Credit: Photos: Kleinfelder Inc.

Left: As raw material, such as this gravel pile, are moved around a site, the SWPPP must be updated to reflect changing conditions. Above: BMPs should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure they are working properly or fixed if they have failed. If they are consistently failing, then a different BMP should be implemented and the SWPPP modified to reflect the change.
A clean site can reduce your chances of an inspection by a regulatory agency. If your site is clean and tidy, then it is likely you are trying to comply with your SWPPP.

Some of the common changes on a construction site that often are not updated in the SWPPP include:

  • Location of the equipment or material storage areas. This includes keeping an up-dated list of hazardous materials stored onsite and their locations.
  • Key site personnel. During long projects it is very common that contractors or key personnel leave the job. As new personnel or contractors are added to the site, the SWPPP should be updated to reflect the changes.
  • New or different BMPs. SWPPPs are created before construction begins, often for an undeveloped piece of land. The person responsible for preparing the SWPPP makes assumptions on the types and locations of the BMPs based upon pre-construction drawings. During construction, however, the site conditions may change, rendering a particular BMP useless or in the wrong location. As a result, the BMP is moved to the correct location. The SWPPP also needs to be modified to explain why the BMP was moved or installed differently. Another scenario is that site conditions are not significantly different from the pre-construction drawings, but the BMPs are not effective. Making changes to or adding additional BMPs is an excellent practice, but the SWPPP must then be modified to explain why a particular BMP was modified.
  • Construction schedule. Changes in the schedule should also be noted in the SWPPP. This is especially true when the changes have to do with site grading or stabilization. For example, one of the BMPs that may have been identified in the SWPPP is to grade only during the dry season. The schedule slips a bit, and suddenly dryseason grading is being conducted during a wet time. If so, additional BMPs may be needed to protect from erosion problems on the site or to further reduce tracking of soils offsite.
  • California's unusually early and wet winter of 2004–2005 provided plenty of examples. One company in the San Francisco Bay Area, embarking on a major project to redevelop a quarry, had filed a thorough SWPPP. But the SWPPP anticipated that the project would be much further along in its grading when the rains came.

    “When the rainy season hit they had a lot more exposed dirt and were still grading in areas that should have been stabilized,” said Lichten. “They lost a lot of dirt down into the creek below. We worked with the company, and they responded, but it was more expensive than if they had addressed the changing situation and updated their SWPPP. They should have thought more in advance about what might happen if the grading went slower than anticipated. They should have stockpiled needed materials onsite. They should have opened up a smaller area, which would have enabled them to stabilize the site more easily.”

    The company was not fined, mostly because of its quick and extensive response when the citation was issued, he said.

    Making Changes

    Unexpected wet weather can affect a project in a number of ways and it is the responsibility of managers to consider them all, said Bonnie Slavin, a construction manager with Kleinfelder Inc. in Sacramento, Calif. “As project managers, it's important we look at the big picture and how weather affects all aspects of the project. That must always include the SWPPP.”

    With each change to a construction site, the SWPPP also must be changed. But this does not mean that the SWPPP must be sent back to the contractor who created it. The person responsible for implementation of the SWPPP should make the change (using a pen is sufficient) and document that the SWPPP has been changed using the “Amendment Form” included with the SWPPP.

    On a yearly basis, the construction contractor should have changes that were made in pen converted to electronic format. This is especially true for projects that will not be completed for several years. In making changes, a consultant can help provide a more in-depth understanding of regulatory requirements and can ensure that the SWPPP meets any regulatory changes.

    Updating an SWPPP gives regulators a better understanding of how a construction manager is trying to meet stormwater requirements. Regulators are more apt to work with a manager they believe is making the effort to stay in compliance.

    “In general, fines are a last resort,” said Lichten. “Our hope is to work with companies. If someone is being proactive and trying to update their SWPPP, and trying to do the right thing, we may understand that they have been affected by this one big storm that they were unable to handle.

    “On the other hand, we would feel differently if we go out to a site, look over the SWPPP and find that they have not updated it, do not have proper controls in place, and the project manager and superintendent don't know what we are even talking about. These are flags to us. The more flags we see, the greater attention we are going to pay to that site and the greater chance we may enforce, including considering fines,” he said.

    What most construction site managers don't realize is that there is more at stake than their own project. “Construction sites can have real impacts on habitats and species that are threatened,” said Lichten. “We also have learned that the way we manage construction sites can have a real impact on taxpayers. Addressing problems created by sediment and erosion can be very expensive for taxpayers. Preventing these problems from ever occurring can result in substantial savings of public funds.”

    The main message here is to update regularly. An SWPPP should be considered a living document that evolves as a construction project evolves. Consider this: How often do “pre-construction drawings” end up as “as-built drawings”? Almost never. The same is true of SWPPPs. Even the best SWPPPs are only accurate until construction begins.

    Goodemote is senior environmental scientist with Kleinfelder Inc. in Oakland, Calif.