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Eastern Washington stormwater changes delayed until 2014

It's the status quo, for now, as Eastern Washington communities with populations greater than 10,000 people come to grips with state stormwater permit requirements.

The permits are issued for public-owned storm drain systems with populations greater than 10,000.

That includes Sunnyside, which assesses residents a monthly stormwater fee to help it comply with regulations the state says are needed to meet federal environmental guidelines.

During a press conference yesterday, Wednesday, state officials unveiled stormwater plans for Eastern Washington that will change as of 2014.

"We get that this costs money and the transition to that program is challenging for folks and this is a pretty lousy time to be asking folks to do more of anything," Ted Sturdevant, director of the state's Department of Ecology, says of phasing in new requirements.

A central piece of the 2014 changes is something the state calls "low impact development," which will require developers to use techniques such as vegetation and soil to naturally filter rain water and snowmelt that otherwise carries pollution across hard surfaces and down storm drains into rivers and waterways.

"It's a whole lot easier and cheaper to prevent runoff and pollution as we plan our developments, than to try to manage stormwater after the fact," says Sturdevant. "This gives local governments the time they need to develop their programs so they can comply with new permit requirements."

Municipalities that do not comply with stormwater permit requirements could face fines up to nearly $50,000 a day, per violation.

Local governments have until the end of 2017 to implement the permit changes set for 2014.

Bill Moore is Washington's stormwater permit manager, and he says the state is setting aside $1 million a year for five years to to train local officials on low impact developments

The other news for Sunnyside is that as of 2014 the city's urban growth area, parcels that sit just outside the city limits which may someday be annexed, must be included in its stormwater plan.

Moore says the change will likely have little effect on property owners and residents living in Sunnyside's urban growth area.

"The stormwater permit does not apply to rural lands," says Moore. He adds that much of the area around Sunnyside was previously in the county's stormwater plan. "This shouldn't result in any significant new impacts," he asserted.

During yesterday's 30-minute phone interview with Eastern Washington media, Sturdevant defended the state's stormwater regulations for Eastern Washington despite a lack of precipitation compared to the west side of the state.

"When it does rain in Eastern Washington you still get that flush of pollution," Sturdevant said, noting regulations are less stringent east of the Cascades because of the drier climate. "Is it less rainfall? Certainly. Is it still a pollution source? Yes."

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