Advisory Board to Brief Commissioners on Stormwater Rules in January

With as much rain as falls on us and our property and our reliance upon the health of our aquifers and the Puget Sound, you would think managing stormwater runoff would be among the foremost concerns hereabouts. However, in our area, as well as much of unincorporated Thurston County, the impact of development on runoff and the effects of that runoff on water quality rarely enters our minds. Stormwater pollution can pose serious health risks and significant environmental threats to the quality of freshwater, including our drinking water, and the Puget Sound. The Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Utility provides programs and projects to reduce flooding, erosion and pollution caused by stormwater runoff, while protecting and enhancing aquatic habitat. The Utility is supported by property taxes. As ratepayers to this Utility, we ought to familiarize ourselves with the Storm and Surface Water Advisory Board (SSWAB). This Board provides homeowners with an important means of influencing important local policies.

At their meeting on January 17, 2013, the Advisory Board will brief County Commissioners on new standards for the management of runoff caused by development. There is a real opportunity here for important public comment. That is, provided the public can become informed enough to participate in a meaningful way.

UPDATE: SSWAB will brief the County Commissioners during a meeting of the Commissioners on February 20 at 3:00PM. The meeting is in the Thurston County Courthouse Building, Room 280. The SSWAB will likely recommend the County adopt NPDES standard and the so-called “65/0” development standard. What is NPDES and 65/0? Read on to find out. . .

What is the Storm and Surface Water Advisory Board?

According to the web page for SSWAB:

The Storm and Surface Water Advisory Board reviews issues affecting Thurston County’s Storm and Surface Water Utility, and makes recommendations to the Thurston County Board of County Commissioners. Among other things, the board examines utility rates, construction projects, public-information efforts, staff work plans and stormwater policies. Members are appointed by county commissioners.

SSWAB members are appointed to represent specific areas in the County. Tom Holz is the representative for Eld Inlet. Also near to us, Bob Allison represents the McLane Creek Basin and he is also the current vice-chair for the Board.

What are the Stormwater Rules at Issue?

Federal law requires counties to adopt rules which minimize stormwater pollution under what in Thurston County is called an “NPDES Phase II Permit.” The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System is a federal permit system based in the Federal Clean Water Act. To make things more complicated, in our state, the state Department of Ecology develops and administers NPDES municipal stormwater permits in Washington State. In adopting standards to be enforced under the NPDES, the Department of Ecology has landed itself in hot water. Their Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit was appealed by thirteen cities and two counties which refer to themselves as the “Coalition of Washington Governmental Entities”. None of these cities or counties are in the south Sound. This coalition sought to weaken the Department of Ecology’s permit requirements. In a summary prepared for our Board of County Commissioners by Thurston County staff reported:

The Coalition’s notice of appeal asserts Ecology acted “unreasonably, unjustly or unlawfully” in imposing prescriptive and expensive requirements in the permit without considering reasonable alternatives or cost.  The appeal identifies seventeen specific permit conditions or provisions that the Coalition contends will adversely affect the economic health of their communities and impose “economic burdens on Coalition members and their communities.” The permit conditions being appealed include the Low Impact Development (LID) performance standards and its impact on land use planning and compliance with the Growth Management Act, field screening 40% of the stormwater system before 2017 and 12% every year thereafter, inspecting catch basins every two years, required annual fee to Ecology for the monitoring program and various procedural and process elements of the permit.

Appeal such as that made by this coalition are heard by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Other interested groups believe the Department of Ecology’s standards are too weak. In August 2011 The Carnegie Group of Olympia wrote to Governor Gregoire asking that she “intervene to prevent the adoption of a proposed rule that most likely will spell the demise of Puget Sound by failing to protect tributary watersheds.” The Carnegie Group and others have taken issue with Ecology’s standard with respect to how much forest must remain, after development, what portion of the development can be made a “hardened surface” which will cause water to run off, and how much of the water falling on a property may be allowed to run off.

In September 2011 we published a piece entitled “Will Proposed Low Impact Development Standard Protect or Harm Washington State Watersheds?” which details Ecology’s proposals and the calls for higher standards to be adopted.

How Can You Get Involved?

Do a little reading about stormwater runoff, what’s at risk and why it’s management is important, and learn about easy steps you can take to reduce runoff on your property. Click here to read our past pieces regarding stormwater runoff.

