The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week announced that it intends to revise its stormwater regulations to specify that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is not required for stormwater discharge from logging roads.
The EPA is also requesting comment on potential approaches for addressing stormwater discharges from forest roads and seeks input on examples of successful state, tribal and certification-oriented programs that are based on “best management practices.”
The EPA will accept written comments for 30 days after publication of the notice in the Federal Register at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-05-23/pdf/2012-12524.pdf. EPA officials also plan to hold listening sessions to obtain stakeholder input this summer on its consideration of how best to address stormwater discharges from forest roads.
The agency says it will consider a full range of potential non-permitting approaches under the Clean Water Act including voluntary programs and further support for state and tribal programs.
In August, 2010, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that polluted runoff from logging roads is subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.
In mid-September 2011, both the timber industry and the state of Oregon filed petitions for certiorari requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court review the case. On December 12, 2011, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the federal government’s views on the case, which is expected in the coming days.
In filing its notice with the Federal Register, the EPA says, “The physical impacts of forest roads on streams, rivers, downstream water bodies and watershed integrity have been well documented but vary depending on site-specific factors.
“Improperly designed or maintained forest roads can affect watershed integrity through three primary mechanisms: they can intercept, concentrate, and divert water. Forest roads can intercept water falling as rainfall directly on road surfaces and cutbanks as well as subsurface water moving underground down the hillslope. They concentrate flow on the road surface and in adjacent ditches and channels.
“Forest roads, if not properly designed, can divert both surface and subsurface water from flow paths that otherwise would be taken in the absence of a road. The hydrologic and geomorphic consequences resulting from these three processes will vary based on the forest road. In some cases, impacts may be negligible, while they may be significant in others.
“Potential effects of forest roads that were not properly constructed or are not properly maintained on water quality include increased loading of sediment due to erosion and mass wasting; increased suspended solids and turbidity; increased sediment deposition and bed load; alteration of stream morphology and channel simplification; altered streamflow, pollution from other chemicals associated with forest roads; increased turbidity and sedimentation in drinking water systems; siltation of streambed substrates; impairments of spawning and rearing habitat; and degradation of habitat for salmonids, other fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic organisms.”