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Advocates and EPA Reach Agreement to Protect Chesapeake Bay from Stormwater Discharges

Anacostia Riverkeeper

Clean water advocates reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a clean water permit for Washington, D.C. that will require the city to develop a plan for reducing its discharges of polluted stormwater to clean up local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

This agreement resolves a legal challenge to the permit filed in November by public interest law firm Earthjustice (representing Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper and Friends of the Earth) and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The appeal, filed with the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, alleged that the permit failed to meet legal requirements for clean water.

“The rivers in our nation’s capital should be restored to their full potential, not be the dumping ground for bacteria, metals and other waste,” said Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice attorney. “This permit marks a major, though seriously overdue, milestone in this 40th year anniversary of the Clean Water Act.”

“This agreement will not only give District residents cleaner rivers and streams, it also empowers the public to have an active role in how the city controls dirty stormwater runoff,” said Rebecca Hammer, an attorney with NRDC.

In 2002, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board ordered EPA’s Region 3 to strengthen an earlier version of the permit so that it would ensure compliance with the District’s water quality standards. In October 2011 the EPA released a long-overdue and flawed permit that stopped short of what is required by law and needed to fully clean up the District’s waters. Key parts of the permit contained muddled and ambiguous language and exceptions that made clean water standards extremely difficult to enforce.

Because of today’s agreement, EPA will initiate revisions to the permit to require the District to develop a comprehensive plan to meet pollution reduction goals according to a schedule with enforceable deadlines and opportunity for the public to participate in the development of the plan. Adopting those changes will mean cleaner waterways throughout the District.

“Our rivers have long been burdened by uncontrolled polluted runoff,” said Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder. “This permit is a vital step toward achieving waterways that are truly fishable and swimmable.”

“For years we have been calling for comprehensive, enforceable implementation requirements and deadlines for cleaning up polluted runoff into our rivers. This permit is a major step in the right direction,” said Potomac Riverkeeper Ed Merrifield.

“Thanks to this permit, visitors and district residents might one day be able to enjoy these once pristine rivers without fear of illness,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels project director at Friends of the Earth.

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