Press Release

May 5, 2011
Heavy rains wash millions of gallons of polluted stormwater from our nation's highways into our streams, rivers and other water bodies

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), chairman of Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced legislation aimed at treating and containing highway stormwater runoff at or near highways to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching nearby rivers, streams or other waters.  The Safe Treatment of Polluted Stormwater Runoff (STOPS Runoff) Act will require the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop performance-based standards that protect and restore watershed areas where federally funded highways are located.

“Stormwater is the largest source of water pollution in our nation, and when it rains a myriad of dangerous contaminants are washed from road surfaces directly into our streams, rivers and other water bodies,” said Senator Cardin, who introduced similar legislation in the 111th Congress. “We must design and construct roads in ways that address contaminated highway runoff at its source, reducing the chance of flash floods and stopping pollution before it reaches the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Highways built with federal funds already are required to meet design standards for safety and structural quality. It’s time we implemented an environmental design standards for highways that protect water quality as well.”  

Heavy rains wash a wide variety of pollutants — such as tailpipe emissions, brake dust, oil, sediments, road salt and de-icing agents, trash and heavy metals — directly into rivers, streams and other waters.  Highway stormwater runoff pollutes drinking water supplies, threatens the safety of recreational waters and compounds the financial burden on downstream communities to clean up the water.  Highways and roads are a major source of polluted stormwater because impervious road surfaces serve as conduits for polluted stormwater, sending storm runoff into sewers that often discharge into nearby waters. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), polluted stormwater is the largest source of water pollution.  Additionally, municipal governments are facing increasingly stringent polluted stormwater cleanup requirements.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates the continental United States is covered by more than 43,480 square miles of impervious surfaces. That is a space roughly the size of Ohio. With 985,139 miles of highway stretching from every corner of the United States, polluted highway runoff is a major problem facing our nation’s waters.

The Safe Treatment of Polluted Stormwater Runoff (STOPS Runoff) Act

  • STOPS Runoff is based on a program that was created under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandates a design standard for maintaining or restoring the existing hydrology of construction sites for all new federal buildings and major renovations to existing federal facilities.
  • STOPS Runoff applies to new highways built with federal funds as well as major highway rehabilitation projects that increase the amount of post-construction impervious surface by either 10 percent of the project site or by one or more acres.
  • The Department of Transportation must establish design standards to maintain or restore the predevelopment hydrology of the landscape for federally funded highway and road projects.
  • The legislation requires that the maintenance of predevelopment hydrology, preservation of natural landscape and stormwater mitigation approaches be a part of the site selection, design and engineering process.
  • The bill would minimize, and avoid when possible, the alteration of natural land features and encourage the use of natural features and existing terrain to control and treat stormwater runoff onsite.
  • The legislation allows for flexibility and the incorporation of offsite stormwater treatment to be used when necessary to fully meet the design standard requirements.