On June 24, the St. Mary’s County Commissioners submitted comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding a new proposed rule that would expand the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the federal Clean Water Act. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has urged counties to submit formal comments and recommend that county owned ditches and drainage ways be exempted from the rule. The EPA recently extended the comment period by 90 days to October 1. From the St. Mary’s County letter:
Nonetheless, there still remains a potential that there could be a significant increase in the number of county-owned ditches and outfall channels that would require additional permitting if upgrades/alterations are required as part of our ongoing roadside maintenance programs. The impacts of the proposed rule will extend beyond local government-owned facilities and may result in additional costs and burdens to businesses, farmers, and private property owners.
We are not certain that the full impacts on local jurisdictions have been fully considered. Therefore, we might suggest a dry season evaluation of all County ditchlines and outfall channels be undertaken by the EPA, which may include extensive coordination with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the [United States Army] Corps of Engineers. The purpose of this updated mapping effort would be to determine the extent to which ditches would be deemed both perennial and jurisdictional under the proposed rule. Once published, the mapping would provide a visual representation of the potential impacts of the new rule and serve as an operational/development guideline similar to the federal blue line stream and flood plain mapping that has already been performed.
In addition to the above, it appears that the proposed regulation will impact the implementation of proposed projects that have been mandated through Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) and NPDES MS-4 permits by further restricting areas suitable for retrofit and restoration. Local jurisdictions have already spent significant operating and capital resources on either programming and designing efforts that will most likely need to be modified, be rendered difficult to implement, result in additional expenditures, or result in the imposition of additional water quality standards.
The County also requested that the comment period be extended at least 180 days to allow for additional input.