Understand stormwater runoff to avoid environmental litigation

Whether you're managing a construction site or dealing with protected land, stormwater runoff might be a concern. Oregon provides some regulations and policies for managing stormwater runoff, and failing to do so correctly can result in litigation, appeals and lawsuits that can delay critical projects or raise costs for your organization.

Just two years ago, a county across the river from Portland felt the financial blow related to mismanaged stormwater runoff. The county had been accused of failures to deal with dirty or polluted stormwater, and the lawsuit ended with a settlement. In the settlement, the county was forced to pay a $3 million penalty. It also had to comply with requirements of the Clean Water Act in the future.

One of the first steps in avoiding stormwater-related environmental litigation and appeals is applying for the right permits. Oregon requires you to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System stormwater discharge permit if stormwater from your site will be running into surface waters. Sites and organizations that might have to apply for such a permit include municipalities, industrial sites and construction zones.

Stormwater runoff can occur in both the rainy season and winter. Snow that melts and then runs into surface water is also considered stormwater runoff. Stormwater counts whether it runs directly into surface water or gets there via a manmade point source such as a drain pipe or culvert.

The permit process ensures you have a plan in place for managing stormwater, but you must continue to manage it in keeping with state and federal laws. If you are managing stormwater properly and are still hit with a lawsuit regarding the issue, then working as early as possible with a lawyer to plan a defense can help you win litigation and related appeals.

Source: Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, "Water Quality Permit Program," accessed Dec. 24, 2015

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