Federal and State
Regulatory and enforcement responsibilities for water quality often reside with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE). The State of Michigan regulates major water resource management activities through the MDNRE – activities such as the alteration or loss of wetlands, stormwater control, the dredging or filling of surface water areas, and pollutant discharge.
Pollutant discharge, in particular, is regulated through NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits assigned by the MDNRE.
Phase II stormwater regulations have been issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to comply with the Clean Water Act – legislation designed to clean up the nation’s waterways. Phase II regulations are specifically directed toward reducing the quantity and improving the quality of stormwater that is discharged into local rivers and waterways.
The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to prevent continuing degradation of the nation’s lakes, streams, and rivers. The Clean Water Act outlawed the discharge of pollution, encouraged the use of the best pollution control technology, and provided billions of dollars for the construction of sewage treatment plants. In 1987, the Act was amended to strengthen controls on toxic pollutants, and to allow the states to assume responsibility for federal programs. Under this amendment, the EPA in 1990 established Phase I of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), regulating all medium and large communities serving over 100,000 people.
In 1999, the EPA established Phase II regulations to reduce the impact of pollution resulting from increased residential and commercial development. Phase II requires permits for stormwater discharges from “municipal separate storm sewer systems,” known as MS4s. Such drainage systems may include roads, catch basins, curbs, gutters, parking lots, ditches, conduits, pumping devices, or man-made channels. Most of the local governments in the Huron River Watershed are required to have a Phase II permit.
In the State of Michigan, the MDNRE is administering the Phase II permit process. The MDEQ prepares two kinds of EPA-approved permits: (1) a jurisdictional permit closely structured to adhere to the EPA’s minimum requirements for Phase II compliance, and (2) a watershed-based permit with requirements that are unique to Michigan. The watershed-based permit also meets the EPA’s minimum requirements for water pollution control, but maximizes flexibility and cost-sharing opportunities as well. Under the Phase II watershed-based approach, local governments and others holding permits work together to meet permit requirements.
Natural Rivers District
The State of Michigan Natural Rivers Program mandates certain development restrictions that are specific to the Huron River. The Huron River and its tributaries are public domain, and are subject to public trust protection. The 1970 Michigan Natural Rivers Act (Act 231) designated the stretch of river between Kent Lake Dam and Barton Pond (27.5 miles) as “country-scenic river.” This Natural Rivers District includes a protected zone of 400 feet on either side of the natural watermark. In this protected zone, development is strictly limited and the natural vegetation strip has been increased. On private lands within the District, zoning also requires extensive building structure and septic system set-backs on both the river’s main stem and the tributaries. In the Natural Rivers District of the Huron River, no new commercial, industrial, or extractive development is permitted within 300 feet of the river or its tributaries.