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By: T. Luke Owen, NPDES Training Institute
 

Ditches are getting some special attention by the USEPA, and so are the municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) that have millions of ditches in them from around the country.  So what is it we need to know about a ditch and it's impact to the water quality of a river, lake or ocean that receives the water from it?  Is it over kill to focus attention on a ditch and it's potential contribution of pollution to a lake or ocean? Let's briefly discuss some indisputable facts about a DITCH. Did you know ditches were already defined for years in the Clean Water Act?  It's just that little was done to regulate them as conduits of water pollution to downstream receptors.  How they are going to be managed which will probably surprise you in the article below is where the controversy comes in. 


A) When rain hits the ground (stormwater), it flows down hill andoften finds a ditch after it's picked up dirt, goose poop, dog poop, oil, fertilizers, insecticides, etc., then flows through and into a pond, lake or ocean through a ditch.  B) When rain hits the ground in a urban setting it doesn't readily soak into the ground and usually runs down hill picking up volume & velocity because of impervious hard surfaces (concrete, asphalt, buildings, etc.).  This causes higher volumes of pollution to be carried along the ground with the stormwater until it has no place further to go, which is normally a lake or the ocean. C) When rain water runs through a ditch, it often erodes the ditch and carries extra sediment and pollutants into the local lake or ocean. Ditches are conduits that carry pollution downstream to people that live near the bottom of the watershed.
D) American Sealcoat, LLC was recently fined $10 Million for intentionally funneling oil based pollution from their operations outfall and into the Chattahoochee River through a ditch. It's usually private citizen reports and complaints that generate water quality protection laws and their enforcement.  This is why the Clean Water Act was amended in 1972 which stepped up legal accountability to the discharger for polluting our nations rivers. The Chattahoochee River is one of many rivers that funneled huge volumes of sewage and industrial waste downstream from Atlanta to LaGrange and other small towns who had little ability to fight it.  It still happens due to the nature of the expense of seperating stormwater and sewer pipes, but on a much smaller scale. Sewage and industrial discharges around the world make their way through ditches that spread disease, make people deathly sick, and cause massive fish kills.

BROWN TROUT - Chattahoochee River 2012When you look at the purpose a ditch, in that it often funnels polluted water downstream and away from it's source in concentrated flow fashion. The question for our country should not be "Are ditches significant contributors to impaired water quality in US watersheds today?", but rather...."Just how should private industry and public regulatory officials WORK TOGETHER to effectively regulate them so it doesn't break the bank of companies responsible for preventing pollution from getting into our nations waters!"  Remember, it takes a lot of dedicated money to pay for environmental protection, just look at Indonesia as the poster child for not protecting it's water quality.

 

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