After several years of planning, the public works project is finally approved. The rush begins to get permits in place and procure the necessary support to move the project along. The team makes a final check of the drawings and is ready to break ground. Then at the project kick-off meeting, someone mentions stormwater pollution prevention. Suddenly, the room gets very quiet.
Thus begins the scramble to submit proper notification, a Notice of Intent (NOI), and prepare the legally required Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) for the jobsite. Lack of an SWPPP, failure to adhere to its various components, or failure to update it as construction site conditions change can mean the difference between a project proceeding on schedule and one requiring the extra time and attention of water-quality officials. It can mean the difference between a project on budget, and one facing expensive delays or even citations and fines.
In most states, stormwater regulations for construction sites were first implemented in the late 1990s to control polluted runoff from construction sites disturbing five or more acres of soil. In 2003, stormwater regulations for these jobsites underwent several key changes in most states. Most notably was the reduction in size of construction sites for which an SWPPP was required—from five or more acres down to one or more. Linear construction sites that disturb one or more acres of soil were also included. Additionally, a local water-quality board may choose to regulate a project disturbing less than an acre if there is reason to believe that the project may pose a threat to water quality.
“It is unusual to require SWPPPs on projects that are less than an acre, unless the project is near a particularly sensitive resource,” said Keith Lichten, an environmental engineer with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. California has nine such boards charged with developing and enforcing water-quality objectives and implementation plans within their local areas.
“However, most of the municipalities in this area have their own municipal NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) stormwater permits with us,” said Lichten. “Under those permits, the municipalities conduct a series of activities, including public education, industrial and commercial inspections, and regulation of new development and redevelopment projects. They control discharges into storm drains and regulate grading in construction sites. They may require an SWPPP-like document for smaller sites, often as part of a grading permit approval.”
Once the determination is made that a site is subject to stormwater regulations, several requirements must be met. These include preparing and submitting an NOI, preparing and implementing an SWPPP, conducting site observations and audits to verify that the SWPPP is being properly implemented, and, in some instances, sampling stormwater discharge. Often one firm creates the plan and paperwork, while another is responsible for implementing the plan.
The general contractor or construction management firm will often contract with a civil engineering firm or an environmental consulting firm to create an SWPPP. The consultant must develop the SWPPP based upon proposed construction drawings, a preliminary construction schedule taking into account weather patterns, a preliminary list of contractors that will be onsite, and other factors. The SWPPP is created during the permitting process and before the final site plan is completed. Once the SWPPP is complete, its implementation becomes the responsibility of the lead construction contractor.
Updating the SWPPP
Some construction contractors believe that once they have obtained an SWPPP and have experience with such plans, they are automatically in full compliance with the stormwater regulations. But if onsite inspections by the local water-quality board or department of environmental quality deem the SWPPPs inadequate, the construction contractors quickly turn to their SWPPP consultants for help. Typically, the review indicates that while the SWPPP contained the required regulatory elements, it had not been updated as the site conditions changed.
“One of our most challenging goals is to help people keep their SWPPPs up-to-date,” said Lichten. “The SWPPP is a living document that must take into account construction site conditions, and not just be sitting on the shelf. We frequently find that folks are adept at best management practices (BMPs), but their plan may not be telling them what to do.”