Ensuring that state environmental regulations are no more stringent than their federal counterparts is crucial to facilitating economic growth. Clear, easily implemented, and legally-sound permitting regulations help regulators, landowners, and property developers from all industries make sound resource allocation decisions that protect the environment while encouraging business development.Substitute House Bill 175 is important to provide consistency when it comes to state regulation of ephemeral features determined to be jurisdictional by the federal government.
Ephemeral streams are the smallest of streams that only flow during rainfall or snowmelt and are typically located near the upper reaches of watersheds. Most people observing an ephemeral stream would likely refer to it as an erosion gully. Ephemeral streams are typically not natural and have developed due to increased stormwater runoff that has resulted from past and historic land use changes. This increased stormwater runoff erodes the land surface to form erosion gullies and, over time, these gullies advanced unabated upstream for significant distances. Thus, ephemeral streams have become the pathways that convey stormwater runoff and pollutants (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) rapidly downstream and increase flooding.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) estimates that there are 36,000 miles of ephemeral streams in Ohio. This value represents how severely the upper reaches of Ohio’s watersheds have eroded over the past 200 years. Currently, in Ohio, impacts to ephemeral streams are regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and by the OEPA. Sub. HB 175 will limit OEPA regulation of ephemeral streams to the extent that they are regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Additionally, the Sub. HB 175 specifies mitigation for ephemeral stream impacts.
These changes will provide developers with consistency when it comes to mitigation requirements. The mitigation requirements established in Sub. HB 175 strike the right balance between eliminating unnecessary red tape and environmental stewardship. Sub. HB 175 also makes important changes to the Interagency Review Team (IRT), which develop criteria that have been applied in the review and approval of mitigation plans. Sub. HB 175 ensures transparency, by requiring minutes be taken by the state agencies that participate on the IRT. Sub. HB 175 also requires the Ohio EPA to follow the rule-making process before adopting mitigation procedures recommended by the IRT. How could anyone oppose transparency and stakeholder engagement when it comes to establishing compensatory mitigation guidelines?
A key ephemeral stream mitigation option now available in Sub. HB 175 is to increase the size of the temporary stormwater storage volume located within stormwater basins that are required by the OEPA in their Construction Activities General Permit. This temporary storage volume is referred to as the “Water Quality Volume” by the OEPA. By increasing the size of the water quality volume, stormwater runoff will be slowed down, more pollutants will be trapped in these upstream basins, downstream flooding will be decreased and pollutants will not be conveyed rapidly downstream to other water bodies, such as, Lake Erie or the Ohio River. Therefore, Sub. HB 175 directly supports the H2Ohio program.
Additional benefits will also result from Sub. HB 175, such as, decreased down-gradient stream channel erosion and property loss, improved in-stream and riparian habitat for fish and wildlife, and a reduction in nutrient runoff and algal blooms, which will advance the protection of drinking water for millions of Ohioans.