Make your opinion about the NPEDS permit known to the Storm and Surface Water Advisory Board. Their meetings and general agenda topics have been added to our Community Calendar. NPDES permit language and a briefing of the County Commissioners is scheduled for the meeting on February 20. Click here for more information regarding the SSWAB meeting schedule.


Will Proposed Low Impact Development Standard Protect or Harm Washington State Watersheds?

Rainwater Management in Puget Sound

Salish sea map (409p)

In August 2008, the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board issued a ruling declaring effectively that the Department of Ecology’s (ECY) storm drainage requirements did not adhere to requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. In response, ECY formed a technical advisory committee to define ‘low impact development’ (LID) and to determine criteria for feasibility of LID. The committee finished its work in summer 2010.

Request for Intervention by Governor Gregoire

In a recent letter to Governor Christine Gregoire, the Carnegie Group of Olympia has expressed its concerns about the pending regulatory direction. “As a result of this Carole richmond (120p) - president, carnegie group of olympiaoverly long process, ECY now proposes to write a perplexing version of ‘low impact development’ into National Pollution Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permits for municipalities,” wrote Carole Richmond, President.

The letter asks the Governor to intervene to prevent the adoption of a proposed rule that the Carnegie Group believes “will most likely spell the demise of Puget Sound by failing to protect tributary watersheds”.

The letter states that the proposed standard offers no improvement over the existing standard. To provide context and a frame of reference, the letter then summarizes the science of watershed health.

“It is clear that ECY’s proposed standard for low impact development is far too weak and permissive to prevent fatal damage to Puget Sound watersheds . . . it is highly likely that we will lose the rest of the watersheds in the path of development by 2020,” concluded Carole Richmond.

The Carnegie Group makes four recommendations, summarized as follows: acknowledge the characteristics of a healthy watershed; redefine LID; place a moratorium on greenfield developments outside city limits; and require that re-development projects result in a net increase in forest cover.

To download a copy of the letter, click on Department of Ecology’s Proposed Low Impact Development Standard Will Not Protect Watersheds

VIDEO: “Why DOE drainage standards will not protect Puget Sound”, according to Tom Holz

Tom Holz is well-known in Washington State for his tireless efforts in leading change in the field of rainwater management and green infrastructure. Among Canadian Tom holz (140p)practitioners in this field, Tom Holz is a recognized name in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, as he has been invited to speak at a number of Canadian forums over the past two decades. Formerly with the City of Olympia, he is a Past-President of the Carnegie Group. He also served on the LID technical advisory committee.

In the late 1990s, Tom Holz coined the acronym ZID – that is, Zero Impact Designs – to describe an approach that sharply reduce the “effective impervious area” of new development with practices such as eco-roofs, roof gardens, rain barrels, alternative paving surfaces, soil amendments, bioretention, reforestation, and filter-swale systems.

To Learn More:

In March 2011, the Thurston County Board of County Commissioners requested a seminar by Tom Holz on “Why DOE drainage standards will not protect Puget Sound”. The seminar is posted on YouTube. To view Tom Holz, click on the two links below:

The first link is about 52 minutes (fast forward to the 4.13 minute mark to get past the set up). The second link is closing and discussion with decision makers and public. “It’s a bit dry so make a bowl of popcorn,” recommends Tom Holz.

To download a copy of the letter of concurrence submitted by Tom Holz, click on Letter to Governor Gregoire about the Future of Puget Sound

The View from British Columbia

Washington State and British Columbia are geographically similar, with a wet coast and a relatively dry interior separated by mountain ranges. On the coast, Washington State’s Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Georgia Basin together comprise the Salish Sea. In terms of how rainwater management in a watershed context has evolved in this shared bio-region, there is a history of cross-border sharing and collaboration. The catalyst for collaboration was the salmon crisis of the 1990s.

What is the Goal?

“On both sides of the border, the salmon is an icon. It is also the early warning system that there is a problem. And so in the 1990s the goal of protecting stream health became a driver for action on both sides of the border. Published in 1996 by the Kim stephens (120p) - 2009University of Washington, the seminal research findings by Richard Horner and Chris May shook conventional stormwater management wisdom in the Pacific Northwest to its foundation,” recalls Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“Horner and May identified and ranked the four factors that limit stream health. Changes in hydrology is #1; deterioration in water quality is #4. The work of Horner and May is a foundation block for the science-based approach to ‘designing with nature’ that we have embraced in BC. Their work yielded guiding principles, and these are standing the test of time. Viewed from a BC perspective, the legacy of Horner and May is that they provided us with a springboard to reinvent urban hydrology. By staying true to the science, we believe we will achieve the goal of protecting stream health.”

