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Page updated Dec 9, 2015 2:42 PM

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Water Quality Regulations and Permitting

Summary of federal and state regulations and attendant permits applicable to the City regarding water quality.

The City of Alexandria continues its proactive role in protecting restoring our water resources through enforcing local, state, and federal regulations.  While Alexandria’s geographical location means that pollutant loadings within our waterways are influenced by upstream activities beyond our jurisdictional boundaries, the City continues its commitment to protect and enhance instream water quality through many programmed activities.  The City’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) stormwater program implements aggressive best management practices to meet Clean Water Act and Virginia Stormwater Act requirements; while our local, Erosion Control Ordinance, Zoning Ordinance and City Code provide a comprehensive regulatory foundation that not only supports the MS4 stormwater program, but proactively targets other non-point sources in order that their impact may be minimized or eliminated.

Clean Water Act 

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33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972)
The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the CWA was enacted in 1948 and was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, but the Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. "Clean Water Act" became the Act's common name with amendments in 1977. Under the CWA, EPA has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.  EPA has also set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.

The overall goal of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters so that they can support "the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water."

Virginia Stormwater Permitting Programs

The Commonwealth of Virginia has been authorized to implement the NPDES program at the state level, as mandated by the Clean Water Act and EPA's Phase 1 (11/16/90) and Phase 2 (12/8/99) stormwater regulations.  

Combined Sewer System (CSS) VPDES Permit 

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) administers a portion of the federal program as the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit program, which is authorized under the State Water Control Law.  The VPDES permit program includes the City's Combined Sewer System.

Like many older cities, a portion of the City historical Old Town area is served by a combined sewer system (CSS). These systems were designed to capture and transport stormwater and wastewater in the same pipe.  Most of the time, the CSS transports all of its flow to the wastewater treatment plant.  However, during periods of excessive rainfall or snowmelt, the capacity of the CSS may be exceeded and the excess flow is then discharged directly to Hunting Creek, Hooff’s Run, or the Potomac River at Oronoco Bay through four permitted CSS) outfalls  following qualifying rain events.  

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) VSMP Permit 

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) implements the federal program through the Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) Permit Regulations, which is authorized by the Virginia Stormwater Management Act.  DCR is responsible for the issuance, denial, revocation, termination and enforcement of individual and general permits for the control of stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) and construction activities.

The purpose of the VSMP permit regulations is to protect water quality from urban pollution carried by stormwater into waters of the State. Stormwater runoff from urban areas may contain sediments, fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria, motor oil, and other pollutants generated by various land uses and human activities. When left uncontrolled, this pollution can result in the impairment or destruction of fish, wildlife, and aquatic life habitats; a loss in aesthetic value; and threats to public safety and health.

To achieve these water quality goals, the permit requires the City to control the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable by creating a Stormwater Program Plan to address six minimum control measures (MCMs).

Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) and Construction General Permits 

As required by the new stormwater management regulations adopted by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board in September of 2011, the City of Alexandria will begin administering construction general permits for discharges of stormwater from local construction activities on July 1, 2014. All land disturbing activities of 1 acre or greater, except for detached single family homes within or outside a common plan of development or sale, are required to apply for coverage under a permit.

For a detailed description on how to apply for a permit and the fees associated with different land disturbance activities, please see Memo to Industry 08-14.  The memo includes information such as when fees are due, the schedule for permit review and approval, and how to renew, modify or terminate a permit.

A Construction General Permit Registration Statement must be submitted when applying for coverage under a general permit. For more information on Construction General Permits or to view a copy of the 2014 General Permit for Discharges of Stormwater from Construction Activities (effective July 1, 2014), visit the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Construction General Permit webpage.

Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act

The Virginia General Assembly enacted the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) in 1988. The Bay Act is a critical element of Virginia's multifaceted response to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which was originally signed in 1983 by Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, establishing a partnership to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem.

The Bay Act program is designed to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by requiring the use of effective conservation planning and pollution prevention practices when using and developing environmentally sensitive lands. The principle objective of the Bay Act is to promote land use and development in ways that minimize negative impacts on water quality. 

Environmental Management Ordinance

The Environmental Management Ordinance was adopted by the City in 1992, and later revised in 2014, to comply with the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations. The purpose of this Ordinance is to protect the quality of water in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and, to that end, to require all land uses and land development in the City.

To fulfill this policy, Article XIII of the City’s Zoning Ordinance was adopted to minimize potential pollution from stormwater runoff, minimize potential erosion and sedimentation, reduce the introduction of harmful nutrients and toxins into state waters, maximize rainwater infiltration while protecting groundwater, and ensure the long-term performance of the measures employed to accomplish the statutory purpose.

Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance

The basis of our efforts to control runoff from construction sites is our Erosion & Sediment Control Program and Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act compliance program, which is enforced through our Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance. Each program is designed to meet State mandates for erosion and sediment control and water quality protection. These programs require that any construction project that disturbs at least 2,500 square feet have a City approved construction pollution prevention plan and install appropriate construction site runoff controls to meet the goal of reduced pollutant discharge to our streams.