Benton County code changes are expected to impact water quality and the environment in long term. (Photo provided by Benton County)

Benton County plans to update requirements of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality modifying existing Benton County code.

Based on the 2040 Thriving Community Initiative, the changes support one of the county’s core values to preserve natural resources.

“The intent is to improve water quality overall so there is a lot less sediment in our water system because that is a real problem from an environmental perspective,” Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot said. “Given our vision for the future, we know our community members really place a high premium on where we live in this beautiful part of the Willamette Valley. This change helps us tread more lightly on the environment as we grow our population in Benton County.”

Benton County code changes for stormwater permitting

The mandate stems from the Clean Water Act established by the EPA in 1972. The first modification relates to construction site runoff control to lower the threshold of ground disturbance which will require Benton County Erosion and Sediment Control permitting.

Benton County Associate Engineer Gordon Kurtz said changes to site disturbance standards will prevent erosion during development, but that county staff are also keenly aware that requiring stormwater management measures may impact the overall cost of development in Benton County. 

“I think the important thing to remember is that the program itself is designed to preserve our environment as it currently is, and to do so everyone must make a little bit of sacrifice,” Kurtz said. “Our job is to help make that process as painless as possible.”

The second modification addresses post-construction stormwater management which will require projects that create more than one-fourth acre (10,890 square feet) of impervious surface to create a long-term stormwater treatment and detention plan.

Community Development Program Coordinator Shannon Bush said she also believes the changes will impact water quality and the environment in Benton County long term.

“Many Benton County residents are engaged proactive community members who want to be stewards of our natural environment, but it can be challenging to find ways to make a real difference,” Bush said. “While these regulatory changes do present added cost and burden in the permitting process, they also create an effective way for community members, as individuals, to effect change right in their own backyard.”

Like Kurtz and the Benton County Public Works team, Bush explained that her team in community development is also working to ensure the transition to the new regulations happens as smoothly as possible by working diligently to identify alternative, low-cost mechanisms for applicants to meet the new requirements without the need for an engineered system design. 

While that work is happening, Bush said the best thing applicants can do to keep costs as low as possible would be to contact Benton County Public Works before beginning site planning or development work, particularly “site disturbance” activities such as grading and clearing.

“Over the past several months, the Stormwater Implementation Group and certain county departments have been meeting regularly to create outreach materials and devise administrative strategies to make this permitting process as straightforward as possible for community members, working within the bounds of administrative and fiscal constraints,” Bush said. “We always welcome feedback from applicants who would like to share their experience and ideas for improvement.”