To Learn More:

British Columbia and Washington State had the same understanding of the science in the late 1990s, but then moved along different pathways. To access supporting information on the approach that has been implemented in British Columbia, click on:

Also, for a philosophical perspective, click on Do you know where you really are in the shifting paradigms of stormwater management?

And finally, for a technical perspective on why it was necessary to “reinvent urban hydrology”, click on Voodoo Hydrology explained by Andy Reese.

Related Stories About Puget Sound on Water Bucket

Washington State Decision Makes Low Impact Development Mandatory — Communities examine the definition of “where feasible” (July 2009)

Washington State: Bold cleanup plan to save Puget Sound gets green light — Key element of Action Agenda is reduction of rainwater runoff by capturing rain where it falls (December 2008)

Stormwater regulation in Puget Sound (Washington State) fails to protect water quality and salmon when it rains — A citizen perspective on why regulation is not working (September 2008)

Setting Soil Standards in King County, Washington, with the Future in Mind — “Healthy Soil = Healthy Homes” — charting a new course for rainwater/stormwater management (September 2008)

Washington State scientists call for changes in land use practices in Puget Sound — End-of-Pipe treatment and detention of rainwater/stormwater runoff discredited (August 2008)

Rainwater Management on Diverging Paths in British Columbia and Washington State? — BC’s Water Sustainability Action Plan introduced to Washington State audience at 2007 cross-border conference (November 2007)

Bill Derry of Washington State issues call for action in Puget Sound — Stormwater specialist outlines 10 point plan for changing land development practices for the better (October 2007)

Reference levels for land use planning (475p)

UPDATES: What do you think about the regulations proposed by the Department of Ecology?

Send your opinion to:
Governor Christine Gregoire
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Or you can click here to send an email through the governor’s web page.

If you wish to send a message concurring with the Carnegie Group, here is some suggested text:

“Dear Governor Gregoire: 

Department of Ecology’s proposed regulations for low impact development will not protect watersheds and streams. They will likely spell the end of Puget Sound over the next decade. I concur with the Carnegie Group’s letter to you dated 8 August 2011.”


Is Puget Sound on a Track to Die Following the Next Wave of Development?

The Thurston County Board of County Commissioners has requested a seminar by Tom Holz on “Why DOE drainage standards will not protect Puget Sound”. The seminar will describe how low impact development is the only path to protect the Sound.

If a healthy Puget Sound is important to you, please help persuade Thurston County to adopt low impact development standards by appearing at the seminar on:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
4:00 PM
Thurston County Courthouse, Building 1

The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) appears to be on a path to continue using the same standard for development for the next five to eight years that has been used for the last decade. DOE calls it the “flow-duration” standard. It more accurately should be described as the 0/100/100 standard. That is, DOE will require “0%” forest set-aside, will allow “100%” hardened surfaces, and will allow “100%” runoff of precipitation falling on a site. As almost everyone knows, healthy streams are found in watersheds that are 100% forested. Stream channels begin to destabilize following the clearing of about one-third of its watershed. Thus DOE will allow development that will result in exactly the opposite of a healthy watershed.

At this juncture, there is almost no organized public opposition to DOE’s proposal. Your presence at the seminar will help to signal that there is opposition. Please come.

If you were unable to attend this meeting, you will find Tom’s presentation now on YouTube. It’s in two segments. Click here for the first segment, which is 52:35 in length. Fast forward about 4 minutes in, to begin the presentation. Click here for the second segment, which is 14:56 in length.

Naturescaping for Water and Wildlife Field Class – May 15

Stream Team and WSU Extension’s Native Plant Salvage Project will offer a free “Naturescaping for Water and Wildlife” field class on May 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The class will begin at the First Methodist Church located at 1224 Legion Way S.E. in Olympia and then continue with a bus tour of select local gardens.

The field class will feature detailed, hands-on information about how to incorporate beautiful native plants and other drought-tolerant plants into your landscape to attract birds and butterflies and nurture a healthy environment. Participants will learn how to landscape on compacted soils, slopes and other tricky spots; reduce unnecessary lawn; deal with drainage problems; and manage stormwater runoff on their property. Other topics include water-wise ideas for outdoor living spaces and selecting plants for all four seasons.

