Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4)

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), established the Clean Water Act (CWA) to protect and restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s water resources. Regulating point and nonpoint source pollution, the CWA is the foundation by which Federal and state agencies manage water resources. In 1990, the EPA issued the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) for stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) and industrial activities regulations. The EPA partnered with states to enforce this regulation. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) thus administers this Federal regulation. The NPDES MS4 permit was issued in two phases. The Phase I regulations focused on regulating stormwater discharges for MS4s in urban areas with populations of 100,000 or greater (larger MS4 jurisdictions) and for 11 categories of industrial activity. In December 1999, the EPA issued the Phase II MS4 regulations to address pollution discharges from smaller MS4s in urbanized areas. Maryland expanded its MS4 permit program by issuing two general permits, one for municipalities (2003) and one for state and federal agencies (2004) operating small MS4s. These permits were reissued in 2018. During the 2010 Census, certain areas of Queen Anne’s County were categorized as urban areas and Queen Anne’s County was subsequent issued an MS4 Phase II permit in 2018.

The NPDES MS4 Program is intended to reduce and eliminate pollution from rainfall runoff, which flows through storm drain systems to local streams, ponds, and other waterways. Within Queen Anne’s County, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is the lead department tasked with ensuring compliance with permit conditions. The DPW coordinates with Federal and State regulators, coordinates activities and actions to remain in compliance, and reports permit compliance to MDE. 

Point Source: means any conveyance (pipe, ditch, channel, well, etc.) from which pollutants are or may be discharged (released). This term does not include stormwater discharges from agricultural sources. 

Nonpoint Source: Rainfall or snowmelt flows that pick up and carries natural and human-made pollutants, depositing them into waterbodies (lakes, wetlands, streams etc.). Nonpoint source pollution includes fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands or residential areas; grease, oil, and toxic chemicals from industrial/urban areas; sediment from improperly managed construction sites, eroding stream banks or other; bacteria and nutrients from pet waste, faulty septic systems, and livestock.

urbanized area

Map of QAC designated Urban Area

Under its Phase II MS4 designation, Queen Anne’s County is responsible for the implementation of six (6) Minimum Control Measures (MCM’s) prescribed by the General Permit (Permit) to prevent the conveyance of harmful pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries:

  1. Public Education and Outreach
  2. Public Involvement/Participation
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE)
  4. Construction Site Runoff Control 
  5. Post-Construction Runoff Control
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping

1. Public Outreach and Education

What is stormwater management and why is it important? 

Stormwater is produced from rain or snowmelt, which flows over land and into our local waterbodies. Stormwater flows in our community can quickly overwhelm our waterways causing flooding within the community, erosion to our streambanks, and deposits harmful pollutants, nutrients, and sediments into waterways. Stormwater management (SWM) acts to reduce the occurrence of flooding, erosion, and pollutants from entering our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Learn more about stormwater and stormwater management here.

2. Public Involvement/Participation Partnerships

Queen Anne’s County has partnered with organizations that work to improve water quality and manage stormwater within Queen Anne’s County borders. Partnerships focus on educating the public on the importance of stormwater management and implementing water quality improvement projects. Read on for more details on each of those partnerships. 

  1. Chesapeake Bay Trust:  Queen Anne’s County and the Chesapeake Bay Trust partner in the Outreach and Restoration Grant Program (ORGP) (link). This grant program encourages outreach, community engagement activities, and on-the-ground restoration projects that increase knowledge, change behavior, and accelerate stewardship of natural resources that involve residents in restoring local green spaces, waterways, and natural resources. 

    The Adkins Arboretum has partnered with Queen Anne’s County and local native landscaping partners under the ORGP to provide education and outreach to local homeowner’s associations (HOA) to support the local community’s efforts in transforming common spaces from turf lawn into thriving, watershed-friendly habitats through implementation of native plants and low-impact landscape techniques. 

