Press Release: Save the Sound Reaches Stormwater Pollution Prevention Deals with Towns of Redding, Ridgefield

Collaborative discussions yield proposed consent decrees in two lawsuits with benefits for clean water and public health in the Norwalk River watershed

New Haven, CT—A cleaner Norwalk River will be the result of collaborative agreements reached with the neighboring towns of Ridgefield and Redding following lawsuits Save the Sound filed under the Clean Water Act. The proposed agreements were filed by Save the Sound and the towns with the Federal District Court and are subject to a 45-day review period by the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency. The court may accept the agreements after that review if there are no objections.

Currently, more than 17 miles of the Norwalk River are so severely impaired by stormwater pollution that they fail to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. The health of the river, one of several major waterways that flows into Long Island Sound, directly impacts clean water, healthy aquatic life, and thriving coastal ecosystems in and on the Sound.

Save the Sound’s research found that both Ridgefield and Redding were in violation of Connecticut’s General Permit for the Discharge of Municipal Stormwater. “Stormwater runoff from buildings and pavement carries bacteria, excess nutrients, oils, chemicals, salt, and plastics into our local waters,” said Chris Kelly, the Peter B. Cooper Legal Fellow at Save the Sound. “Left unaddressed, stormwater pollution can make waterways unfit for recreation and unable to support aquatic life.” The state has over 1,000 miles of stormwater-impaired, unhealthy waterways.

To address the impacts of stormwater pollution, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection re-issued a General Permit in 2017 requiring municipalities to protect water quality by, among other things, tracking and eliminating illicit stormwater discharges and reducing their amounts of impervious surface area. In 2021, Save the Sound identified a widespread failure among Connecticut municipalities to comply with the General Permit. Most concerning was the failure of a significant minority of permittees to produce their annual reports for consecutive years, preventing the public from determining their compliance with the rest of the General Permit’s requirements. In addition to the actions now resolved by agreements with the Towns of Redding and Ridgefield, Save the Sound filed lawsuits against the Town of Burlington and the City of Middletown; discussions in those cases are ongoing.

Separate agreements between Save the Sound and the towns of Ridgefield and Redding are memorialized in proposed consent decrees that were filed with their respective cases in the Federal Court for the District of Connecticut. The agreements will resolve Save the Sound’s legal actions against the towns.

Under its agreement, the Town of Redding will:

  • comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area;
  • provide $70,000 to fund a study to be conducted by the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited that will consider the feasibility of future dam removal on the Norwalk River, supporting ongoing work to improve passage for migratory fish from the Sound; and
  • contribute to Save the Sound’s attorneys’ fees and engineering expert costs.

Under its agreement, the Town of Ridgefield will:

  • comply with all requirements of the General Permit, including mapping the Town’s MS4, sampling all stormwater outfalls, and achieving a 2% reduction in its directly connected impervious area;
  • provide $70,000 to the Norwalk River Watershed Association for a green infrastructure project that will reduce stormwater runoff to the Great Swamp, where the Norwalk River originates, further benefiting water quality in the Norwalk River watershed; and
  • contribute to Save the Sound’s attorneys’ fees and engineering expert costs.

Save the Sound takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing stormwater pollution. Those efforts include: on-the-ground design and engineering of neighborhood rain gardens; regulatory efforts to ensure strong stormwater permitting; education on the importance of curbing stormwater pollution; and legislative advocacy to provide municipalities with the tools and funding they need to upgrade their systems, including the creation of stormwater authorities.

“The best solution is for municipalities to form stormwater utilities that allow them to charge service fees for required work to meet Clean Water Act requirements while disincentivizing impervious surfaces,” said Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper. “For over 10 years, Save the Sound has worked in the legislature and communities to pilot and enable stormwater utilities. As of 2021, any municipality that wants to can create one. So far, two cities—New London and New Britain—have successfully established them, and we hope to help more municipalities take advantage of this tool in the future.”

Save the Sound also ensures accountability when municipalities fail to take appropriate steps to reduce and manage their stormwater. Our legal team takes action across the Long Island Sound region to enforce the Clean Water Act’s requirement of “fishable” and “swimmable” waters.

“Stormwater pollution may not be the first kind of water pollution people think of, but it’s the fastest-growing major cause of water pollution today,” Chris Kelly said. “We need to address it because residents in every town have a right to clean water.”

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