Advanced registration is required as space is limited. For details and registration call 360-867-2166 or e-mail Additional information regarding Stream Team can be obtained by contacting Chris Maun, Stream Team Coordinator, at (360)754-3355 ext.6377.

Book recommendation: Naturescaping by Shann Weston

Learn More About Rain Gardens

As Thurston County continues to grow, increasing amounts of native forest and prairie lands are replaced by roads, roofs, driveways and other impervious surfaces. Rainfall, formerly intercepted by the forest canopy or absorbed into the soil, now flows across the surface of the landscape as stormwater runoff.

This creates two problems: localized flooding of yards, streets and parking lots; and the pollution of local waterways and Puget Sound. As the stormwater runs over the surface of the land, it picks up pollutants – like motor oil, pesticides, excess fertilizers, trash and fecal bacteria from pet waste – and carries them into local waterways and ultimately Puget Sound.

Highly engineered municipal stormwater management improvements such as catch basins and pipes that convey water to central storm ponds are one solution. But a promising low-impact approach to development enables individual homeowners to help protect streams and wetlands.

Rain gardens are modest depressions in the landscape of people’s yards.They act much like the original native forest landscape; collecting, absorbing and filtering stormwater runoff from your roof, driveway,walkways and yard, before it enters the street and catch basin system.

How is a rain garden constructed?

Rain gardens are typically excavated to a depth of about two feet. Then a mix of highly amended, compost-rich soil is used to fill the depression to a level at least 6 inches below the surrounding lawn. The depression enables ponding to occur during periods of heavy rain, and the soil/compost mix rapidly soaks up and retains water. Plants that do well in both wet and dry conditions, including Northwest native plants and non-native ornamentals help turn the rain garden into a colorful, attractive landscape amenity.

How do rain gardens work?

By collecting stormwater runoff, rain gardens reduce flooding on adjacent properties. As they absorb water, they filter out pollutants from lawns and driveways, intercepting them before they enter municipal stormwater systems or local waterways. They also help recharge groundwater aquifers.

While easy to create, rain gardens must be built with care and designed to accommodate the correct amount of rainfall. Soil conditions must be carefully assessed to determine the correct depth of soil/compost mix.

How can I learn more?

If you want to find out how to incorporate a rain garden into your landscape – and learn about other low impact development practices – come to a hands-on workshop.

Stream Team, in cooperation with Stewardship Partners and the Native Plant Salvage Project, are offering free workshops around Thurston County:

  • Monday, February 25, in Yelm
  • Thursday, March 6, in Olympia
  • Thursday, April 3, in Tumwater
  • Thursday, April 17, in Lacey

Registration is required. Participants will be mailed site-assessment instructions in advance to help maximize their learning at the workshops.

For more information or to register, contact Erica Guttman at or (360)754-3588 ext.110

— Text from the latest “StreamTeam” newsletter.
Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Utility

More online resources:

Rain Garden Network at
Virginia Department of Forestry Rain Garden web page at
Wikipedia entry on Rain Gardens at
Dowload a 6-page Rain Gardens manual, from WSU Extension Service, at

UPDATE: Well, we don’t like to gloat, but it looks as though we scooped The Olympian, on the topic of rain gardens. Click here to read their February 18th article.

Low Impact Development Manual – A Valuable Online Resource

Development practices are taking on a striking new look in the Puget Sound region. The Low Impact Development Technical Guidance Manual for Puget Sound contains detailed guidance on how best to design, construct and maintain low impact development (LID) practices. This online manual is targeted to engineers, planners, developers, builders, architects, landscape architects and other technical staff who design, review, permit and build using LID practices. However, it’s well worth reading if you are in the planning stages of any kind of development effort in our area.

Research shows that conventional development practices do not fully protect water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and other aquatic resources from the adverse effects of development and stormwater runoff. According to the Puget Sound Action Team (an office of the Governor), “Low impact development is a stormwater management and land development strategy applied at the parcel and subdivision scale that emphasizes conservation and use of on-site natural features integrated with engineered, small-scale hydrologic controls to more closely mimic pre-development hydrology.”

Click here to read more about Low Impact Development and to download a copy of the LID Guidance Manual. A link is also available on our “Links” page.