  2. Envision Choptank: Envision the Choptank is a collaborative effort, operating since 2015, that brings together nonprofits, government agencies, scientists, and community groups to identify solutions that will restore swimmable, fishable waters to the Choptank River. link
  3. Corsica River Day: Every year QAC partners with the Corsica River Conservancy (link) for a day of environmental education and celebration of the Corsica River.  The free annual community festival brings together family fun, food vendors, live music, and environmental education on the riverfront of the Corsica River.
  4. Shore Rivers: If you have an idea for an outreach and education or environmental steward project in your community feel free to reach out to County staff or your local riverkeeper. The County regularly takes advantage of riverkeepers’ efforts to conduct education, restoration, tree plantings, river grass plantings and more. Find out who your local riverkeeper is here: link shorerivers.

3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination 

In Queen Anne’s County, storm drain systems collect stormwater runoff and carry it, untreated, to the nearest waterway or Best Management Practice (BMP). In urban areas, the storm drain system consists primarily of storm drain inlets, underground pipes, and storm drain outfalls. Storm drain inlets are normally located along streets and in parking lots. In rural areas, the storm drain system may consist of ditches that carry stormwater along a roadside or piece of property. Storm drain systems are meant to carry only unpolluted stormwater. Dumping oil, antifreeze, detergents, and/or other material into the storm drain system is the same as dumping them directly into a stream or river. 

In Queen Anne’s County, the storm drain systems are not connected to the sanitary sewer system. The sanitary sewer system carries household wastewater and some permitted industrial wastewater to wastewater treatment plants, where the wastewater gets treated before discharging into a nearby waterway. 

storm-vs-sanitary image

Source: Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities (STORM) Only Rain in the Storm drain webpage

What is a Best Management Practice (BMP)?

Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) are techniques or methods that manage the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater runoff in a cost-effective manner. BMPs often aim to replicate natural processes and, depending on their design, can offer social, environmental, and financial benefits to neighboring and downstream residences and community of the installed BMP. Check out the Queen Anne’s County stormwater management page. for more information on BMPs and the important roles they play in stormwater management. 

Queen Anne’s County is considered an MS4 owner/operator. Per the conditions of   the NPDES MS4 general permit, Queen Anne’s County is required to implement, manage, and enforce an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) Program to ensure that all discharges to and from the municipal storm drain system that are not composed entirely of stormwater are either eliminated or permitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). 

What is an illicit discharge?

An illicit discharge is the discharge/release of pollutants (oils, grease, fertilizer, sediment, nutrients) or non-stormwater materials into the storm drain system via overland flow, direct dumping, or illicit connections. Illicit connections are pipes or other direct connections that illegally or unknowingly release pollutants or non-storm water materials into a storm drain system or waterbody. 

The County’s IDDE program requires the County to:

      • Field screen 100 outfalls per year 
      • Maintain a program to address illegal dumping and spills, including investigating and 
        eliminating non-permitted discharges
      • Report all illicit discharge detection and elimination activities
      • Assess and report damaged or failing storm drain infrastructure

In 2022, Queen Anne’s County enacted ordinance No. 22-09 regulating illicit discharges in compliance
with the NPDES MS4 general permit conditions.

What kinds of non-stormwater discharges are allowed into the storm drain system? 

Discharges which may be allowed and do not significantly contribute to pollution of surface waters when properly managed are:

  • Discharges from firefighting activities.
  • Discharges from potable water sources not containing chlorine, including dechlorinated water line and fire hydrant flushing.
  • Landscape irrigation drainage.
  • Discharges from air conditioning condensate.
  • Discharges resulting from individual residential car washing.
  • Natural springs.
  • Diverted stream flows.
  • Discharges of uncontaminated water from basement or crawl space sump pumps.
  • Discharges of uncontaminated water from foundation or footing drains.
  • Flows from riparian habitats and wetlands.
  • Discharges from lawn watering.
  • Pavement wash waters where spills or leaks of toxic or hazardous materials have not occurred (unless all spill material has been removed) and where detergents are not used.
  • Discharges from uncontaminated groundwater.
  • Dechlorinated swimming pool discharges (not including filter backwash)

How do I report an illicit discharge or other stormwater pollution issue?

Illicit discharges cause water pollution by sending pollutants right into our streams, creeks, and rivers. To report an illicit discharge, spill, or other environmental violation, call the Queen Anne’s County Hotline at 410-758-0925.

