Riegel: Ignoring Baton Rouge’s stormwater problems poses a risk

    A cover story Business Report editor Stephanie Riegel wrote last month about the ongoing litter problem in Baton Rouge’s watershed has generated a lot of feedback. It’s an issue everyone can rally around, even in these partisan times.

    But while the story focused primarily on litter in the watershed, one important aspect of the piece has been largely overlooked and merits closer attention: Baton Rouge is in trouble with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for repeatedly failing to address deficiencies with its Stormwater Management Program. If it doesn’t fix things soon, it could be staring down the barrel of a federal consent decree.

    The Stormwater Management Program is not to be confused with the stormwater master plan, Riegel writes in her new opinion piece

    The latter is a high-profile $16 million study, currently underway by HNTB, to better understand drainage patterns and address flooding in the parish.

    The former is a detailed technical plan that all municipalities are required to file with the EPA in order to receive a federal MS4—municipal storm sewer system—permit, which allows the discharge of stormwater runoff into the watershed.

    In Louisiana, DEQ administers the program for the EPA and reviews all SWMPs to ensure they comply with the Clean Water Act on such things as how paints, chemicals, grease from restaurant fryers, oil from quickie lube shops, debris from construction sites and other toxins will be disposed of and monitored as they make their way into the watershed.

    The problem with the SWMP is not new. In fact, Baton Rouge has been cited multiple times since 2008 by both federal and state agencies for deficiencies with its program. Four times in recent years, the city-parish has failed its MS4 audit. It is currently trying to negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice.

    Why has nothing been done before now? No one can say and it’s difficult to know how much trouble we’re potentially facing because officials with both the city-parish and the state refuse to discuss the matter, citing ongoing legal negotiations. Read Riegel’s full column here.