A landmark deadline will pass today, with a long-reaching effect on Metro Detroit communities, businesses and taxpayers footing the bill to clean up pollution that runs off local streets into the Rouge, Clinton and other rivers.
Most of the affected communities (more than 170 in southeastern Michigan) should have no problem complying with the federal Environmental Protection Agency's requirement to submit plans for cleaning stormwater runoff, according to government agencies monitoring the process.
However, enacting those plans (i.e., putting in inspection programs, building retention ponds or other projects) will not be so easy.
"The brunt of (the cost) is going to fall on the municipalities, because this is an unfunded federal mandate," said Dana Calhoun, stormwater engineer for the city of Troy.
In short, any community, school district or other public entity in a specifically designated "urbanized" area whose stormwater runs off into local waterways must show the EPA it is working on plans to control soil erosion and illegal pollution sources, among other measures. The permit effort is part of the Clean Water Act, first passed by Congress in 1972.
Initial water pollution control focused on large sources like water treatment and manufacturing plants. But now, the effort is more widespread, affecting municipal storm sewers and a wide variety of similar systems, including roadways with drainage systems or catch basins.
Runoff from roads, lawns and driveways can dump pesticides, fertilizer, car oil and other pollutants into waterways. These sources "are smaller and harder to get your arms around, but until we get a handle on them, we're really not going to get the water quality we need," said Chuck Hersey, manager of environmental programs for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
Meeting the requirements means developing a set of pollution control goals, such as Troy's goal of reducing runoff during heavy storms -- which can flush pollutants and erode the dirt edges of streams.
In Macomb Township, officials are looking to ensure that neighborhood detention basins that collect stormwater and hold it until it can filter naturally into nearby streams, are properly maintained -- at a cost to homeowners, either through associations or special tax assessment districts, Water and Sewer Director David Koss said.
"This is a big deal, plain and simple. It's going to be an added responsibility for the township," he said.
The process also requires developing a plan to control illegal dumping, inspect failed septic systems, and to inform the public about their responsibility in keeping storm systems clean. Overfertilizing the lawn or leaving animal waste on it can add up, causing significant damage to wildlife and water quality.