The state Transportation Department agreed this month to place itself under a federal consent decree, aimed at resolving stormwater runoff violations discovered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Nevada Department of Transportation already has accomplished some of the terms of the settlement, including a $13 million investment to create a new Stormwater Management Program with 59 full-time staffers led by a deputy director.
The Transportation Department’s board of directors Monday unanimously agreed to formally approve the deal, reached June 28 with the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The consent decree could be lifted as soon as Dec. 31, 2018, depending on the results of quarterly reports that will detail NDOT’s progress with the settlement.
“It could have been a much different outcome,” Gov. Brian Sandoval, who serves as chairman of the transportation board, said during the agency’s meeting on Monday.
“We still could have done all these things, and (the EPA) could have levied a substantial fine and they chose not to,” Sandoval said. “I think they saw the wisdom in what good was a fine, versus being able to have that money and continue to invest it and doing the right thing with projects.”
The settlement stems from a 2011 audit by the EPA, which found that the Transportation Department allegedly violated the terms of its stormwater permit.
Specifically, NDOT had failed to implement a stormwater management plan that was required in 2005. Additionally, the department did not develop a pollution prevention program for its maintenance facilities, create discharge detection program or implement a training program for employees.
“Water is a vital resource in the arid west, and this agreement will help preserve and protect Nevada’s rivers and streams,” Alexis Strauss, the EPA’s acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a written statement.
To resolve the issue, NDOT has also spent $7.6 million to purchase street sweepers, channel-flushing trucks and other equipment, while also earmarking $15 million for several projects aimed at cleaning up stormwater runoff across Nevada.
Moving forward, the settlement also requires NDOT to spend $200,000 on a program that will provide real-time water quality data to Nevada residents. The agency is also required to publicly report where stormwater is discharged, along with measures aimed at reducing pollutants during operations.
The state Transportation Department must also pay a $60,000 fine each to the EPA and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“I think it’s great to have all of this behind us now,” Tom Skancke, an NDOT board member, said during a telephone interview.
“The EPA did a really good job working with the state because they allowed NDOT to create a new program to deal with the problem, rather than levying a huge fine,” Skancke said. “It really ended up with everyone coming out as a winner.”
Additionally, the new Stormwater Management Program will launch an outreach program dubbed “Love NV Waters.” David Gaskin, who was appointed last summer as head of the Stormwater Management Program, told the NDOT board that integrating protective measures for stormwater cleanliness was as important as implementing safety regulations at work sites.
“It is of great impact because it does potentially affect all the residents and citizens of the state of Nevada and all the environmental systems,” Gaskin told the transportation board. “NDOT’s roads permeate the entire state and runoff has the potential to adversely affect all the native waters.”