How is stormwater managed in Puget Sound?

In Washington, the Department of Ecology (Ecology) requires many businesses and municipalities to obtain permits for the treatment and control of polluted stormwater. Ecology issues stormwater permits to businesses and municipalities for a variety of reasons, including their size, their location, the pollutants they deal with, etc. The permits in Washington implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) and are intended to limit—but not eliminate—the amount of polluted stormwater entering Puget Sound. Right now, Ecology is in the process of updating its Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP), which regulates industrial facilities.

Broadly speaking, the CWA makes water pollution illegal unless a facility has a permit. Puget Soundkeeper has a mission to protect and enhance the waters of Puget Sound. We have challenged every ISGP permit since 2000, making this the fifth permit in a row. Why? On the grounds that the permits do not do enough to protect water quality in Puget Sound.

What is the Industrial Stormwater General Permit? Why is it important?

Contaminants from factories and businesses end up in our waterways and harm fish and other aquatic life. For example, a facility may improperly store materials outside or fail to quickly clean up a leak or spill. Those contaminants wash into on-site grates or drains, and eventually into our waterways.

The ISGP allows permitted industrial facilities(permittee) to discharge pollution if they follow specific requirements and conduct certain preventative measures. The ISGP includes monitoring, measuring, and treatment requirements intended to ensure the permittees’ stormwater discharges do not violate established clean water standards.

Ecology oversees the ISGP program. Ecology must reissue an updated and revised permit every five years. This reissuance means Ecology can revise permit terms and require facilities to implement new, better technologies to ultimately decrease the amount of industrial pollution that enters our waterways. 

What is a “listening session” and why does Soundkeeper attend

The ISGP currently in effect expires on December 31, 2024.  Ecology recently started the process to reissue the next permit that will last another five years. Ecology conducted five listening sessions throughout the month of September 2023. These were held over Zoom and in-person, giving Ecology an opportunity to explain some of the proposed permit changes and receive feedback from attendees.

Soundkeeper attends these early-stage listening sessions for two reasons: to stay informed about potential permit changes, and offer early input on permit requirements that will have meaningful impact and improve water quality in the Sound.

Ecology will also receive informal input from the public until October 31, 2023. Ecology purports to consider this early input as it creates the draft permit, which it expects to release in the spring of 2024. These listening sessions and informal public input opportunities are different than the formal 60-day comment period that takes place after Ecology releases the draft permit. At that stage, Ecology must consider and respond to all substantive comments the public provides.

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