Town Council Approves Measures to Make Charles River Cleaner

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After more than a decade of work, Watertown has a new set of storm water regulations that brings it into compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements.

The EPA issues a General Permit for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems for town’s which have storm water draining into rivers as part of the Federal Clean Waters Act. The permit was issued in 2003 and applies to water run-off from construction and post-construction activities. See the new stormwater ordinance by clicking here.

The goal is to reduce erosion of soil in town and stop the sediment from going into the Charles River through the stormwater sewers. This will also help cut pollution from flowing into the Charles River. The biggest focus is phosphorus, said David Stokes, a member of the Watertown Stormwater Advisory Committee.

New regulations call for the amount of phosphorus in the Charles River to be reduced by 42 percent, and Watertown’s goal is higher, at 53 percent, said Town Manager Michael Driscoll.

It costs $41,000 to remove one kilogram of phosphorus from the river, Stokes said, and Watertown must remove 613 Kg’s per year – a cost of about $2.5 million. The goal must be met in the next 20 years, including a five year planning period.

The new ordinance will seek to keep as much rain water on the property as possible, rather than have it go into storm drains that mostly drain directly into the river without the water being treated.

The new rules will apply to projects that disturb 5,000 square-feet or more of land, said Town Engineer Matt Shuman. It would also kick in if 500 square feet or more land is paved over.

“We don’t want it to be a disincentive to homeowners from installing a small addition or driveways” Shuman said. “If you pave over what is there, that is OK if you don’t expand it. We tried to find a balance between the small projects and large projects.”

The process will be streamlined for those who do not need to get the full permit, Stokes said.

With the new stormwater regulations in place, Shuman said he hopes the new projects being developed will have better stormwater systems.

“There is a lot of development and a lot of redevelopment in town. We find a lot of redevelopment sites have no stormwater controls,” Shuman said. “We hope to capture those and install stormwater controls.”

The fees for the permit are $50, or 3/10ths of a cent per square foot, whichever is larger, Shuman said. The money will cover the review of the stormwater plans and inspections by the Department of Public Works.

While the town has just complied with the 2003 permit, a new EPA permit is due out this year, Stokes said. The town’s new stormwater ordinance will be able to be updated to meet future requirements, Shuman said, without having to go through a lengthy process.

Town Councilor Aaron Dushku said he was glad to see the new regulations put into place, but he wants to make sure changes to the ordinance do not get made without the Town Council’s input. He made an amendment requiring all changes be approved by the Town Council. The Council unanimously approved that amendment and the stormwater ordinance.

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