4. Construction Site Stormwater Runoff and Control 

More information on construction site stormwater runoff and control, including residential stormwater practices (BMPs) and site development requirements for residences and other development can be found on the Queen Anne’s County stormwater management webpage.

5. Post Construction Stormwater Management

Queen Anne’s County has always managed stormwater associated with development to the highest State standards (link to County's Stormwater Management page). Part of the MS4 program involves maintaining a database of public BMPs within Queen Anne’s County’s MS4 jurisdiction. BMPs are categorized BMPs by era to determine what is considered treated impervious area under the MS4 permit. BMPs are also required to be inspected every three years to demonstrate they are maintained in order for the impervious area that drains to them to be considered treated. In 2020 the County began an effort to map impervious areas within the urban area of the County that are both considered treated and untreated. Untreated acreage is to mitigated at 20% of total impervious acreage in Queen Anne’s County. Per the Accounting Guidance associated with the permit, the County is able to meet this 20% acreage requirement through on-going environmental projects, including septic upgrades and the Kent Island Sanitary Sewer Project. To see the map of the urban area and find out if you have BMPs located in your community click the image or link below.

BMPs Map of Kent Island to Queenstown Opens in new window

6. Pollution Prevention (P2) and Good Housekeeping

Queen Anne’s County implements a P2 and good housekeeping program for all it’s managed facilities. This includes incorporating daily practices and training employees in spill/leak preventions and clean up and maintaining facilities and equipment in compliance with program requirements. Qualifying industrial businesses must also implement this program to be in compliance with the NPDES general permit and County regulations. 

County residents are encouraged to engage in pollution prevention and good housekeeping practices as well. These can include:

  • Limit use of pesticides and fertilizer: excess chemicals can wash away with storm flows and end up in our local waterbodies, harming wildlife and the local ecosystem. 
  • Picking up pet waste: pet waste contains bacteria and nutrients that if washed away with storm flows will 
  • Keep up with car maintenance and check for leaks
  • Reduce, Reuse, Donate:
    • Reduce how much you throw away. Like recycling, reducing your waste can help protect the environment by saving natural resources, reducing pollution, saving energy, and preserving landfill space. Waste reduction may require modifying some habits in the home and workplace, and in the way you consume. Some examples of waste reduction include: 
      • Buy only what you need
      • Avoid over-packaged products
      • Avoid one-time use goods 
      • Purchase in bulk
      • Reuse shopping bags
      • Avoid goods packaged in non-recyclable materials
      • Buy products made from recycled materials
      • Buy live Christmas trees and transplant if possible
      • Use lawn and garden tools that require human energy instead of fossil   fuels
      • Try more accessible alternatives to commercial products. Baking soda, water, and vinegar make a great all-purpose cleaner.
    • Reuse items, it’ll help you save money and conserve resources. Reusing items reduces landfill use and helps protect the environment. Some examples of reuse include:
      • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. Clippings return nutrients to the soil and avoid the work of bagging.
      • Composting grass and leaves eliminates yard waste and collection costs and will fertilize and provide nutrients back into your yard.
      • Use reclaimed materials (pallets) to construct compost bins.
      • Reuse plastic or paper grocery bags when shopping. Better yet, use cloth or mesh bags to hold your purchases.
      • Use cloth towels, napkins and rags instead of disposable paper products which cannot be recycled.
      • Make cleaning rags out of old clothing, sheets, and towels.
      • Purchase items in bulk or economy sizes to save on packaging. It also saves on the cost of goods since you pay for product, not packaging.
      • Avoid using disposable products such as cups, plates, cutlery, and napkins.
      • Reuse emptied boxes and containers. Use shredded paper or newspapers for packing material.
      • Reduce paper usage by making two-sided copies, using e-mail and voicemail instead of faxing, and routing memos through departments instead of sending separate memos to individuals.
      • Use refillable toner cartridges, ink jet cartridges, pens, mechanical pencils and tape dispensers.
      • Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible

Donate items you no longer have a use for. There are community “buy nothing” groups that pass along items from one household to another. Secondhand stores, consignment shops, antique shops, and textile recycling are other available options.