Chapter 5 – A Policy Lens of South Carolina Coastal Stormwater Management
Lori A. Dickes, Ph.D., Master Public Administration Program, Strom Thurmond Institute, Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.
Jeffery Allen, Ph.D., South Carolina Water Resources Center, Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.
Monika Jalowiecka, Environment and Sustainability Program, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
Katie Callahan, Clemson University Center for Watershed Excellence, Clemson, S.C.
Bridget Cotti-Rausch, Ph.D., South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Charleston, S.C., Currently at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
Corresponding Author: Lori A. Dickes, Ph.D. (email@example.com)
Ponds are often used as stormwater best management practices (BMPs), to minimize the impact of impervious surface cover and associated runoff. Stormwater BMPs are described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “methods that have been determined to be the most effective, practical means of preventing or reducing pollution from nonpoint sources.” As most private developments are governed by homeowners’ associations (HOAs), these groups are largely responsible for the direct management, maintenance, and repair of BMPs on their properties. A 2007 study by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (S.C. DHEC-OCRM) Stormwater Maintenance Program reported almost 15% non-compliance of permitted ponds following inspections of 511 residential development sites (Drescher et al. 2007). In the coastal region of S.C., noncompliance and poor pond performance can occur for many reasons, including: inappropriate vegetation, poor maintenance or control of vegetation, clogged intake or outtake pipes, and significant sediment buildup preventing effective water flow. Ponds are designed to achieve flood protection benefits and provide water quality treatment services. However, both their engineered purpose and the regulatory framework surrounding them are complex and often unknown to those that service them throughout their effective lifetimes. In this chapter we evaluate the current policy and regulatory landscape of stormwater management with the ultimate goal of providing recommendations to achieve greater levels of maintenance compliance and improved pond performance in the future. By starting at the federal stage and working to the local level, we sought to identify where, within the regulatory strata, scientific information would best inform future decision-making. As S.C.’s coastal communities continue to experience rapid economic and population growth, ensuring that stormwater infrastructure functions effectively is a critical component to achieving sustainable growth and development.
In this chapter we focused on S.C.’s coastal counties in order to understand the network of stormwater policies and regulations that govern these communities. Our research utilized a mixed-methods approach that allowed researchers to explore different components of a particular research question by deploying more than one methodological tool. This research employs three primary qualitative techniques: a policy instrument scan, a regional online survey, and a local focus group.
The United Nations Environmental Programme describes a policy instrument scan as one designed to go beyond understanding the broader regulatory and policy environment by attempting to describe the broadest mix and range of policy instruments that influence the policy environment of a specific issue (www.unep.org). A scan should address policy tools that are having a positive and/or a negative impact on the policy landscape, with particular focus on the chain of policy instruments and the hierarchy of regulatory and policy tools, along with external and/ or internal political or private pressures. This is a critical exercise for any complicated policy and regulatory area. For environmental issues, in particular, this analysis can be useful for policy-makers and researchers to inform future changes. Here, we outline the major federal, state, and local policies and regulations that directly impact stormwater management in S.C. Because stormwater management is a broad topic and our more specific goal is to understand and ultimately improve pond management, we focus here on pond BMPs with some mention of alternative low impact development (LID) practices.
5.3 Federal Policies
Similar to many environmental issues, stormwater management lies within a network of federal, state, and local policies and regulations. United States environmental policy and regulation mimics the federalist system in general; with federal and state policies that set broad standards, have regulatory power, and provide funding streams to help state and local governments meet these requirements. Local governments are often then left to interpret, implement, and/or innovate within this larger policy context. In this policy environment, it is useful to identify the dominant, overlapping, and even conflicting policies or regulations that impact a particular issue.
5.3.1 The Clean Water Act (CWA)
At the federal level, the EPA is largely responsible for crafting broad policies and issuing guidance on issues related to water quality, including the impacts of stormwater on surface waters. In the area of water quality, the landmark policy is the CWA which was substantially amended from the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act and ultimately signed into law in 1972. The CWA granted the EPA authority to implement water pollution control programs; at the heart of which was the establishment of water quality standards for various contaminants entering surface waters. Initially the CWA targeted point source pollutants, such as wastewater, but now includes guidelines on pollutants carried in stormwater runoff. Under the CWA, the states were granted the primary responsibility for managing water pollution within their borders.
Several key sections of the CWA that impact stormwater policy and regulation are worth further explanation. Section 303(d) pertains to waters that remain polluted after attempted remediation efforts and includes the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. The TMDL program aims to apportion waste load allocations to reduce the overall impact of pollutants on already impaired waterbodies. While TMDLs apply to a range of sources and outputs, stormwater discharges are an increasingly prevalent source of TMDLs to receiving waters (USNRC 2008), especially the input of sediments. Under the TMDL program, states are required to implement regular water quality monitoring programs, and every two years to use these data to identify which waterbodies do not meet established water quality standards, or are likely not to meet them in the next reporting cycle. These impaired waters are subject to further planning and management designed to bring them into compliance with federal standards.
