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Construction Stormwater Permits and Compliance: Why You Need a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan

What Are Construction Stormwater Permits?

Construction stormwater permits are a set of regulations that aim to eliminate pollutants in stormwater runoff at construction sites. Federal stormwater regulations have been around since the 1970s and have continued to become more and more stringent with each reissuance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Construction Stormwater General Permit. These days, most states have their own set of regulations described in their construction stormwater permits which owners and operators must abide by. Additionally, most large municipalities have ordinances, and many watershed districts also have their own set of regulations. State and local requirements often go above and beyond what the EPA construction stormwater permit requires, thus muddying the water even further on what requirements your site is actually subject to.

Construction Stormwater Permit Compliance Workflow

Although there are specific regulatory nuances (depending on what state or locality you’re working in), most follow the same high-level compliance workflow:

  1. Create a comprehensive Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP)
  2. Apply for and obtain initial permit coverage; typically called a Notice of Intent (NOI)
  3. Install initial Best Management Practices (BMPs) prior to construction
  4. Complete written routine and precipitation-triggered (when applicable) stormwater inspections and identify deficiencies
  5. Continue to install, maintain and repair BMPs
  6. Amend the SWPPP when BMPs are found to be inadequate or when deviating from the original SWPPP plans
  7. Achieve final stabilization on the permitted area
  8. Apply for and confirm permit termination; typically called the Notice of Termination (NOT)

“How is land disturbance defined? The exact definition varies depending on what state you’re in. However, all definitions share the same basic principle that it is a human change to the land, which makes the disturbed soils more vulnerable to erosion from water and wind.”

Who Is Subject To Stormwater Regulations?

Companies and individuals involved in construction activities that disturb one or more acres of land must comply with federal, state and local stormwater regulations. Municipalities in densely-populated metropolitan areas may have a threshold much lower than an acre of disturbance – as low as 500 square feet – that triggers their stormwater regulations. How is land disturbance defined? The exact definition varies depending on what state you’re in. However, all definitions share the same basic principle that it is a human change to the land, which makes the disturbed soils more vulnerable to erosion from water and wind.

What Causes Stormwater Pollution and How Do You Comply With the Regulations?

Stormwater is water from rain or snow storms that flows over land, construction material, streets, parking lots, etc. and carries pollutants that are picked up along the way. Quite simply, the combination of soil erosion, exposed materials and inadequate BMPs on construction sites causes stormwater pollution. An inadequate stormwater plan and/or incorrectly installed BMPs are the surest way to cause downstream stormwater pollution.

A well-developed Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan is the best place to start to avoid discharging polluted stormwater. A properly-prepared plan specifies the measures that will be put into place to prevent erosion and sediment runoff throughout all phases of construction. A good SWPPP also considers specific state and local requirements, construction activities, soil types, preservation, topography, sequence of construction, climate, etc. when selecting when and where BMPs are to be used. Again, having a well-designed SWPPP and executing the plan in the field is the best way to reduce your project’s stormwater compliance risk.

“A well-developed Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan is the best place to start to avoid discharging polluted stormwater. A properly-prepared plan specifies the measures that will be put into place to prevent erosion and sediment runoff throughout all phases of construction.”

12 Tips on how to be compliant with federal, state and local stormwater regulations:

Paperwork

  1. Verify the SWPPP is appropriate for the scope of work, location, topography, soil type, etc.
  2. Confirm your site is properly permitted with federal/state/local agencies
    • Check local ordinances, watershed districts, Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), etc. for specific permit requirements
    • Some states require the permit application and plans be sent 30 days prior to beginning construction
    • Some municipalities require the permit application and plans be sent 60 days prior to beginning construction
    • Get confirmation from the issuing authority the application has been accepted
    • Insert copies of all relevant environmental permits in the SWPPP
  3. Perform and document detailed stormwater compliance inspections over the entire construction site at the frequency required in the construction stormwater permit
    • Some states require you to use state-approved inspection forms
    • Some states require you to upload the completed inspections to a .gov website
    • Note deficiencies on the inspection and give yourself credit when they are repaired
    • Store the records where they can be easily accessed and will not be lost
  4. Amend the SWPPP when there are changes made in the field that contradict what is in the original plan
    • Update maps showing the location of installed BMPs, staging areas, active construction areas, waste bins, etc.
    • Add BMP specifications as they are implemented in the field
  5. Properly terminate coverage after the site is stabilized and construction has concluded
    • Get confirmation from the issuing authority that the termination application has been accepted
  6. Archive the SWPPP for at least three years

Field Conditions

  1. Stabilize exposed soils as soon as possible
    • Stabilized soils are a critical first line of defense in eliminating sediment-laden stormwater
    • Most states require stabilization of exposed soils within seven days if the soils will not be re-disturbed for 14 days or more
  2. Install sediment and stormwater ponds/basins/traps prior to working land up gradient of these areas
    • Construct these structures per plan to capture up gradient stormwater flows
  3. Confirm that BMPs are correctly installed and maintained
    • Most states have a set of approved BMPs with design specifications
  4. Repair BMPs in the timeframe required in the construction stormwater permit
    • Time begins when deficiency is observed and ends when the BMP is installed/repaired
    • The timeframe varies from 24 hours to seven days, depending on the BMP
  5. Phase construction projects appropriately
    • Don’t open up more land than what is needed for immediate construction, stabilize the land you open up as soon as possible after completion of construction
  6. Make on-site subcontractors aware of stormwater requirements at the site

“…Properly managing your site’s construction stormwater is a crucial part of being environmentally responsible and reducing your project’s overall financial risk.”

Why is Proper Management of Construction Stormwater Important?

Regardless of where you are in the United States, properly managing your site’s construction stormwater is a crucial part of being environmentally responsible and reducing your project’s overall financial risk. Of the many pollutants that can become entrained in construction stormwater, the most commonly found and enforced is sediment. The EPA lists sediment from stormwater runoff as the most common pollutant in our rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. Seventy percent of sediment loading is caused by human land use with the most concentrated sediment releases coming from construction activities. According to the EPA, sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damages annually. Damages occur when sediment-laden stormwater enters our water resources and disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat of our smallest stream organisms. Furthermore, sediment is shown to be harmful to fish gills and the filter-feeding apparatus of invertebrates, causing heightened stress in aquatic life, and negatively affect egg and larvae development of fish and other aquatic species. Because of these facts, massive declines in fish and other aquatic life populations occur when excessive sediment enters into our natural water bodies. Other harmful pollutants in stormwater that have an adverse effect on the environment include animal and human waste, bacteria, nutrients, and chemicals and oils, to name a few.

Every project is unique, and each comes with its own set of challenges when it comes to stormwater compliance. Partnering with a reputable consultant that is knowledgeable in SWPPP design, implementing BMPs and conducting thorough inspections can help save money, prevent project delays and avoid regulatory fines.

For more information about SWPPPs and construction stormwater permit compliance, contact Doug Bergstrom.

Douglas Bergstrom, PG, CHMM Principal Scientist / Principal

P: 612.360.0716