Lexington has received a storm water permit from the state that ties into the city's consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, officials announced Friday.
"The state permit will support our efforts to establish local ordinances to clean our streams and to keep them clean," Mayor Jim Newberry said in a statement.
The new permit was necessary because of a September 2008 federal appeals court ruling in what is called an "antidegradation" case brought by the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and others.
The suit, against the EPA, forced the state to rewrite regulations to require that new or expanded discharges from municipal sewer systems don't degrade streams and rivers. Before the suit, those discharges were not regulated.
The then-pending state permit also played a role in the Urban County Council's spring deliberations over the city's first storm water fee.
Opponents pointed out that the EPA agreement didn't require a fee to be in place until two years after a judge approved the agreement, and that hasn't happened yet.
But the Newberry administration argued that the fee was necessary now because it was needed to pay for improvements that would be required by the state permit.
The new state permit requires the city to create a program to reduce pollutants going into waterways. The program will include things such as public education, finding and eliminating what are called "illicit discharges" of wastes that should not be put into the storm sewer system, and reducing runoff from construction sites.
Because of the EPA agreement, Lexington already has taken several steps to meet the permit requirements, said Charles Martin, director of the city's Division of Water Quality.
Last summer, inspections of construction sites were stepped up, and 90 percent of active sites are checked monthly, he said.
Since January 2008, Martin said, the city has investigated more than 300 illicit discharges, ranging from restaurant grease to soap from car washes.
The consent decree came about because the EPA sued the city in 2006, alleging that Lexington's aging and ill-designed sewer systems were polluting streams and violating the Clean Water Act.
In the 2008 settlement of that suit, the city agreed to spend $250 million to $300 million over a dozen years to improve the sewer systems and pay a $425,000 fine.
The agreement is not yet final because a federal judge ruled that the fine could be better spent fixing sewer problems. The EPA has appealed that ruling.
In addition to the impending storm water fee, the agreement already has caused a doubling of sanitary sewer fees.