As a 2015 extension to the CWA, the Clean Water Rule (CWR) states that if particularly large stormwater discharges flow into the nation’s waters downstream, stormwater is to be considered jurisdictional waters and must follow the practices set forth under the CWA (EPA 2015). Broadly, the CWR was intended to clarify water resource management issues and more specifically define the scope of federal protection, to include streams and wetlands. In 2017 the new administration suspended this rule, a decision that would remove federal protection from ~60% of U.S. streams.
5.3.2 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
Sections 301 and 402 of the CWA pertain to the controlled release of toxins and to stormwater management and permit programs in largely urban areas (USNRC 2008). For stormwater discharged into water bodies through storm drains, the CWA requires cities and counties meeting a certain population threshold to obtain a NPDES permit to monitor, reduce, and control pollutants contained in runoff within their jurisdictions. In addition, certain industrial and construction activities must also obtain permits to manage runoff (EPA 2015). The NPDES program is implemented in Section 402 of the CWA amendments and overseen federally by the EPA. It is this program that is largely responsible for the proliferation of ponds as stormwater control measures. Because the EPA in 1975 authorized the states to administer the NPDES program, further discussion of this process is reserved for Section 5.4.
5.3.3 Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)
This federal law passed in 1972, as Congress recognized the challenges associated with coastal population growth, and the need to protect the resources of the nation’s coastal zone. Under the CZMA, three national programs were authorized, including the National Coastal Zone Management Program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System, and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. There are two NERR Systems in S.C.: North Inlet-Winyah Bay located in Georgetown County in the Grand Strand, and the ACE Basin spanning Colleton and Beaufort counties in the Lowcountry. Both programs are heavily involved in research, education, and outreach activities that address, among other things, the impact of population growth on our natural coastal and marine resources.
Additionally, the CZMA requires that federal activities affecting water or land use within the coastal zone must receive permits that certify the proposed actions comply with its provisions (Ellis et al. 2014). This certification, known as the Coastal Zone Consistency Certification (CZC), is required before NPDES and any other state permit can be issued to a developer.
The policies described above are the primary federal regulations that impact stormwater management. However, there are three additional federal policies that could potentially impact pond management: the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. These would apply on a case-by-case basis if a development site happens to meet criteria described under one of the acts.
5.4 State Regulations
Federal agencies delegate how the states implement policy in a variety of ways: by authorizing states to enact specific policies or regulations as they see fit, by requiring the uses of specific intervention, or by mandating that precise planning, technology, or other best practices be implemented. This section reviews the state-level laws and regulations that impact stormwater management in S.C., all of which have clear links to federal programs. S.C. DHEC is the statewide regulatory agency assigned to protect the environment and implements all the policies described here; within S.C. DHEC stormwater management falls under the purview of the Bureau of Water.
5.4.1 Pollution Control Act (PCA)
This act, voted on by the state legislature in 1972, includes additional regulations above and beyond those called for in the CWA. The goal of the PCA is to protect public health, the environment, and employment from the negative effects of pollution. This policy grants S.C. DHEC the authority to enforce these standards and those set by the CWA, and the NPDES program is implemented under this act (Drescher et al. 2007; Ellis et al. 2014; R. Geer at DHEC pers. comm.). Under the PCA it is unlawful to directly or indirectly discharge point source pollutants into the environment unless authorization has been approved by compliance with a S.C. DHEC-issued permit (Ellis et al. 2014). To clarify, while the various individual sources of stormwater pollutants are “nonpoint sources,” the flow of stormwater runoff itself is classified as a “point source pollutant.” Therefore, S.C. DHEC issues permits designating effluent limits on these pollutants and guidance on required stormwater treatment programs, including the use of BMPs such as ponds for protecting downstream water quality (Ellis et al. 2014).
NPDES permits fall under several categories: Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits, Construction General Permits (CGPs), and Multi-sector Industrial Stormwater General Permits (MSGPs). Depending on the size of the MS4 activity, these qualify as either General or Individual permits: General permits are allocated to Small MS4s, and Individual permits are allocated to Large and Medium MS4s and select industrial and construction activities (Ellis et al. 2014). For stormwater MS4s and General permits for industrial and construction activities, there are no effluent limitations.
