Since 2003, numerous cities with a population of less than 100,000 have been required to take painstaking measures to ensure that commercial and residential operations do not contaminate water resources by way of natural or man-made storm water.
"It’s now becoming more obvious to people that water is a limited resource," said Catherine Fox of Fox Environmental, who is working with Flowery Branch and Oakwood officials on storm water management. She added that as Hall County experiences fast-paced growth, establishing safe storm water practices will help ensure there is enough clean water now and in the future. If cities do not comply with the EPD requirements, heavy fines ensue and development permits may be withheld.
Generated by rainfall or car washing, for example, storm water may collect pollutants and debris as it makes its way to water bodies, having an adverse affect upon water quality.
Both cities have hired Fox Environmental as the consulting firm to guide them through Environmental Protection Division water audits, where storm water sources and their management are evaluated.
Fox Environmental will also assist the two cities in submitting annual reports and establishing a five-year plan that details specific ways in which the cities can implement measures to maintain high water quality. Oakwood and Flowery Branch submitted their five-year storm water plans to the EPD in late July, and are now reworking the initial plan to accommodate procedural changes to the plan at the request of the EPD.
The EPD conducted a water audit within Flowery Branch in early December, and found that the city was in full compliance with the public education, illicit discharge detention and elimination and sediment control requirements.
The audit sought to stop potential water pollution by identifying and eliminating any septic tank or sewer leaks as well as run-off carrying pollutants from traffic on roads, driveways or parking lots. Fox said the audit did not uncover any major storm water pollution issues in Flowery Branch.
The EPD will likely audit Oakwood in January, Fox said.
In addition to the audits and required formulation of a five-year storm water management plan, the cities must provide an annual evaluation with documentation of their storm water management efforts.
The official deadline was Dec. 9.
Fox said Flowery Branch made the deadline, but Oakwood obtained an extension and will submit its annual evaluation after the January EPD audit.
Another deadline looms on Thursday, where cities must submit applications for the 2008 to 2012 five-year permit plan. Again, Flowery Branch will meet the deadline, but Oakwood was granted another extension, allowing the city to follow suit in January.
Fox said city officials spend months preparing for the audits. Many municipalities resort to hiring an additional staff member who works primarily on aligning cities’ or counties’ environmental situations with the requirements of the EPD.
"They’re making good progress," Fox said of the cities’ efforts toward environmentalism. "We have to take care of our streams and lakes or it’s going to be more expensive for everybody."