A bill that would rewrite the rules for how local governments deal with stormwater runoff is currently on the desk of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. The bill would limit stormwater control programs to “only those aspects that are absolutely required in the clean water act.” The bill would allow cities and counties to ignore federal guidance on stormwater management that isn’t written into law.
Since the 1990s, the federal government has required cities to take action in controlling runoff. Requirements can include submitting stormwater plans, educating the public about stormwater hazards, and putting controls in place to keep construction sites from filling the stormwater system with sediment and pollutants.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Cam Ward, sees those regulations as an unfunded mandate that forces cities to spend thousands every time regulators tweak the rules. "It hits your medium and smaller cities harder, because they don't have a lot of money," he said.
On the other hand, environmentalists say the bill could cripple the efforts of cities that are doing their best to regulate stormwater and protect their streams. It could do this by opening up cities to lawsuits from businesses who say they are being over-regulated. At the same time, those cities could still potentially be held accountable by federal regulators for not complying with federal guidance, putting them in the difficult situation of being pulled between the state and federal governments.
When asked about the bill, Jacksonville’s Mayor Johnny Smith, said, “I’m almost afraid to respond. Stormwater rules are complicated, and it’s hard to know what any change in the wording of state law would mean."