Increasingly, smaller municipalities and smaller construction activities are required to meet NPDES stormwater regulations, thereby requiring additional policy guidelines and specification of TMDL allocations from the EPA and corresponding state agencies (EPA 2015). These permit types apply uniquely to Phase I (implemented in 1990) and Phase II (implemented in 2003) in the NPDES permitting process. In Phase I, the following required permits:
- MS4s serving municipalities of 100,000 or more people,
- CGPs for all construction sites that disturb five or more acres, and
- MSGPs for 11 specified industrial activities which disturb five or more acres of land.
Phase II parameters are:
- MS4s serving municipalities of 10,000 to 100,000 people and a density of 1,000/square mile,
- CGPs for construction sites that disturb between one and five acres, and
- MSGPs for activities disturbing one to five acres.
Phase II also requires a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) and a Notice of Intent be filed with S.C. DHEC. Currently, the S.C. Department of Transportation is the only large MS4 in S.C. and operates statewide under an Individual NPDES permit. In the coastal zone, there are no large or medium MS4 communities, while six counties and 19 municipalities are regulated under small MS4 General permits (Table 5.1). For example, Charleston County is a main permit holder while co-permittees are the City of Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Lincolnville, incorporated James Island, and the City of Goose Creek. The most recent coastal MS4s were granted in 2017 to two municipalities in Beaufort County. MS4 status is an important consideration for stormwater management at the local level due to the rapid population growth rates in the coastal region.
|Urbanized Area||Small MS4|
|City of Charleston|
|City of Folly Beach|
|City of Goose Creek|
|City of Hanahan|
|City of Isle of Palms|
|Town of James Island|
|Town of Lincolnville|
|Town of Mount Pleasant|
|City of North Charleston|
|Town of Summerville|
|Town of Sullivan’s Island|
|Myrtle Beach||Georgetown County|
|Town of Atlantic Beach|
|Town of Briarcliffe Acres|
|City of Conway|
|City of Myrtle Beach|
|City of North Myrtle Beach|
|Town of Surfside Beach|
|Town of Bluffton*|
|Town of Hilton Head Island*|
Table 5.1 All regulated small municipal separate storm sewer systems (Small MS4s) in the eight coastal counties (as of 2017).
* Full implementation of these MS4 programs occurred in July 2017.
To maintain compliance with the NPDES program, each MS4 community must develop programs that cover these six minimum control measures:
- Public education and outreach,
- Public participation and involvement,
- Illicit discharge detection and elimination,
- Construction site runoff control,
- Post-construction site runoff control, and
- Pollution prevention and good housekeeping.
Often, MS4 communities contract with universities and extension programs to fulfill the first two requirements. They form local education consortia that provide numerous outreach materials, including information on appropriate pond management targeted at property owners and HOAs. These consortia also sponsor semi-annual regional stormwater pond conferences and teach Master Pond Manager courses that are open to the general public. In coastal S.C., there are three regional education consortia (Table 5.2).
|Grand Strand||Coastal Waccamaw Stormwater Education Consortium (CWSEC)
|Tri-County||Ashley Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium (ACSEC)
|Lowcountry||Lowcountry Stormwater Partners (LSP)
Table 5.2 Coastal, regional stormwater education programs contracted through Coastal Carolina University (CWSEC) and Clemson University (ACSEC and LSP).
5.4.2 Coastal Management Program (CMP)
In the coastal zone, additional hurdles are faced by developers filing for permits to build near vital coastal resources such as tidal creeks and beaches. The state’s CMP was established in 1972 under the guidelines of the federal CZMA as a state-federal partnership. In 1977 this program was authorized by the state legislature under the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act (CTWA). The CTWA was created in order to protect and ensure long-term sustainability of the vulnerable areas of the coast by encouraging state and local governments to protect coastal areas based on their unique ecological, economic, cultural, and social values (S.C. DHEC 2011 and 2014a). In 1977, S.C. adopted its own Coastal Zone Management Act, the purpose of which is to properly manage the natural, recreational, commercial, and industrial resources of S.C.’s coastal zone, as they were deemed by the legislature to be of current and future value to all citizens of the state. This legislation created the S.C. Coastal Council as a state agency to direct, develop, and implement a comprehensive management program. In 1993, S.C.’s CZMA was amended and the S.C. Coastal Council merged with S.C. DHEC, in the form of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM). The jurisdiction of OCRM covers S.C.’s “critical areas,” which include coastal waters, tidelands, and beach/dune systems.
