EPA Storm Water Guidelines Costlier Than First Believed
Builders and developers who attended a presentation on proposed effluent limitation guidelines that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require for job-site storm water discharge say there are a host of issues that will make the proposal more expensive and complicated than it originally appeared.
Nationwide, the EPA proposal is expected to add $2 billion per year to the cost of construction, the agency estimated — with the environmental gain not yet clear. “We have a very difficult time quantifying environmental benefits for this industry,” said Jesse Pritts, a representative from the EPA Office of Water who met with the NAHB Environmental Issues Committee during the recent International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.
Builders now believe the costs will be even higher and that the requirements could actually cause environmental damage, in some cases. However, Pritts said, a cost-benefit analysis was not included in the court order prompting the new guidelines and therefore cannot be part of the EPA’s proposal.
The proposal is the result of a lawsuit filed by the National Resources Defense Council after NAHB convinced the agency in 2004 that conventional guidelines — which are used by industries whose discharges come out of a pipe and go directly into a body of water — are too difficult to apply to home builders, whose discharges result from rainwater leaving the job site.
NAHB and the EPA appealed the court’s decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last September ruled in favor of the environmental group and ordered the EPA to finalize a rule by the end of this year. NAHB is now preparing comments on the proposal, which are due by Feb. 26.
The NAHB staff is also preparing background information and talking points to encourage local home builders associations to enlist state and local government officials to submit comments opposing the new proposal.
NAHB has long held that successful erosion and sediment control measures — so-called Best Management Practices, or BMPs — are the best way for the construction industry to mitigate the effects of storm water discharges on nearby lakes and rivers. BMPs keep the rainwater that mixes with dust and dirt from leaving the construction site.
Currently, the EPA and state environmental agencies issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to builders and developers, who in turn are required to demonstrate compliance with the terms of the permit. Those terms always include the use of BMPs to control storm water discharges and address the management of construction debris, equipment fuel and other possible pollutants.
Under the new proposal, builders would be required to take additional steps beyond existing NPDES requirements, based on one of these three options being considered by the EPA:
- Option 1 relies primarily on existing erosion and sediment control requirements and BMPs. It mandates the use of sediment basins for sites disturbing 10 or more acres at a time. The EPA estimates that constructing these basins would cost about 53 cents per cubic foot and that maintaining them would add another 25% to construction costs.
- Option 2 imposes all of the requirements of Option 1, plus a numeric turbidity limit for sites consisting of more than 30 acres that have high rainfall and high clay content. The EPA has based its turbidity limit on the use of advanced treatment systems that use costly chemicals to treat and filter storm water discharges. A requirement to sample and monitor discharge is also a part of this option. For a typical 33-acre project, the cost to comply would range from $21,000 in Texas, where there is little clay soil, to a whopping $512,000 in Florida, according to EPA estimates.
- Option 3 expands the requirements of Option 2 to all construction sites that include 10 or more disturbed acres at one time — the most broadly ranging and expensive of the EPA options.
At the IBS meeting, builders and developers questioned everything from the cost estimates to the environmental benefit and the long-term effects on land development patterns and their relationship to climate change.
For instance, the EPA sought data on the effectiveness of advanced treatment systems only from the vendors of these systems, who likely inflated their effectiveness and downplayed the costs, both financial and environmental, builders said. Some systems use polymers that bond with the discharged sediment and could potentially pollute water bodies.
As the result of requirements relating to the turbidity of the discharged water, builders may end up discharging clear, sediment-free water into streams and lakes with naturally high turbidity levels that actually prevent erosion — raising the possibility of environmental harm.
Finally, the requirements discourage compact development, encouraging builders to construct fewer houses on larger sites to avoid additional, expensive mitigation efforts, which one builder called “a contorted perversion of the Clean Water Act.”
For additional information on effluent limitation guidelines and NAHB’s comments, e-mail Ty Asfaw at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8124.