Weathering the SWPPP Storm

While the Clean Water Act celebrated its 30th birthday this fall, parts of the country weren't feeling much like celebrating — those in the Gulf regions were dealing with storm water devastation. The magnitude of what happened in Louisiana and Mississippi this summer is clearly not an every day occurrence; however, it does serve as a reminder to builders to ensure they are compliant with ...
By Michael Dickens, BuildIQ | November 30, 2005

Common Compliance Issues
Developing and Implementing a SWPPP

While the Clean Water Act celebrated its 30th birthday this fall, parts of the country weren't feeling much like celebrating — those in the Gulf regions were dealing with storm water devastation.

The magnitude of what happened in Louisiana and Mississippi this summer is clearly not an every day occurrence; however, it does serve as a reminder to builders to ensure they are compliant with storm water pollution regulations.

A big year for water

In May 2004, Thomas Skinner, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said recent settlement activity had kicked off a campaign to increase compliance with storm water runoff regulations. "Runoff from construction sites is a primary contributor to the impairment of water quality in the nation," said Skinner.

Recent hurricanes and heavy rainfall in many regions just exacerbate the problem for developers and builders, whose responsibility it is to control pollutants in construction runoff.

Nowhere to run from the storm

The days of avoiding EPA fines without a focused strategy to comply with the Clean Water Act are gone. The EPA's strategy is to focus efforts on the large players responsible for the majority of construction in the United States. Two large groups who make great potential targets for enforcement are the large retail developers and national residential builders — Giants.

The EPA estimates the majority of the construction industry doesn't meet Clean Water Act standards. It's reasonable to expect that the EPA's recent enforcement activities show what's in store for Giants this upcoming year. Recent high-profile cases have shown the negative impact that violations can have on profitability.

Why storm water pollution is such a big deal

The EPA's concerns about storm water pollution are not unfounded. Sediment from jobsites poses a serious threat to the quality of U.S. water. Runoff — water flowing over the ground — becomes polluted as it flows over jobsites with loose excavated and graded soil, not to mention concrete, paint, and other harmful substances. "Unlike OSHA violations, Clean Water Act violations are crimes against the communities, and are handled by the Department of Justice. That's because all of us use our nation's waterways," says Richard Burton, director of the NESH Institute, a national training organization that provides educational resources in the fields of environmental safety and health training.

Managing the risk

A Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) is intended to solve the problem of storm water pollution. Builders should be familiar with the requirement of a SWPPP on each of their jobsites. For every construction project, a SWPPP is developed and approved for the site, a Notice of Intent (NOI) is filed, and permit coverage is granted. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are installed and maintained by subcontractors who are hired to keep the site in compliance.

To manage the risk of fines and other penalties, Giants hire outside consultants who specialize in the SWPPP process. These consultants offer services that include SWPPP development, monitoring, analysis, sampling, training and field inspections. Giants should know consultants are not responsible for compliance.

"The biggest mistake management makes when they hire an outside vendor as a consultant," says Burton, "is that they think this subcontractor is responsible for making sure the SWPPP is implemented correctly on the jobsite. They're wrong."

Burton adds, "The parties the EPA refers to as the 'operators' — in the case of Giants, the developer and the builder — are both legally liable, and are therefore responsible for complying with the requirements of the permit, no matter how many SWPPP subcontractors they hire. In certain cases, the person who signs the SWPPP, which is a legally-binding contract document, can go to prison."

Fines from the EPA have recently gone up to $37,500 per day per occurrence + $10 per gallon of contaminated storm water discharged. "If the jobsite has two overflowing dumpsters, that violation adds up to at least $75,000 in fines per day," says Burton.

To avoid fines, builders must ensure their consultants, employees and other key team members are properly trained in compliance. Builders hire new construction personnel on a regular basis. No matter how large the builder is, construction, and therefore compliance, happens one site at a time. It's time for Giants to demonstrate companywide SWPPP training.

How can builders make sure their construction team members and other key personnel know how to establish and maintain compliant jobsites? Giants can reduce the number of non-compliant jobsites by training their project managers and site superintendents on compliance inspections, maintenance and recordkeeping.

Training your key people on every jobsite

Construction employees, in every division and on every jobsite, must be trained on BMPs. The BMPs employees must be trained on include runoff, erosion and sediment controls, as well as good housekeeping, like waste disposal, material management and vehicle servicing.

It's critical that construction employees thoroughly understand how and when to conduct quality control inspections and what to do when the inspector from the local water authority visits the site.

The EPA provides information, and individual states and localities have many resources available to train the key employees of developers and builders. Several independent agencies and non-profit organizations exist for the sole purpose of training developers and builders and helping them to steer clear of compliance woes. See below for a list of organizations.

On any jobsite, project managers and site superintendents must know how to:

  • Make sure the permit application covering storm water pollution is posted at the site entrance
  • Keep detailed maintenance records
  • Perform the required weekly, biweekly, monthly, and after-rain inspections, and document them to show that the site is in compliance.

Compliance inspectors look for up-to-date records and onsite evidence of BMP inspections and maintenance. The employees responsible for the regular inspections must make sure the BMPs are actually working, and modify both the plan and the onsite conditions if the BMPs that have been installed aren't doing the job. They also must maintain good housekeeping practices, such as waste disposal, sanitary and septic disposal, construction entrance stabilization, material management and spill control.
For more information...
The following organizations provide helpful information on training employees to be compliant with the Clean Water Act:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The International Erosion Control Association: The National Association of Home Builders:


Common Compliance Issues

Ten Common compliance issues that cause problems for Giants:

  • Not providing SWPPP training for everyone on the jobsite
  • Thinking that a hired subcontractor is legally responsible for maintaining the SWPPP
  • Using the wrong BMP according to the SWPPP or the local enforcement agency
  • Starting housing production before land development is complete and streets are in place
  • Using subcontractors who aren't trained in the importance of BMPs
  • Not filing a NOI for each phase on a larger project
  • Not filing a Notice of Termination (NOT) at the end of each phase on a larger project
  • Not maintaining and updating the SWPPP map
  • Placing trash bins and portable toilets on hard surfaces like roads
  • Thinking that a golf course surrounding the project is a BMP, and that it is the only BMP you need.

Source: Richard Burton, Director of the NESH Institute

Developing and Implementing a SWPPP

The EPA outlines the six steps of developing and implementing a SWPPP for a construction project:

  • Site evaluation and design development. Collecting site information, such as runoff water quality and rainfall data, developing a site plan, and preparing a site map.
  • Assessment. Measuring the size of the land disturbance and estimating the impact the project will have on storm water runoff from the site.
  • Control selection and plan design. Designing the SWPPP to prevent and control pollution of storm water runoff from the jobsite. Addressing erosion and sediment controls, other pollution prevention controls, and storm water management controls.
  • Certification and notification. Certifying the SWPPP and submitting a NOI for the construction project.
  • Construction and implementation. Beginning construction on the project and following through on the SWPPP. Periodic reviews, inspections, and evaluations keep the plan up to date and effective.
  • Completing the project: final stabilization and termination. Submitting a Notice of Termination (NOT) once all construction activity ends and all requirements have been met.


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