Coastal Zone Consistency Certification
The consistency process ensures activities involving land and water uses within the eight coastal counties are consistent with the federal CZM Plan and the state’s plan through a Consistency Determination (Ellis et al. 2014). This requires S.C. DHEC-OCRM to review all state and federal permit applications for activities occurring in the eight coastal counties for consistencies with the state’s plan. Additionally, the federal CZM requires that S.C. DHEC-OCRM review federal funding assistance applications submitted by any state or local governments to determine if they are consistent with the state’s CZM plan. Because the state CZM plan is federally-approved, “federal consistency” also exists under the federal CZMA. This applies to activities in the coastal zone that may impact coastal resources and are classified as federal activities, require federal permits, or receive federal assistance. Projects approved under the federal consistency review process described above must comply with the state’s Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act (CTWA). Additional mitigation efforts must be taken to meet the requirements of the CZC to protect coastal waterways. Any stormwater BMP constructed in the coastal zone is required to retain the first ½ inch of runoff from an entire site or storage of the first inch of runoff from the built-upon portion of the property, whichever of these volumes is greater. If a development is located within 1,000 feet of shellfish beds, the first 1 ½ inches of runoff from the built-upon portion must be retained on site. There are additional requirements for outfalls from golf courses, mines, and landfills.
5.4.3 Stormwater Management and Sediment Reduction Act (SMSRA)
This act is broken into three components, the first of which, Erosion and Sediment Reduction and Stormwater Management, sets regulations for activities occurring on state land to avoid damage to property, land, and water caused by erosion, sediment, and stormwater. Part two contains the standards for the SMSRA, which dictates a statewide stormwater management and sediment reduction program as a preventative measure against current and future water quality and quantity problems. Part three is the Amendment to the Standards for SMSRA, tying highway construction, infringement permits, or easement, and/or right-of-way work to the S.C. Department of Transportation (Drescher et al. 2007). This program also established requirements for any development project located next to a receiving water body, shellfish bed, areas producing significant runoff, and other activities that may substantially influence surface waters. Under the SMSRA, the R.72-106(E) sets the standards and specifications that must be met to control erosion and stormwater for projects on state property. For example, one important regulatory consideration is the size of the area disturbed by the proposed project (Ellis et al. 2014; Geer 2015). Ponds are one of the tools identified in the SMSRA as a method to manage stormwater, erosion, and sediment control on state lands (Ellis et al. 2014).
5.5 Local Government: Direct Oversight
The Stormwater Ponds Research and Management Collaborative evaluated the current role of local government in the eight coastal counties: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, and Jasper, and all but Colleton and Jasper are regulated MS4s. A flow diagram created by Beaufort County illustrates the role of the local government within the landscape of federal and state policies (www.bcgov.net/departments/Engineering-and-Infrastructure/stormwater-management/municipal-separate-storm-sewer-system-ms4.php). Below, we compare and contrast individual stormwater ordinances, stormwater management plans, and publicly available resources among the eight coastal counties and a selection of local governments.
5.5.1 County Ordinances
MS4 Designated Counties
In reviewing the various ordinances related to stormwater management for the six coastal MS4s, we found the content was often similar among counties. Here, we focus especially on comparable language pertaining to inspections, maintenance responsibilities, and enforcement activities. As part of the NPDES permitting process, a developer must file a SWPPP with the county. Responsibility for following the SWPPP belongs first to the developer during the construction phase and then to the property owner. Upon transfer of ownership to the property owner or HOA, this entity then takes over the responsibility for maintaining ponds, or other stormwater structures, up to original design specifications. The county has authority to conduct enforcement procedures for violations and non-compliance during both the initial construction phase and post-construction period, equivalent to the effective lifetime of a pond. County stormwater programs responsible for carrying out these activities lie within broader Public Works or Engineering and Infrastructure departments. Each ordinance grants county inspectors access to inspect privately owned stormwater structures at any time; these inspections are conducted by a County Engineer, Public Works Director, or a designee. Failure to maintain stormwater infrastructure can result in legal ramifications. Steps the county can take in these cases vary and include issuance of a Notice of Violation, a Corrective Order, and potentially fines up to $1,000 per violation. In the most extreme cases, the county can press civil or even criminal charges. Additionally, the county reserves the right to correct any violation and bring the pond up to design specifications. Afterward, the property owner or HOA is held responsible for repaying the costs of the effort. Requirements laid out in the ordinance, including accepted BMPs for regulating stormwater, are described in detail in Stormwater Management Design Manuals. These manuals are written for, and formally adopted by, each county and assist in the design and evaluation of stormwater management facilities.
It is important to note that inspections for compliance with NPDES programs only cover ponds built after the issuance of an MS4 permit. The oldest permit in the coastal zone was issued in 2006 for Horry County; the most recent permit was for Beaufort County and issued in 2015. Therefore, the majority of ponds in the eight coastal counties are not regulated under the NPDES program. For example, aerial imagery estimates there were ~3,000 development-related ponds in Horry County as of 2006 (Figure 1.9 in Chapter 1), the year they received their MS4 permit. The entities that manage these older ponds are expected to maintain their BMPs at the original design standards and schedule frequent inspections to be conducted by licensed engineers. However, most of these communities lack formal stormwater management plans, and face additional challenges including reliance on paper as-built pond documents, frequent turnover at community leadership positions, and inconsistent record-keeping.
