Virginia Stormwater BMP Clearinghouse
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Stormwater Management

The SWM seeks to protect properties and aquatic resources from damages caused by increased volume, frequency, duration and peak flow rate of stormwater runoff. The program also seeks to protect those resources from increased nonpoint source pollution carried by stormwater runoff.

Stormwater Runoff Quality – The pervious and impervious surfaces in the urbanizing landscape collect pollutants such as automobile oil, grease, brake pad dust, sediment from construction sites, bacteria from animal waste, excess lawn care fertilizers and pesticides, as well as atmospheric deposition of phosphorus, nitrogen and other airborne pollutants. Rainfall washes these surfaces so that the initial flush of runoff can carry high concentrations of these pollutants to nearby drinking waterways, water supplies, beaches and properties. In parts of Virginia that have porous limestone geology, called Karst, pollution can filter down through the soil and rock into aquifers that provide much of our groundwater supply.  Pollution washed from the land surface by rainfall is called nonpoint source pollution.

Stormwater Runoff Quantity – Pervious surfaces, such as meadows and woodlands, absorb and infiltrate rainfall, thus generating little runoff. The urban landscape typically covers such areas with impervious surfaces, such as pavement and rooftops. These impervious surfaces generate runoff every time it rains. (A typical city block generates nine times more runoff than a woodland area of the same size!) The quantity of runoff from these areas quickly overwhelms natural channels and streams, often causing channel erosion, localized flooding and property damage.

To address concerns associated with the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff from the developed landscape, the Virginia General Assembly in 1990 established Virginia's Stormwater Management (SWM) Program. In 2004, elements of the program administered by different agencies were consolidated under the management of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DCR).

Program Overview

SWM programs are implemented according to the Virginia Stormwater Management Law and Virginia Stormwater Management Regulations (VSWML&R). The law is codified at Title 10.1, Chapter 6, Article 1.1 of the Code of Virginia and the Regulations are found at Section 4 VAC 50-60 of the Virginia Administrative Code. [Click here for associated download(s)]. These statutes specifically set forth regulations regarding land development activities to prevent water pollution, stream channel erosion, depletion of groundwater resources, and more frequent localized flooding to protect property values and natural resources. State and local SWM programs operated according to the law are intended to address these adverse impacts and comprehensively manage the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff on a watershed-wide basis. 

Regulated Activities

Residential, commercial, industrial or institutional land development and conversion activities that involve land-clearing or soil movement are regulated.  The VSWML&R sets forth disturbed area thresholds that trigger the application of the regulations and also lists specific exempted activities.

SWM Programs

DCR oversees regulated activities undertaken on state and federal property, while localities (counties, cities, towns) are required to establish a local SWM program to regulate these same activities on private property within their jurisdictions.  DCR is delegated to implement federal stormwater management permit programs established pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.), that address general construction activities and discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s).  The permits associated with these programs are incorporated in the Virginia Stormwater Management Regulations.  Stormwater discharges from industrial activities are regulated independently in Virginia by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

State stormwater regulations promote consistency among local SWM programs by developing technical criteria and administrative procedures with which property owners and agents must comply. Specifically, land development and land use conversion activities must prepare and seek approval of a SWM plan, also referred to as a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) by the USEPA.  Such plans describe all SWM controls and policies to be used to control the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff from the regulated activity.

The regulations also provide a framework for regional (watershed-wide) SWM plans. Regional plans allow for the strategic placement of stormwater controls to achieve stormwater quality and quantity benefits for large areas. The regulations were written so that all parties will work together to implement a consistent program to restore and protect watersheds across political boundaries.

DCR SWM Program Support

DCR's SWM Program develops technical criteria and policies to support statewide implementation of the program. DCR engineers serve as the approval authority for SWM plans for projects on state and federal lands and inspect these projects to ensure compliance. Staff engineers also help localities, whether or not they have adopted a SWM program in accordance with VSWML&R, by reviewing ordinances and programmatic guidance and providing technical assistance to ensure compliance and to promote innovative, cost-effective solutions for protecting natural resources.  Most of this assistance is provided from DCR’s eight regional offices

DCR has also developed a Stormwater Management Handbook, which contains all the guidance necessary to comply with program requirements.  This Handbook is currently under revision to conform it to the revised regulations.  Links to the current Handbook can be found in the References and Tools link.

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Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and Regulations

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act Program, applicable to 84 counties, cities and towns in coastal Virginia draining to the Chesapeake Bay, requires the implementation of land use management measures to reduce and prevent increases of nonpoint source pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  This program is administered by DCR’s Division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance.  The regulatory criteria include stormwater quality control requirements that are currently applicable in the regulated communities. 

