Grants Database

Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark College
Amount Awarded:
Project Title:
Protecting the Willamette and Columbia from Urban Stormwater Pollution
Columbia River Fund, 2019
Project Description:

Urban stormwater—precipitation runoff that flows over city streets, buildings, and infrastructure—is widely known to be a major source of water pollution to Oregon’s rivers and streams. To address this problem, the Clean Water Act and USEPA regulations require “municipal separate storm sewer systems” (MS4s) that collect and convey urban stormwater, to obtain a discharge permit and reduce pollution to the “maximum extent practicable.”
On March 1, 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a new stormwater discharge permit called the “Phase II General Permit” that is available to a number of “small MS4s”— urbanized areas with fewer than 100,000 residents. Most of these small MS4s are located in the Columbia or Willamette River basins, such as the cities of Troutdale and Springfield. For the first time, DEQ’s new Phase II General Permit requires small MS4s to investigate and take corrective action whenever they become aware that their stormwater discharges are contributing to a violation of a water quality standard. Corrective actions must be completed on a timeline approved by DEQ, and the
permit states that “DEQ may impose additional water quality-based limitations or terminate permit coverage” where there are documented violations of State water quality standards.” These are important new provisions that have the potential to greatly reduce urban runoff pollution affecting the Columbia River and its tributaries.
Six Oregon cities, apparently unwilling to take such corrective measures, have filed challenges against the DEQ Phase II General Permit. Grant funds will allow Earthrise will intervene in those cases to help the State of Oregon defend the permit. Specific activities will include will include legal research and briefing the motion to intervene, collecting and reviewing documents in the permit record, preparing and serving any discovery requests, reviewing and assessing any other evidence developed by the parties, and conducting additional legal and factual research so that we may prepare for and file a summary judgment motion and/or prepare arguments in opposition to the cities’ summary judgment motions. In particular, Earthrise will be to protect the water quality-related provisions of the permit, so that they will not only benefit the Columbia River Basin waters receiving pollution from the regulated small MS4s, but also serve as an important template for future MS4 permits in Oregon and beyond.