Non-MS4 Designated Counties
Though Jasper County is not a regulated MS4, stormwater management is included as Article 10 in the County’s Land Development Regulations. These regulations require that qualifying development activities (e.g., those that install > 5000 square feet of impervious surface, or major subdivisions) submit a Stormwater Management Plan to the county through the development application process. Additionally, the eventual property owners, termed “successors in interest,” must submit a maintenance agreement to the county that outlines specific management activities to be undertaken. These include annual pond inspections to be conducted by a licensed engineer and maintaining a reserve fund that can pay for any anticipated reconstruction costs or repairs required by the pond over a three-year period.
|Forebays||Aquatic bench or
|min = 4 – 6||1.5:1||barrier one foot below normal pool elevation and up to elevation above permanent pool||prepare planting plan by qualified landscape architect or wetland ecologist||no mention|
|mean = 3 – 7||3:1||storage capacity = 10%
of permanent pool
storage volume (hold sediment accumulation
|littoral zone to
promote growth of wetland vegetation; littoral shelf = 220 sq. feet per acre
|min = 4||no mention||all quantity BMPs also used for quality control must have a forebay to remove debris and coarse sediments||no mention||< 15 feet; 3:1|
|min = 6||3:1||all ponds must have one or more forebays to trap coarse sediment||no mention||< 15 feet; 3:1|
|min = 6||no mention||if BMP captures runoff from ≥ 5 acres||for extended wet detention ponds||< 15 feet; 3:1|
|min = 4||3:1||hold 0.1 inch runoff from impervious drainage area; surface area 15 – 25% total pond wet area||permanently inundated with water (1-2 feet) and planted with hydrophytic vegetation||< 3:1|
|min = 6||“must be maximized to ensure sufficient time to allow for sedimentation of pollutants”||no mention||not required||< 15 feet; 3:1|
|min = 3 – 4||3:1||forebay or “equivalent upstream pretreatment” should be provided at each inlet||not required;
“wetland plants should be encouraged…along
the aquatic bench”
|< 15 feet; 3:1|
Table 5.3 Comparison of state (DHEC) and county design standards for wet detention ponds.
Jasper County also adopted a Stormwater Management Design Manual in 2011, similar in content to Beaufort County’s manual. Both include large sections dedicated to green infrastructure. In contrast, Colleton County, the other non-regulated coastal county, has no ordinances or design manuals specifically pertaining to stormwater management.
Comparison of State vs. County Standards
In Table 5.3 we list the major design standards in S.C. DHEC’s Stormwater BMP Handbook (2005) and those from each county’s adopted design manual. Our review of these documents resulted in three major take-aways. First, county-specified design standards were often more stringent than those suggested by the state guidance. Secondly, requirements could vary substantially among the seven counties, especially with respect to language concerning forebays and aquatic vegetation. Finally, reading each manual clarified for us why wet detention ponds are a favorite of developers: they are the only accepted BMP that meets both water quantity mitigation and water quality protection needs.
5.5.2 Online County Resources
A review of available stormwater-related documents available on each county’s webpage was conducted, including:
- Stormwater webpage on the county’s website,
- Stormwater management plan,
- Link for ordinance document(s), and
- Inclusion of stormwater management in Comprehensive Plans.
Table 5.4 provides a snapshot of each county’s online materials related to stormwater regulations and management. We included zoning in our scan because classifying land use and current/future building codes may serve as a proxy for stormwater management activities (USNRC 2008). Jasper County incorporated a section concerning zoning on their stormwater webpage. While no other county had a site dedicated to zoning, several referenced zoning in stormwater documents. For example, in Berkeley County’s Stormwater Design Standards Manual, zoning was mentioned under the Zoning and Land Development Regulations as well as the Building & Codes and Floodplain Ordinances (Berkeley County 2015).
Also, it is worth noting that the State’s Comprehensive Planning Act does not require local governments to incorporate stormwater management into their comprehensive plans (S.C. Code Ann. 6-29-510). Therefore, four of the coastal counties do not currently incorporate stormwater planning into their comprehensive plans (Table 5.4). Those counties with substantial text dedicated to future planning for stormwater management included Horry, Berkeley, Charleston, and Jasper counties. All comprehensive plans at least mention stormwater concerns or challenges but may not specifically address planning for future regulatory changes.
|Map of the
Table 5.4 Online information pertaining to stormwater management for each coastal county. Check marks = information provided; x = information not provided.
