BOSTON — Pollution control measures contained in a draft Clean Water permit would help control excessive pollution from stormwater runoff from 84 communities in Eastern Massachusetts. The new draft permit, known as the “North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit,” would require communities to continue to build upon stormwater management programs designed to reduce pollutants discharged from municipal storm drains which they started in the previous permit issued in 2003.

Stormwater pollution is a leading cause of surface water quality impairments in Massachusetts. The draft permit for the 84 communities is designed specifically to reduce elevated levels of phosphorus in the Charles River, and pathogens in the Charles River, Neponset River, and the Shawsheen River.

The proposed permit includes best management practices such as removing illegal sewage connections to storm drains, street sweeping, and public education and steps to expand the infiltration of stormwater. These measures will help prevent water pollution caused by stormwater in Massachusetts.

“Our work to revise this permit will have tangible benefits for these communities and our environment. Controlling pollution from stormwater will mean fewer days that beaches and shellfish beds are closed due to high bacteria levels, and a healthier environment for everybody to enjoy,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office. “We want to make sure that today’s investments provide good returns for a cleaner, healthier environment and vibrant communities.”

This regional Small Municipal General Permit will cover publicly owned stormwater systems in urban areas. The region covered includes the watersheds of the Charles River, Neponset River, and the Shawsheen River. In the coming months, EPA expects to release draft permits covering the remaining urbanized areas of Massachusetts.

The proposed permit includes enhanced detection of illegal discharges and requirements to identify, isolate, and remove sanitary and other wastes from the stormwater system. The draft permit also includes measures to encourage low-impact development and green infrastructure techniques, requirements for monitoring of stormwater discharges, and measures to implement approved watershed restoration plans called total maximum daily loads or TMDLs.

Susan Beede, policy director for the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, said, “Stormwater is the biggest polluter of rivers and streams in Massachusetts. It carries pollutants to waterways and damages habitat for fish and other aquatic life, particularly in urban areas. Yet stormwater is also a valuable resource — it’s rainwater — that we need to treat and infiltrate into the ground to replenish groundwater supplies. We hope that EPA’s proposed permit will significantly improve stormwater treatment and increase stormwater recharge.”

The federal Clean Water Act requires that these permits be reevaluated every five years.

EPA is seeking public review and comment on the draft MS4 permit until March 31, 2010. EPA will also hold a public meeting and hearing on the draft permit on March 18 at 9:00 a.m. in the Thomas P. O’ Neill Federal Building, 10 Causeway Street, Boston Mass. Following consideration of public comments, a final permit should be available later in 2010.

More information: Draft North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit.