Garage water runoff complaints bring 10 warnings
Under the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act, garages with parking stalls that are oily and cleansed with detergent and watered down into the storm drain are in violation of EPA regulations. Have there been any fines imposed by the city Department of Environmental Services? Does it apply to federal government parking stalls?
Answer: Of the 300 to 400 complaints the Department of Environmental Services' Storm Water Quality Branch receives each year, most are related to illicit discharges into the "Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System," according to spokesman Markus Owens.
They include soil discharges, concrete wash water discharges, green waste, or other pollutants from private residences, businesses and construction sites.
In the past eight years, only 20 of the nearly 3,900 complaints were related to parking lots or garages, Owens said. Of those 20 cases, 10 -- all related to wash-water runoff -- resulted in a letter of warning. No fines were issued.
Owens explained that inspectors are sent out either because of concerns over a possible illegal discharge or through annual inspections. All calls to the city's Environmental Concern Line -- 768-3300 -- are followed up, he said.
The city must comply with the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program, set up to control point-source water pollution.
Dean Higuchi, spokesman for the EPA's Region 9, which includes Hawaii, explained that stormwater discharge regulations are enforced by federal and state authorities. Municipalities, such as the City and County of Honolulu, have to obtain permits for their stormwater systems.
Similarly, the state Department of Transportation would have to obtain a stormwater permit for its roadways, he said.
"Whoever owns the permit is in charge of setting any kind of fines or penalties (for violations) at that level," Higuchi said.
The intent of the EPA regulations is to try to prevent anything but rainwater from washing down storm drains, as much as possible.
When it rains, such as on busy streets like Kapiolani Boulevard, you're going to have "incidental" nonpoint-source pollution, where "it's not really coming from any one place," Higuchi said.
When discharges are coming from a condominium parking garage or similar facility, that's a "point source."
Unless that condominium gets a permit OR works with the city to clean discharges before they go into the storm drain, "it becomes an issue," Higuchi said.
In the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the issue was whether it was legal for homeowners to wash their cars, then allow soapy runoff to wash down the street and into the storm drains, he noted. The city made the determination that it would allow individuals to do that while requiring housing complexes like condominiums and townhouses to control their discharges, Higuchi said.
From the beginning of 2003 to the end of 2005, the Storm Water Quality Branch inspected 79 Waikiki hotels and condominiums, looking into landscaping and grounds maintenance; painting contractors and/or paint wash water; vehicle and equipment maintenance; exterior building and/or pool maintenance; parking lot maintenance; and stormwater discharge plans.
The intent of the inspections was to inform property managers of "best management practices," Owens said, such as having spill kits, storing chemicals in enclosed areas and properly cleaning oil stains with absorbent pads or rags.
Several workshops are scheduled for hotels and condominiums, including two this month, to go over key elements of the Storm Water Management Plan, he said.
Among "best management practices" suggested: having designated car wash areas; collecting and disposing of parking lot wash water into the sanitary sewer system; keeping parking lot wash water away from the street and storm drain system; sweeping and collecting green waste before washing sidewalks with water only (no chemicals); keeping paint wash water out of gutters and storm drain catch basins; minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides; discharging exterior building wash water into storm drains if only clean water is used; discharging building wash water into sanitary sewers if chemicals are used; and keeping wash water from painting, carpet and upholstery cleaning away from the storm drain system.
Regarding federal parking stalls, Higuchi said the city's regulations would apply if any runoff entered the city storm drains.
Higuchi credited both the city and state Department of Health with working "very hard and do(ing) a great job" in informing the public about "what not to put down the storm drain."
The bottom line, he said: "You shouldn't be putting anything but water down the storm drain."
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to email@example.com
. See also: Useful phone numbers