5.5.3 Online Municipal Resources
Five municipalities (City of Beaufort, City of Charleston, Town of Mount Pleasant, City of Georgetown, and City of Myrtle Beach) were chosen for a website review of stormwater resources. Each municipality is regulated under the NPDES program and faces growing population and tourism demands, both of which heavily depend on proper stormwater management to be sustainable. Online, we found each municipality provides contact information for their respective stormwater departments. This is important for residents as these municipalities are responsible for maintaining and regulating the stormwater infrastructure within the area annexed to them. This additional layer adds to the regulatory complexity surrounding stormwater management; Figure 5.1 illustrates the multifaceted jurisdictions in the Tri-County region alone.
In most cases, the city websites are more limited in informational resources as compared to county stormwater pages. The exception was the City of Charleston, which has adopted and published its own Stormwater Management Design Manual and Stormwater Management Plan, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The manual is similar to Charleston County’s, though differences between the two exist. For example, the city requires a minimum pond depth of three feet for mosquito control as compared to the six feet required by the county. These nuances require that developers, and also property owners, pay close attention to the design standards required for their site.
Figure 5.1 Map of SMS4 communities in the Tri-County region.
5.5.4 Council of Governments (COGs)
We also investigated the role of COGs in stormwater management. In the coastal zone there are three COGs (Waccamaw, Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, and Lowcountry) which provide planning and technical support to local governments in developing local and regional plans. While most COGs do not have staff trained specifically in the area of stormwater management, they do assist with comprehensive planning, which may include this component.
Therefore COGs rely on expertise provided by other agencies and/or consultants.
Additionally, COGs assist local government units in applying for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) administered by S.C.’s Department of Commerce. These can be utilized to improve infrastructure, including water, sewer, and drainage activities. The CDBG program was designed to help local government address social and environmental problems, specifically in low income neighborhoods. These funds could be used to address issues related to stormwater infrastructure in coastal communities that are eligible to receive a CDBG. While we could not find evidence that these grants have been used to address stormwater needs in S.C., there are recent examples from other states (EPA 2017). In 2014, $8.9 million of CDBG funds were used in Detroit for infrastructure improvements to prevent flooding and build economic development. This included the planting of trees in 200 vacant lots to improve stormwater management. In Chicago, these funds were used to install a green roof on the historic Cultural Center.
5.6 Survey and Focus Group
We drew several conclusions after reviewing federal and state laws and local informational resources related to stormwater policy and regulation. Namely, that federal and state policies and regulations allow for creativity and innovation at the local level. While the federal NPDES program authorizes S.C. DHEC to implement stormwater regulation at the state level, counties and municipalities can meet these requirements by crafting their own unique ordinances. We did find that specific ordinance language, level of uniqueness, future planning, and the quality and availability of public information was highly variable across the eight coastal counties. To dig deeper into activities at the local level, we conducted a survey and held a focus group targeting stormwater professionals to gain insight on issues and concerns impacting local decision-makers and resource managers.
We employed both an online survey and in-person focus group methodology in order to gain a better understanding of local stormwater policies and regulatory activities. Respondents represented a range of professionals, including stormwater professionals from counties designated as MS4 NPDES permittees.
An online survey instrument was developed in conjunction with College of Charleston researchers focusing on the economics of stormwater management (Chapter 6). The survey instrument was sent to listservs of local stormwater managers and other stakeholders. The survey was distributed using the online survey platform, Qualtrics, to a wide range of stormwater managers and related professionals across the eight-county coastal zone. Reminders were sent to potential participants over a 4 – 6-week period in June – July, 2015. Ultimately, 58 individuals responded to the survey out of a total of 500 contacted.
Focus group methodology which allows researchers to explore critical issues in more depth by meeting directly with impacted stakeholders and providing an environment that allows for open-ended discussion and response cannot be achieved with a survey instrument. Our focus group was held in North Charleston, S.C. on July 22, 2015. Facilitators included researchers from Clemson University (this chapter) and the College of Charleston (Chapter 6). The Institutional Review Board (IRB) process was managed by the College of Charleston research team. Working together, each team developed 10-15 questions covering a range of economic and policy issues (Appendix A5). To ensure responses from focus group members were properly noted, the entire conversation was recorded with the consent of all individuals in the focus group. The recording was then transcribed to ensure accurate documentation of the event discussions.
5.6.1 Survey Results
Policy questions focused on a range of issues including organizational responsibility, alternative technologies, community planning, and effective regulation and management. Almost 60% of respondents believe that stormwater management should be a shared responsibility among agencies. Further, about 70% of respondents stated that stormwater management is addressed in their community’s comprehensive plan. Of those that answered positively that stormwater is included in their comprehensive management plans, over 60% agreed or strongly agreed that the comprehensive plan is the most effective place to address stormwater issues, while 13% disagreed. We should note that while our respondents covered a range of professional affiliations, they did not necessarily represent an even geographic distribution from throughout the coastal zone of South Carolina.
