Changes in Chattanooga's stormwater rules spur debate over development, environment

Changes in Chattanooga's stormwater rules spur debate over development, environment

September 14th, 2017 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Stormwater bubbles out of a sewer grate off East 28th Street.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

An environmental group that helped draft Chattanooga's stormwater regulations for the South Chickamauga Creek in 2014 claims a city proposal to ease those regulations could aggravate water pollution and flooding problems.

But home builders who are pushing the city to relax some of its rainwater runoff requirements insist there is no need for Chattanooga to adopt stricter standards than the rest of the state.

The Chattanooga Stormwater Regulations Board, an advisory panel studying recommended changes in stormwater rules from the staff of Chattanooga's Department of Public Works, has scheduled meetings Monday and Friday afternoons next week to consider changes in the 3-year-old stormwater rules.

The proposed changes would relax the requirement for any new development in the South Chickamauga Creek watershed to retain the first 1.6 inches of rain on site. After months of study, the city staff is recommending that homes and businesses built in the South Chickamauga Creek watershed be required to retain only the first 1 inch of rain — the standard set statewide by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Sandra Kurtz, chairman of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance formed in 1994 to help protect the creek and its wildlife, said the higher runoff standard needs to be preserved because the creek "is particularly susceptible to flooding, runoff sediment and pollutants due to the filling in of floodplains and wetlands."

TDEC lists the South Chickamauga Creek on its list of threatened and impaired streams.

"Now home builders want concessions to continue these same practices in essence passing the buck to citizens, even though they are the ones who have contributed to the conditions that necessitate the higher requirement and even though climate change impacts and more growth will exacerbate creek protection issues," Kurtz said. "Let Houston and Hurricane Harvey be a lesson that will keep us moving forward for our future welfare."

But Terry Greene said the current city standards exceed state and federal requirements and limit the availability of needed, affordable sites for new homes for Chattanooga's growing population.

During the Chattanooga mayoral campaign earlier this year, mayoral candidates Larry Grohn and Chris Long called the city's stormwater rules excessive and said they had blocked the start of more than 100 new homes and raised the cost of those that were being built.

Greene said the one-inch retention requirement meets all state and federal water quality standards and captures 80 percent of all rainfall events.

"While HBAGC (Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga) still believes there is work to be done to ensure a balance between protecting our environment and making it possible to provide quality, affordable housing for anyone who chooses to purchase a new home and live in Chattanooga, it applauds the city of Chattanooga's proposals that would improve the stormwater regulations currently in place," Greene said.

David Hudson, a member of the city's stormwater review panel who has chaired the 9-member panel during its recent reorganization, said he anticipates the board will vote on the changes next Friday during a 2:30 p.m. meeting in the Design Resource Center, room 1-A, at 1250 Market Street.

"These changes are lessening some of the design requirements for new projects so I don't anticipate we'll have much opposition from the business and development community to these changes," Hudson said.

Any changes in the stormwater regulations must be approved by the Chattanooga City Council.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.