Floodplain Management Program

Construction of stormwater management impoundment structures or facilities within a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated 100-year floodplain should be avoided.  When this is demonstrated to be unavoidable, then the stormwater management facility construction must comply with all applicable requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program (44 CFR Part 59) and the local floodplain ordinance.

Dam Safety Act

Stormwater management impoundment structures that meet specified criteria must comply with the Virginia Dam Safety Act (§ 10.1-604 et seq.) and the Impounding Structure Regulations (4 VAC 50-20 et seq. – link should access the State’s legislative information system and the Virginia Administrative Code).  If the structures are not required to comply with the Dam Safety Act and regulations, it must still be engineered for structural integrity and the spillways designed to pass, at a minimum, the 100-year storm event.

Virginia Water Protection and Wetlands Permit Programs

Construction of stormwater management impoundment structures or facilities within tidal or nontidal wetlands and perennial streams is prohibited unless allowed by the local stormwater management program and all required permits are obtained.

  • Tidal Wetlands – VMRC 28.2-1205) - The enactment of the Tidal Wetlands Act of 1972 gave the Virginia Marine Resources Commission the responsibility for issuing tidal wetlands permits under Chapters 12 and 13 of Title 28.2 of the Code of Virginia.  While Chapter 12 activities permitted by VMRC may require a separate Virginia Water Protection permit from the DEQ, Chapter 13 activities only require a separate Virginia Water Protection permit if § 401 Certification is required.  Thus, DEQ provides the § 401 Certification through issuing a Virginia Water Protection permit. In some instances when a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide or regional permit is also issued on the same Chapter 12 or 13 activities permitted by Virginia Marine Resources Commission, DEQ may provide the § 401 Certification through a letter agreement, thereby concurring that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit conditions meet State regulatory goals, or waive the requirement for a Virginia Water Protection permit altogether.
  • Nontidal Wetlands – DEQ - ( )
    Since 1992, the Virginia Water Protection (VWP) Permit Program (§ 62.1-44.15:20 et seq.) has served as the Commonwealth's Section 401 Certification process for both tidal and nontidal impacts permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  In 2000, the General Assembly removed the dependence of the State nontidal wetlands program on the issuance of a Federal permit, thus enabling DEQ to use the Virginia Water Protection Permit Program to regulate activities in wetlands.  State law requires that a VWP permit be obtained before disturbing a wetland or stream by clearing, filling, excavating, draining, or ditching.  DEQ can provide Section 401 Certification through issuing a Virginia Water Protection individual or general permit or by certifying U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide or regional permits.  Application is made through the Joint Permit Application process for concurrent federal and state project review.  Some U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit Certifications contain conditions which must be met in order for the Certification to apply.  Some U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits are not §401-Certified at all, and thus, impacts under these U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits will also require a Virginia Water Protection permit to ensure State natural resources are protected.

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program – DEQ

The DEQ extensively tests Virginia's rivers, lakes, and tidal waters for pollutants.  Over 130 different pollutants are monitored annually to determine whether the waters can be used for swimming, fishing and drinking.  Most rivers, lakes and estuaries in Virginia do meet standards as described in Virginia’s biennial 305(b) Water Quality Assessment Reports.  Waters that do not meet standards are reported to the citizens of Virginia and the USEPA in the 303(d) Impaired Waters Report.  The DEQ has developed lists of impaired waters in every even year since 1992. The most recent list describes segments of streams, lakes, and estuaries that exhibit violations of water quality standards.  The report details the pollutant responsible for the violations, and the cause and source of the pollutant.

Since 1998, the DEQ, with public input, has developed plans that establish waste load allocations for impaired waters, based on the pollutant(s) that is the source of the impairment.  These waste load allocations are called "Total Maximum Daily Loads," or TMDLs. TMDL is a term that represents the total pollutant a waterbody can assimilate and still meet standards.  Subsequently, communities with impaired waters and TMDLs cooperate with the DEQ and DCR to establish TMDL Implementation Plans aimed at restoring the streams and maintaining them so they meet state water quality standards.

DCR’s stormwater management regulations (4 VAC 50-63.A.3) state that if land is being developed where there is an impaired water with an approved TMDL that would apply to stormwater discharges, the developer must install the kinds of control measures necessary to meet the assigned waste load allocation, even if that exceeds the criteria otherwise required for compliance with the stormwater management regulations.

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