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"Storm Water" or "Stormwater?" The Musings of an Isolated Mind - Environmental Law News

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Environmental Law News

Posted on: Nov 18, 2020

Don Snemis, Ice Miller LLP

Like most attorneys, I am spending a lot of time isolated these days. Perhaps that is why, while writing a memo recently, I realized that I have never been very consistent in the use of “storm water” versus “stormwater.” I have used both freely, but perhaps, I mused, one is right and the other is wrong. So, I decided to determine which word/term is correct, once and for all.

I started, as every lawyer should, with the statutes. That was no help. “Stormwater” is used in a number of federal statutes1 but so is “storm water.”2 The Indiana Code was no help either. IC 13-11-2-224 defines “stormwater permit” “for purposes of IC 13-18-20,” but IC 13-18-20-10 refers entirely to “storm water permits.” Thanks, Indiana. Our neighbors seemed no more enlightened. Kentucky and Michigan seem to lean toward “stormwater.”3 However, Ohio and Michigan like “storm water.”4 I usually trust Kentucky in all things liquid, but not with this issue.

Everyone knows that you need a SWPPP, or a “Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan,” for stormwater/storm water management. Does that not imply that a space should be between “storm” and “water?” Otherwise, wouldn’t it be a “SPPP?” That thought exercise left me no closer to answer.

With a little more digging, I discovered that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a “Communications Stylebook.”5 Finally, my tax dollars at work. According to the EPA: “Stormwater – One word, not hyphenated.”6 

The EPA is authoritative7, and I was getting close to a final answer. “Stormwater” had taken a substantial lead, but I needed one more bit of evidence. Randy Braun is the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s (IDEM) Section Chief for the Wetlands and Stormwater8 Programs. I emailed Randy, and according to him, IDEM is switching over to one word – “stormwater.” Although most of the state rules refer to “storm water,”9 they are in transition.10

I had my answer. According to the EPA’s “stylebook”11 and Randy Braun (the latter being the more reliable source, in my opinion), it is “stormwater” and not “storm water.”

Now, is it “cleanup” or “clean up?” Is it “wastewater” or “waste water?” I wonder…

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1 See: 33 USC §§ 1274, 1301, 1362(14), and 1383, for example.
2 See: 22 USC § 277a; 33 USC §§ 1255, 1281, 1298(a); 42 USC §§ 6991, 17094.
3 See here.
4 See here.
5 See here.
6 Hyphenated? I had never even considered using “storm-water.” What kind of monster writes that?
7 Apparently, the Trump Administration did not rewrite the rules on this issue, but there’s still time so stay tuned.
8 His title gave away the answer before I even read it. Foreshadowing!
9 See: 327 IAC 15-1-2(5) for instance.
10 I am sure IDEM will complete this project just as soon as it transitions from permits by rule to administrative permits, updates the 1999 penalty policy, and puts stormwater/storm water documents on the VFC.
11 Before you point out the irony, Merriam-Webster recognizes the word “stylebook” as an actual word. See here.


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