Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality has settled a lawsuit that environmental groups filed over the state’s regulation of stormwater pollution.

When it rains, water runs over industrial sites and collects toxics like copper, lead and zinc, which then wash into rivers and streams. This kind of pollution has become a major source of contaminants across the country.

The settlement adds special protections for rivers and streams that are already too polluted for salmon, drinking water or swimming. Previously, the state treated permits for those waters no differently than permits to discharge into cleaner rivers.

“A real focus of our settlement this time around is trying to clean up the water that already has too much pollution in it,” said attorney Jamie Saul with Earthrise Law Center.

Earthrise and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which are both based at Lewis and Clark College, filed the lawsuit along with Columbia Riverkeeper.

According to the settlement, the Department of Environmental Quality will now require more than 800 industrial sites such as lumber yards, scrap metal yards and truck depots to report their stormwater pollution four times per year instead of once. The department will also establish a committee to investigate the technical feasibility of putting new limits on certain contaminants in stormwater.

“The goal here at the end of the day is to have less toxic stormwater entering the rivers that we fish in, swim in and drink water from,” said Lauren Goldberg, attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “What matters now is making sure that DEQ implements these important changes and takes steps to enforce the permit when companies violate the law.”

Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Jennifer Flynt said in an emailed statement that the agency would continue to work with environmental groups on modifying stormwater permits in both the short term and long term.

“DEQ is committed to ensuring settlement agreements are met to achieve Oregon’s water quality standards,” she said.

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