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Michigan General Storm Water Permit and Phase II Storm Water Regulations An Innovative Management Approach

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The Rouge River in Southeast Michigan is a highly urbanized river that flows through the most populated portion of Michigan. The river also has sensitive headwaters areas that are still under intense development pressures. The watershed covers portions of three metropolitan counties and the City of Detroit, as well as approximately forty other municipal jurisdictions. The river receives significant wet weather contaminant loadings from Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) discharges, Separate Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) discharges, and direct storm water runoff as well as non-point source runoff from park and agricultural areas. There are extreme flow variations due to the large impervious surface area that impact both the base flow and the peak flows. The watershed has been a focus of local, state, and federal restoration efforts since the early 1970's, when it was declared to be the most polluted river in Michigan after the river caught fire in the lower end of the watershed.

As a result of the significant problems in the Rouge Watershed, the Federal Court urged in 1997 that a “water management authority” be created to oversee the remediation efforts underway in the Rouge. The communities, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, proposed an alternative institutional arrangement to the court that would not result in another layer of government but would at the same time address the issues raised by the court. One component of this innovative management approach was the Michigan General Storm Water Permit. This permit was developed to be issued to communities/agencies within the watershed who would apply on a “voluntary” basis to be regulated regarding their storm water discharges. The permit incorporated some of the better aspects of the Phase I Federal Storm Water program, such as the Illicit Discharge Elimination Program and the Public Education program, without the onerous aspects of the intense sampling found under that program. The permit also mandated that the communities/agencies within the various subwatersheds of the Rouge cooperate together to format a plan for public involvement in the restoration process and, most uniquely, required that the various parties within the subwatersheds develop a comprehensive watershed management plan for their separate areas that will be linked together to form a basin wide Remedial Action program for the Rouge River.

This permit has been sanctioned by the EPA as an acceptable alternative to the Phase II individual community approach and has been embraced by the Rouge Watershed as well as several other watershed areas within Michigan.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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