Sediment control at construction sites is not only an environmental responsibility, it’s the law. To protect our waterways, the oceans and wildlife, regulations pertaining to erosion and sediment control have been in effect in the United States since the Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972.
Because any amount of storm water, debris and sediment discharged from construction activities can negatively impact water quality and ecosystems, today’s CWA includes mandates on sediment control for construction projects of all sizes. Those disturbing one or more acres of land – and smaller ones that are related to larger developments or sales – cannot begin until a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) construction storm water permit has been obtained.
These federal regulations are implemented by state environmental agencies except for in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico, where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) retains authority. (The EPA also governs NPDES permit issues throughout most of the Indian Country jurisdictions in the United States.)
A storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) is essential to obtaining an NPDES permit. Within an SWPPP, all sources of pollution that might be discharged from a construction site and in turn affect storm water runoff quality from the site must be listed. In addition, a detailed description of the measures that will be taken to filter sediment, debris and other pollutants from the site’s storm water runoff must be provided.
The SWPPP requirements for each state can be found in the Stormwater Resource Locator (SWRL) on the Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center’s website. Additional regulations pertaining to erosion and sediment control and storm water management on federal and state levels are included in the SWRL, as well.
Developing Your Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan: A Guide for Construction Sites is a free downloadable handbook created by the EPA to detail the steps construction site operators must take to develop and implement an SWPPP. It includes a customizable SWPPP template, a sample inspection form and two sample SWPPPs. It’s designed for use anywhere within the United States, in combination with any state or EPA NPDES permit.
In addition to submitting an SWPPP and an NPDES permit application, construction site operators must develop and submit an erosion and sediment control plan prior to breaking ground. This plan must identify the specific preventative measures that will be used on each individual site to prevent and/or control sediment runoff and erosion.
Fortunately, the acts of controlling sediment and erosion are much easier than uncovering and understanding all of your state’s laws regarding them. And, if you rely on the expertise of an honest and reputable company specializing in construction site erosion and sediment control, your time researching the law and control methods, as well as your concerns about satisfying regulations in order to avoid costly fines, will be minimized greatly.
Companies dedicated to erosion and sediment control offer a number of products and services designed to solve erosion and sediment control issues at construction sites and keep these sites compliant with the law. Products that prevent sediment from entering storm water systems are available in an array of styles for various scenarios – from filtering rolls that fit in front of curbside storm water inlets to bags that enclose storm inlet grates, allowing water to seep through while trapping sediment and debris inside them.
Professional sediment control products are manufactured according to government regulations, and they’re made to be easy to install, inspect, maintain and reuse. Because they’re so hassle-free, they save valuable time at construction sites, and the dollars they save are innumerable.
Fines for CWA violations can be very steep. In late August of 2009, one of the largest luxury homebuilders in the Southeast and Midwest was fined more than a half million dollars to settle allegations that it had violated the terms of NPDES permits issued for housing developments in Missouri and West Virginia, and that it had allowed illegal storm water discharges in Arkansas. The $513,740 penalty heaped upon the company, which once was honored for its sound environmental practices, will be paid in four annual installments, plus interest.
Just days after that settlement was reached, a North Dakota real estate developer was fined $37,500 in civil penalties for violating CWA regulations. These cases are just two of many examples of the EPA’s crackdown on violators.
Fines, of course, can make a huge dent in a company’s profitability and in a worst case scenario, they can put a company in the red. It simply doesn’t make sense to risk fines by either ignoring the law or by trusting makeshift sediment control structures to be regulation compliant. One call to an erosion and sediment control professional can save your company money and can free you up to focus on other matters at hand.