Stormwater ordinances are a tool that local governments can use to manage and enforce pond policy and specify best practices tailored to their unique geographic, hydrologic, and cultural conditions. The majority of respondents did not agree that stormwater ordinances are a barrier to economic development. Further, respondents had mixed responses as to whether the pressures associated with rapid population growth demand flexibility in stormwater ordinances and policy (Figure 5.2); overall, 47% either agree or strongly agree, while 31% disagree or strongly disagree. As coastal communities continue to grow, understanding how to manage growth with existing policy mechanisms is critical.
Figure 5.2 Survey results: “Does population growth require flexible stormwater policies?” (n = 58).
Figure 5.3 illustrates that respondents were split on whether ponds are the best tool for stormwater management. Just 24% agreed, while 26% disagreed, with 43% having no fixed opinion either way as to whether ponds are always an ideal BMP. This question underscores some of the inherent policy challenges with stormwater management, but it also demonstrates where scientific guidance may be used to inform a more definitive position on the effectiveness of ponds. Given that ponds are not necessarily the preferred BMP by those surveyed, it was perhaps not surprising that nearly 60% of survey respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that Low Impact Development (LID) tools can be more favorable management options than ponds. As defined by the EPA, LID is an alternative strategy to ponds that utilizes natural landscape features like soils, vegetation, rainwater harvesting, and other techniques that imitate nature’s processes. Practices mentioned by the EPA include bioretention areas, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops, installation of rain barrels, and use of permeable pavements (www.epa.gov/nps/urban-runoff-low-impact-development). The ultimate goal of LID practices is to minimize the impact of the built environment and facilitate a more natural movement of water.
Figure 5.3 Survey results: “Are ponds the best tool for stormwater management?” n = 58.
A number of questions in our survey also addressed which organization(s) are best suited to manage and enforce stormwater policy (e.g., S.C. DHEC, local governments), and this topic was further discussed by the focus group (Section 5.6.2). Current state laws require S.C. DHEC to regulate and monitor ponds across the state, while local governments with stormwater NPDES permits are responsible for ponds within their jurisdictions, to ensure they meet state and federal regulations. When asked whether ponds are monitored adequately by S.C. DHEC, almost 60% either disagreed or strongly disagreed. When asked whether current county, state, and/or federal policies allow for the flexibility to make necessary changes to future stormwater management practices, results reveal another set of mixed responses: 30% agreed and 30% disagreed.
Final survey questions allowed for open-ended responses related to stormwater practices. Regarding policy and management, respondents were asked whether they believe there are any policy changes important for future stormwater management. Comments focused on the following issues that constitute opportunities for improvement in how stormwater is currently managed.
Potential Management Changes
- Require more LID practices both for new development and re-development.
- Improve maintenance, and consider more progressive and restrictive design criteria.
- Research and/or development of alternative management methods.
- Institute strong prescriptive regulation.
- Incorporate LID incentives into local and state development standards.
- Create public-private partnerships.
- S.C. DHEC should adapt new design criteria and provide regular training opportunities to engineers preparing stormwater plans and plan reviews.
Importantly, this survey did not include property developers, and a different view of ponds as ideal BMPs might have emerged if these professionals were questioned. While open-ended responses varied, additional education, more robust public-private partnerships, and the additional use of LID practices were each mentioned by multiple respondents. Overall, the survey highlights clear challenges in assigning responsibility for stormwater management, which underscores the importance of examining the current policy network and considering more effective policy organization for the future.
5.6.2 Focus Group Results
Facilitators gathered eight community members in North Charleston, including:
- Commercial real-estate agent,
- Public Services Department representative,
- Board Accountant for a Stormwater Manager,
- Stormwater Program Managers,
- Assistant County Engineer, and
- S.C. Sea Grant Consortium community representative.
These individuals were chosen based on their diverse knowledge of stormwater issues and management. The focus group team developed 10 key questions regarding stormwater policy and management (Appendix A5). Each respondent was given an opportunity to answer each question in detail. A number of common themes emerged and are highlighted individually below. Focus group responses can be a helpful methodological tool to expand understanding of a specific set of issues and identify areas of concern. However, these conversations occurred within a small group of individuals at a single point in time. Therefore, these comments are not to be generalized to represent the opinions of entire groups of professionals. For the Stormwater Ponds Research and Management Collaborative and our community partners, these discussions will help us identify areas of need where we might be able to target our research and extension efforts.
