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EPA Issues Albuquerque-Area Permit to Protect Rio Grande River

Release Date: 12/11/2014
Contact Information: Jennah Durant or Joe Hubbard, or 214 665-2200

DALLAS – (Dec. 11, 2014) Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Middle Rio Grande Watershed Based Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit that establishes requirements to reduce pollution carried by stormwater run-off and restore portions of the Middle Rio Grande River that are too polluted. Stormwater run-off is water from precipitation that flows across the ground and pavement when it rains or when snow and ice melt. This water drains into storm sewers that discharge it, untreated, directly into neighborhood arroyos and the Rio Grande River. Stormwater run-off has been identified as the source of pollution for tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the United States including the Rio Grande River in the Albuquerque area.

“As a New Mexican, I understand water is a vital resource in our state,” said Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “It is important that we take steps to improve water quality in the Rio Grande River and continue to replenish the groundwater that so many New Mexicans depend on for their drinking water.”

EPA recognizes the need for everyone in the area to do their part in protecting the Rio Grande, and the permit allows for collaboration and combined programs among the local jurisdictions. The Middle Rio Grande Watershed Based MS4 Permit applicants are required to develop a stormwater management plan and implement stormwater management controls.

The Middle Rio Grande Watershed Based MS4 Permit replaces existing permit requirements. The permit will provide local municipal systems more flexibility in meeting water quality requirements as well as up to an additional 4 years to develop or update local pollution control programs. The permit covers MS4s in eighteen jurisdictions within the watershed including Pueblo of Sandia, Pueblo of Isleta and Pueblo of Santa Ana.

The permit also includes requirements designed to maximize efforts to retain stormwater within the watershed. This allows precipitation and melted snow/ice to replenish the valuable groundwater supplies that provide drinking water to over three-quarters of New Mexico residents. With nearly two-thirds of the state experiencing moderate to severe drought, making the most of all water resources is vital to New Mexico’s livelihood.

Currently, the Middle Rio Grande does not meet water quality standards for E. Coli, PCBs, gross alpha, dissolved oxygen, and temperature and is listed as an impaired water body under the Clean Water Act. These impairments keep the Rio Grande from fully supporting its designated recreational and aquatic life beneficial uses.
The permit encourages and provides the flexibility to select lower-cost, readily available control practices to significantly reduce pollution from stormwater run-off that flows into the Rio Grande River throughout communities in the watershed.

The permit is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

New Mexico is only one of four states where EPA is solely responsible for issuing permits under the federal Clean Water Act. New Mexico has approximately 135 wastewater and stormwater facilities that operate under individual permits issued by EPA. About 1300 dischargers operate under general permits issued by EPA.

Although much progress has been made since the first stormwater regulations were promulgated in 1990, significant challenges remain. Urban stormwater has been identified as the source of impairment for tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the United States. These impairments are largely due to the expansion of the built environment, which removes vegetation, alters the natural infiltration capability of land, generates the discharge of pollution, and leads to increased stream bed and bank erosion.

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