Understanding MS4 Permits: Managing stormwater systems and municipal obligations

Fehr Graham Senior Environmental Health and Safety Scientist Leonard Dane gathers data on outfalls and pipes that discharge into the Fox River. He conducts thorough monitoring and surveys to identify illicit discharges.

From salting your driveway to blowing grass clippings into the street, there are plenty of things we do to affect our stormwater system.

That's why the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency takes steps to regulate and monitor shared water systems. They do that through MS4 permits, which are short for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. These permits are required for municipalities that have water discharging into state or federal waters.

There are six minimum control measures the state expects municipalities to follow as they comply with the MS4 permit:

  1. Public education and outreach on stormwater impacts. From brochures and flyers to website content or workshops, this control measure can be accomplished in a number of ways. The goal is to help the community understand its role in stormwater management. That includes proper leaf disposal in the fall and using the right amount of sidewalk salt in the winter.
  2. Public involvement and participation. This can come as an annual public meeting or workshop addressing issues such as smart salting or proper chemical disposal. It is a way to get buy-in from everyone to do their part to protect water sources.
  3. Illicit discharge detection and elimination. To begin with this control measure, municipalities need to survey water sources of drain pipes. Pipes should be mapped and accounted for, but unpermitted pipes need follow-up. Any unpermitted pipes should be traced to the owner for proper permitting, testing and remediation. It's important to recognize that unpermitted drainage can harm the community's water quality.
  4. Construction site stormwater runoff control. Throughout the course of a construction project, it's important that a runoff plan be in place to prevent construction chemicals or debris from entering the waterway.
  5. Post construction stormwater management in development and redevelopment. Even after a project is complete, planning continues as stormwater controls need to be put in place for the new development or redevelopment.
  6. Pollution prevention/good housekeeping for municipal operations. The final control measure is as important as those that came before it. This one involves water monitoring through samples and routine monitoring of drains for cleanliness and functionality. It includes making sure laundry water is being directed into sanitary systems, and that chemical spills from accidents are being cleaned up properly.

While MS4 permits might be the responsibility of municipalities, the community needs to work together to keep water sources free of dangerous pollutants. It takes public education and buy-in, along with proper planning and accountability of local businesses, to make an MS4 permit plan truly come together. 

Fehr Graham is available to assist with all aspects of the six control measures, particularly those involving monitoring, remediation and planning. For more information about how we can help, contact us or call 630.897.4651.