaningful role in the development of the clean-up plan.

We’re really excited about this agreement. The waterways in our nation’s capital deserve better than to be the dumping grounds for polluted runoff, and under this agreement, the District will be set on the right track toward cleaning them up.