The way homes, shopping centers and other developments are built around Puget Sound could dramatically change to help reduce damage from polluted stormwater, under a new ruling that rejects existing state stormwater rules.

The way homes, shopping centers and other developments are built around Puget Sound could dramatically change to help reduce damage from polluted stormwater, under a new ruling that rejects existing state stormwater rules.

The state Pollution Control Hearings Board, which acts as a court to review challenges to state environmental regulations, said today the state Department of Ecology had not gone far enough in mandating new techniques to control stormwater.

The closely-watched decision could have wide-ranging impacts for development and for control of a kind of pollution considered one of the biggest threats to Puget Sound’s health.

“I think we’re talking about a sea change in the use of these techniques for development,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that represented environmental groups in the case.

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The hearings board ordered Ecology to require the biggest cities and counties in Western Washington, including Seattle, Tacoma, and King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, to mandate much wider use of methods that get rainwater to soak into the ground.

Today, most development uses systems of pipes and ponds that eventually drain into rivers and streams, washing pollution such as oil and toxic metals along with them.

Environmentalists argued the new methods, which include narrower streets, gardens designed to soak up rain, and homes built on columns that leave topsoil undisturbed, are well-tested and usually reduce environmental damage.

While developers have shown some interest, the industry has resisted making it a broad requirement. They have argued some of the techniques are experimental, might be costly, and don’t work well in the kind of soil that surrounds much of Puget Sound.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com