I seemed to be the only person at last year’s StormCon for whom one pending change — regulating discharges from government-owned maintenance yards under the industrial stormwater program — to U.S. EPA’s upcoming national stormwater rule-making raised a red flag. Most attendees of the August 2012 conference were focused on two other elements: requiring “certain” regulated municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) to develop a program to address discharges from existing sites (retrofits) and “extending” protection of the MS4 program.
Turns out I wasn’t.
Facility managers in at least a few states are equally concerned. Representatives from California, Colorado, Minnesota, and Washington state gave the agency an earful during four conference calls in summer 2011 and early 2012.
Not to be confused with EPA’s recommendation to establish TS4s (transportation separate storm sewer systems) for interstate roads and highways, the municipal maintenance-yard proposal applies to wherever maintenance vehicles and materials are stored and maintained, regardless of facility size. An EPA Water Office representative told StormCon attendees the proposal closes a loophole by adding governments, which have been exempt.
If this happens, city, county, state, special district, and township garages, fueling stations, and materials storage yards will have to submit a pollution prevention plan that lists potential sources and explains how the permittee plans to minimize the impact of those pollutants on discharge waters using site-specific best management practices (BMPs). They may also have to monitor how effective these BMPs are and report the results more often than MS4 permit holders.
The rule applies to both on- and offsite sources: everything from oil leaking from a wrecked vehicle to where and how salt and sand are stored to pothole patching and street sweeping.
An industrial facility that builds a berm around its property line to keep runoff onsite can apply for a permit waiver under the no-exposure exclusion. However, “no exposure” means exactly that: A facility must prevent the exposure of everything to any form of precipitation: rain, snow, snowmelt, and/or runoff.
Better safe than sorry
“The big question is whether the rule would allow that exclusion for all maintenance yards, regardless of size,” says John Chavez (email@example.com), stormwater quality coordinator for Colorado’s 2,100-square-mile El Paso County, who participated in the EPA conference calls. “Not all yards are created equal. A little rural yard located miles from a water body doesn’t represent the same risk as a larger yard conducting vehicle maintenance and stockpiling tons of material.”
In some ways, Chavez may be luckier than colleagues in other states. He’s been preparing for this since 2009.
That’s when the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment designated 13 of the county’s public works, fleet, and parks maintenance facilities as “hot spots,” meaning they have the potential to generate much higher than usual pollutant concentrations. A Phase II MS4 since 2005, the county’s required under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Minimum Control Measure 6 (Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations) to identify pollutants and develop and implement a runoff control plan for each hot spot. Only employee parking is exempt.
Since then, he’s been “systematically making sure that our bigger facilities in urban areas are meeting current industrial stormwater permitting requirements. They’re all in different stages of compliance with the future regulations.” For example:
Vehicle washing. Industrial permittees’ equipment cleaning operations — vehicle exterior washdown, interior trailer washouts, tank washouts, and rinsing of transfer equipment — are regulated. Chavez is installing commercial closed-loop wash systems, which recycle water before discharging it directly into the sanitary sewer system (see photo). “We’re getting ready to sink $45,000 into one of these things,” he says.
Covering stockpiled material to prevent exposure to precipitation. The county uses a 20% salt/80% sand mix to deice pavement; both must be covered by a building or tarp. He’s bought four premanufactured buildings made of Kevlar-like fabric (roughly $30,000/unit). He chose the material to withstand Colorado’s high UV levels (5.3 compared to the 4.3 national average).
Building compacted earthen and vegetated berms around two rural locations. This is an attempt to qualify for a no-exposure exclusion.
Secondary containment for bulk storage of hazardous materials (i.e., magnesium and calcium chloride, asphalt patching material, paints, fuels, and lubricants). Because this is addressed by another federal regulation — the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) — many yards may already comply.
Altogether, he estimates the county will spend $70,000 to incorporate industrial-qualifying upgrades before its current MS4 permit expires on March 9, 2014. The original deadline was this month, but the state extended all Phase II permits a year to provide time to make such improvements. Chavez wouldn’t be surprised if the deadline is extended yet another year.
In the meantime, he’s concerned that the proposal could require two stormwater permits, one Phase I or II MS4 and the industrial permit, for which an MS4 would have to provide oversight. This raises a whole host of issues.
“How will an industrial permit integrate with my current permit?” Chavez asks rhetorically. “Will the Control Measure 6 requirements be on top of the industrial permit? Or will the industrial permit supersede Measure 6 requirements?
“Will the regulated MS4 be required to regulate itself as a new industrial source? Currently, Phase II MS4 permit holders don’t regulate industrial sources within their jurisdictions.
“How do we provide regulatory oversight over ourselves? I’m the MS4 permit authority for the county. If EPA regulates all or a subset of our yards under an industrial permit, does that mean I’ll have possibly 14 different permits to keep track of? How do I address noncompliance on one or not on the other?”
Last, but not least: Will EPA put maintenance yards under a multisector permit, individual industrial permit, or general permit (all three of which are subsets of industrial permits)? It’s easier to write a general permit for a new sector than to roll a new sector into a multisector permit. “Given that Colorado just revised multisector permits, my guess is the state will develop a general permit for municipal maintenance yards.”
EPA plans to propose a rule to strengthen the national stormwater program by June 10, at which time a public comment period begins. Final action is expected by Dec. 10, 2014. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/rulemaking.