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Nevada Department of Transportation Clean Water Settlement

(San Francisco- July 28, 2016)  The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) have reached an agreement with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to resolve alleged violations of NDOT’s stormwater permit. The agreement requires NDOT to establish a stormwater management program to control pollutants entering waters, spend $200,000 on an environmental project that will provide real-time water quality data to the public and pay $60,000 each to EPA and NDEP.

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Overview of Company and Location of Sites

The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) operates a Phase I municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) that serves NDOT roadways and facilities across the State of Nevada. The NDOT MS4 is an expansive system, with more than 1,000 bridges and 5,400 miles of highway. NDOT is authorized under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge stormwater to waters of the United States through its MS4 provided it complies with all provisions of the permit.

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NDOT failed to develop and implement an adequate stormwater management plan that fully complied with the terms and conditions of its NPDES permit in violation of Section 402 of the Clean Water Act. Specific deficiencies include failure to:

  • Assess and control discharges into impaired waters;
  • Map major outfalls discharging to waters of the U.S.;
  • Develop and implement a stormwater education program;
  • Develop and implement a program to detect and eliminate illicit discharges; and
  • Develop and implement programs to control discharges from NDOT’s own maintenance and construction activities.

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Injunctive Relief

To respond to these issues, NDOT requested a $13.1 million budget amendment in 2015. The approved budget amendment included 59 stormwater positions, an allocation of $7.6 million in new stormwater equipment, and additional funding for stormwater related training, operations, and travel. NDOT continues to make significant progress on stormwater enhancements in the field. Stormwater improvement projects recently completed or currently under construction add up to over $33 million in expenditures, and nearly $15 million is allotted for projects scheduled for 2016-2017. 

In addition, Nevada enacted new legislation which granted NDOT’s director new powers to enforce discharge permitting requirements. These new enforcement powers authorize the director to conduct an independent investigation of any act that may constitute an unauthorized discharge onto a state highway, within a right-of-way or into, onto, or by way of a conveyance system or for a violation of an encroachment permit issued by the director.  The legislation empowers the director to impose a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per day for any violation and further provides that the director may request that the Nevada Attorney General institute a criminal prosecution of the violation.  In addition, the legislation established an Advisory Committee on Transportational Storm Water Management to enhance transparency and communications with affected stakeholders.

The consent decree requires NDOT to fully comply with all requirements of the Clean Water Act, including all terms and conditions of its NPDES MS4 permit.  The consent decree requires specified revisions to the following programs which are part of NDOT’s stormwater management plan:

  • Public stormwater education
  • Employee training
  • Construction site runoff control
  • Post-construction stormwater management
  • Illicit discharge detection and elimination
  • Storm sewer system operation and maintenance
  • Operation and maintenance of NDOT’s maintenance facilities

Next Generation Compliance measures will be taken to help address NDOT’s storm sewer system operation and maintenance program. NDOT is proposing to use unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor and evaluate the maintenance needs of at least five retention basins located in remote areas. NDOT will also post its stormwater management plan and annual reports on a public webpage. These measures, in addition to the supplemental environmental project (SEP) described below, fulfill the goals of Next Generation Compliance by including transparency, advanced monitoring, advanced real-time monitoring, and good use of advanced monitoring data.  

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Health and Environmental Effects

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through MS4s and ultimately discharged untreated into local rivers, lakes, and streams. Roads and highways discharge metals, phosphorous, nitrogen, sediment, and suspended particles, grease, and salt.  Urban roadways also discharge trash and significant amounts of bacteria. Illicit discharges can enter the MS4 through direct connections (e.g., wastewater piping either mistakenly or deliberately connected to the MS4) or indirect connections (e.g., infiltration into the MS4, spills collected by storm drains, or paint or used oil dumped directly into a storm drain). The result is untreated discharges that contribute high levels of pollutants, including heavy metals, toxics, oil and grease, solvents, nutrients, viruses, and bacteria to receiving waters.

When discharged into nearby waterways through MS4s, these pollutants can degrade water quality, thereby discouraging recreational uses, contaminating drinking water supplies, and adversely impacting fish and other wildlife. In addition, an increase in the amount of impervious surfaces (e.g., new or widened roads) resulting from new development can impact waterbodies by increasing the quantity and velocity of water delivered to the waterbodies during storms. This can result in streambank scouring and erosion and downstream flooding which can harm aquatic life and damage property.

The stormwater NPDES permit program requires municipalities to develop and implement a program to improve the quality of local waterways by reducing the amount of pollutants that stormwater runoff and melting snow pick up and carry into storm sewer systems. 

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Civil Penalty

NDOT will pay a civil penalty of $120,000 and develop and implement a SEP valued at $200,000. The SEP involves advanced water quality monitoring at three locations and posting of real-time monitoring data on a public website.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For More Information, Contact:

Susan D. Bruce
Environmental Engineer
Water Enforcement Division
Office of Civil Enforcement, US EPA
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460

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