1. Public Education
First and foremost, every member of the group agreed that public education for stormwater management is a critical best management practice. Education was further broken down into several layers, including the individual level and the HOA level. There was much discussion on how to ensure HOAs understand the maintenance requirements of ponds, the costs of maintenance, how ponds operate, as well as when to contact the county stormwater manager with a substantial pond issue. The importance of knowing the most effective methods of educating homeowners, the public, HOAs, and other stakeholders about ponds and best management of them was identified as critical.
There were multiple comments and concerns associated with the issue of HOAs and stormwater management. A major concern is that HOAs lack knowledge of what their delegated pond responsibilities are. There is also a lack of long-term planning on behalf of HOA boards, so that the boards do not set aside finances from the yearly budget for pond maintenance. Additionally, when the pond is in desperate need of maintenance either five, 10, or even 20 years after the pond was initially built, the board often does not have sufficient funds to complete necessary management activities and receives opposition from the community when maintenance fees escalate. Additionally, HOAs have regular leadership changes and are often volunteer organizations with limited knowledge. All in all, the situation with HOAs and stormwater is a complex organizational and policy problem, which currently limits appropriate stormwater management.
3. State Oversight
Another common theme discussed by nearly half of the group concerned S.C. DHEC and the agency’s role in stormwater management. Several respondents felt that they are in a constant battle with S.C. DHEC; that the agency offers little oversight to the management process. Often the agency will report to officials what they need to remain in compliance but will not offer solutions on how to meet these requirements. The group felt that S.C. DHEC was too focused on select items, such as TMDLs, but instead should provide a broader perspective on best practices in stormwater management. In contrast, several respondents did agree that while there is room for improvement, the agency is not overbearing at the county level of management and further find that S.C. DHEC’s vague language offers room for flexibility, which local officials have benefited from when addressing stormwater issues.
4. Coastal Concerns
Several individuals noted that they perceive some coastal counties are much more stringent with stormwater standards and regulations compared to the rest of the state. Respondents also noted that stormwater officials remain unsure of what constitutes a “failed” pond. The group identified the need for non-compliant ponds to be studied in order to analyze whether, given time, “failed” ponds in coastal zones may transform into productive, and still functional, wetland habitats given the shallow water table.
5. Land Uses and Pond Lifecycles
Stormwater managers are concerned about extending the effective life cycle of ponds by adjusting current pond design techniques and avoiding designs that serve as an attractant for geese and canine fecal matter. Related to this, local land use policies must complement and incorporate stormwater management, and policy changes should be made on the local, not state, level. It was also noted that ponds should be functional in that they should enable stormwater detention, flood control, and water quality if properly maintained.
6. Pond Alternatives
Focus group participants were open to alternatives to ponds such as implementing pervious pavers and other LID techniques into their stormwater management plans. However, participants discussed that LIDs require more maintenance than ponds once installed, are not necessarily cheaper, and require educating engineers, architects, and developers to inform and popularize the idea of implementing LIDs versus the standard pond for stormwater management. Regardless of the concerns with LIDs, focus group respondents clearly believed in the importance of encouraging and supporting LID use as a valuable, alternative tool for community stormwater management and one that would yield important environmental benefits.
5.7 Summary and Recommendations
The information from the study described above confirms that, like many environmental issues today, pond management lies within a layered network of regulatory oversight. This review was designed to identify the dominant, overlapping policies or regulations that impact pond management in the eight coastal counties of S.C. The CWA and its constituent, the NPDES program, are the critical federal policies and regulatory documents that ultimately resulted in the construction and regulation of stormwater infrastructure, including ponds, that serve to re-route runoff and protect downstream water quality. In S.C., the PCA grants S.C. DHEC the authority to regulate stormwater runoff. DHEC, in turn, gives authority to qualifying counties and municipalities to administer the NPDES program locally. Therefore, these communities craft local ordinances and provide design manuals for local control of ponds. Ultimately, the day-to-day maintenance of ponds in private communities falls to the property owner or HOA.
Understanding the flexibility of the policy environment is important in considering opportunities for policy change in the future, especially when coastal populations are growing exponentially, exacerbating the ongoing pressures from climate change that is altering weather patterns and driving sea level rise. As highlighted in our survey and by the focus group, coastal communities are presented with numerous challenges for ongoing management and enforcement related to pond issues. The key themes that emerged from our group discussion included: concern over enforcement of maintenance requirements for privately owned BMPs, communication avenues and provisioning of financial resources by HOAs, adequate communication between MS4s and S.C. DHEC, clarity on how to address impaired waterbodies, and improved research on whether design requirements for ponds are adequate or effective or whether LID practices are a preferred management strategy. To ensure that our coastal communities remain attractive, economically strong, and environmentally healthy in the future may require changes in the existing policy and regulatory environment impacting pond management. We conclude that due to the flexibility granted to local governments by S.C. DHEC, it is most likely that the necessary changes will occur at the county or municipal level.
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