A Tennessee bill to limit stormwater runoff regulations caught my attention recently. I am ill-equipped to provide much comment on the specifics, but just reading some of the rationale and quotes caused me to think. I have seen similar proposals in other states, including my own.
Unfortunately, one of the real drivers of Stormwater awareness in Tennessee was a 2010 flooding event in Nashville that was made worse by years of neglected stormwater management and vision. The article and the bill miss that point.
“We are used to fighting job-stifling over regulation from Washington. It’s a shame that we now have to fight job-stifling over regulation from our state government.” This quote from a congressperson isn’t surprising. It has become the easy strategy for moving an agenda. Link the enemy (stormwater regulation in this case) to the federal government, to EPA, or to Obama, and you’re in. No questions asked in many cases. Not really too much to consider on that point.
However, another traditional statement and claim is worth a closer look, I think. What seems to be worthy of questioning, in my opinion, is whether or not increased environmental regulation (again, stormwater regulation in this case) does actual harm to a city’s growth or to the quality of life for a community’s inhabitants. The state legislature was told that the “present process makes developers inclined to move their projects across the state line.”
This quote was referencing a requirement to retain the first 1 inch of runoff from a property. The bill would apparently do away with the requirement and cause state regulation to never become more stringent than federal requirements (ironically and essentially deferring the State’s decsion-making back to “Obama and his EPA”). The thinking leans on the 2012 Virginia case where the state won an argument that EPA cannot regulate stormwater itself as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act.
So, does stormwater regulation hinder development and growth? I don’t have a great answer. A direct correlation between a city’s attractiveness and it’s promotion of sustainable stormwater practices isn’t clear to me. But a quick search of the fastest growing cities in America and those cities that are ranked as “most livable,” or “best places to live,” reveals that in spite of progressive stormwater regulation and efforts in many of those cities, they are still finding ways to thrive. Some of the cities that pop up in both high desirability rankings and in our stormwater conversations include Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Rochester, Denver, Boulder, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, etc.
One Texas city in particular, Houston, has established itself as a leader in sustainable stormwater. However, the rise of Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development approaches there haven’t been driven by regulation, and Certainly not by the Federal Government. As I understand, stormwater growth there has been driven by economics. It simply makes good sense.
A few lessons in all of this – maybe rigid regulation that dictates arbitrary thresholds aren’t socially palatable (or legally defensible) today. Maybe having the Trifecta as a goal could help with social and political acceptance. And maybe the free market will eventually prove out that smart stormwater management is good for us and could make our communities more attractive rather than less attractive.
I just hope that most state legislators will let that process fully play out rather than micromanaging cities in ways they say they loathe their big brother pushes them around.
Is your community experiencing stormwater fight flight? Or have stormwater improvements actually made your town a better place to live and work?
“The world belongs to those who think and act with it, who keep a finger on its pulse.”
– William R. Inge