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Highlights

Urban storm water runoff is a major contributor to the nation's degraded waters. Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a program requiring communities to obtain permits and implement activities to control storm water pollution. EPA's Phase I regulations (1990) applied to communities with populations of 100,000 or more, and its Phase II regulations (1999) covered smaller urban communities. Communities must report progress in meeting permit requirements. Some have raised concerns that storm water requirements impose an undue burden. To evaluate storm water program costs, EPA developed estimates for both phases. GAO was asked to (1) determine the progress in implementing the storm water program, (2) evaluate the extent to which the program burdens communities, (3) examine the accuracy of EPA's cost estimates, and (4) examine the data available for assessing program burden. GAO collected data for all states and a sample of 130 communities, among other steps.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency In order to enable EPA to evaluate the implementation of the storm water program, the Administrator, EPA, should issue additional program guidance and consider regulatory changes to ensure that (1) communities report on activities in sufficient detail to determine their scope, costs, and results; and (2) communities report this information consistently so that it can be analyzed on a national basis.
Closed - Implemented
In a May 2007 report (GAO-07-479), we recommended that, to enable EPA to evaluate the implementation of the storm water program, EPA should issue additional program guidance and consider regulatory changes to ensure that (1) communities report on activities in sufficient detail to determine their scope, costs, and results; and (2) communities report this information consistently so that it can be analyzed on a national basis. We found that there were no specific national guidelines on what information communities should include in annual reports to their permitting authorities. As a result, some annual reports we reviewed were hundreds of pages long with detailed data on their activities, while others provided little evidence of the storm water activities being implemented or their costs. Consequently, we determined that it would be difficult for EPA to evaluate communities' storm water program activities and, in particular, to assess the burden of the program on communities nationwide. In June 2009, EPA finalized an annual report form for small municipal separate storm sewer systems implementing the storm water program and circulated this form to EPA regional and state storm water programs. EPA indicated that it was taking steps to encourage storm water permitting authorities to use the form and several states indicated they intended to use this form when they reissue relevant permits. In addition, EPA published new guidance for permit authorities issuing municipal storm water permits in April 2010. This guidance included EPA's annual report form along with a recommendation that permit authorities require use of the form when issuing storm water permits. Finally, EPA has also initiated a rulemaking process to make regulatory changes to the storm water program. One of the proposals for which EPA solicited comments was developing a consistent set of requirements for Phase I (large and medium) and Phase II (small) municipal storm sewer systems. According to EPA, while this proposed rulemaking is not focused on improving the quality of storm water program data, eliminating or reconciling differences within the program should help to improve the consistency of the data collected. According to information available on EPA's Web site, the agency intends to propose a rule in September 2011 and to take final action by November 2012.

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