RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Storm water rules for new homes and businesses in coastal North Carolina received final legislative approval July 14 thanks to a compromise reached by local governments, homebuilders and environmentalists.
The House voted 105-4 in support of the rules, capping a lengthy process for placing broader restrictions on rainwater runoff for development from the current three coastal counties to 20.
Rainwater runoff controls required for commercial and residential development on land near streams, lakes and estuaries will help reduce nutrients and bacteria in waters where shellfish breed, according to environmentalists.
The measure, which passed the Senate last week, now goes to Gov. Mike Easley’s desk for his signature.
“Storm water pollution is the biggest threat to water quality in North Carolina,” said Elizabeth Ouzts of Environment North Carolina. “We do feel this bill provides some really basic and important protections for our coastal marshes and wetlands and creeks.”
Developers and local governments had complained that rules approved by the Environmental Management Commission earlier this year and set to take effect when the Legislature adjourned this year were too restrictive and costly. And they pointed to other studies that attribute contaminated water to septic tanks, not runoff from parking lots and roofs.
Lawmakers introduced a bill to disapprove those rules, but left the Legislature open to develop new rules.
Leaders of advocacy groups and counties that hammered out the new rules said they weren’t completely happy with the result but found it to be a workable solution.
“It’s certainly better than what the [commission] did,” said Lisa Martin, a regulatory analyst for the North Carolina Home Builders Association.
Under the new rules, developments with impervious surfaces — such as buildings, pavement, gravel or athletic courts — that cover more than 12 percent of the land within a half-mile of shellfish waters would have to install substantial storm water controls. Previously, the threshold was more than 24 percent.
Those controls could be retention ponds or vegetation, which help water seep into the ground and evaporate at a slower rate, leaving nutrients and bacteria to be absorbed by plants.
Homebuilders won a concession by allowing most wetlands, where construction can’t occur, to remain in the calculations that determine those percentages — meaning more development can occur before stricter regulations are needed.
The new rules also would require landowners with smaller lots to set up cisterns, rain gardens and other less extensive storm water controls that would contain a storm of 1.5 in. or 3.5 in., depending on the area.
Martin said her association remains concerned about how much the complicated small-lot requirements may cost homeowners.