Do You Feel the Waters Rising?

Posted by Reed Carter on Mar 18, 2015

Many people in our industry are feeling the waters rise around us.  New requirements for controlling and treating storm water come out nearly every day; it’s hard to know what exactly to do.  Many are familiar with the Construction General Permit, but how about the Municipal Stormwater General Permit or the Industrial General Permit?  Don’t worry, you won’t be tested on that, but it is important to know the similarities and differences between them.  As newer versions of these permits are written, they constantly reference each other and the regulations tend to grow together.  When one thing works, the others can be quick to adopt it.  So how do you make sure you are in compliance?  How do you follow all three at once?

Well, the easy answer is to focus on the basics.  All the legal language, Best Management Practices (BMP) requirements, reporting and fine threats are really designed to do one thing.  Water should leave your site as clean as when it hit the ground.

Focus on the source Source controls are the most effective, efficient way to keep pollutants from entering your storm water runoff.  These include good housekeeping, covering stockpiles if necessary, and having good hazardous materials management and spill response plans in place.  As you can see, many of the source control best management practices coincide with safety, preventive maintenance, and environmental health.

Site management best practices If you are working on a new building site, be sure to think ahead about site management. Plan your site with pollution controls implemented from the beginning. Where will trucks wash out? Washouts need to have a designated containment area that is not going to lead to a storm drain. How will you control mud from getting onto adjacent roads?  If it’s already raining, you can’t control mud development, but you can have designated entrance and exits, protected with tire cleaning devices, to control mud tracking. In dry weather, be sure you are not over-watering and creating mud unnecessarily.

Storm water controls Next, keep storm water controls in the front of your mind. Even if it is not raining now, where you store materials today may affect your water quality results tomorrow.  Identify the areas on your site with pollution potential, and you may need to have specialized BMPs for some.  Some vendors make BMPs with specific pollutants in mind, these can be good resources.  Try to be proactive in your treatment.  A raised storm drain protected by a cage full of pea gravel for filtering will be much more effective than throwing a few sand bags on the pavement.

Water retention and filtration Often, good storm water treatment controls will include water retention for infiltration and treatment.  Pervious pavement and constructed wetlands provide great filtration capabilities for sediment and metals; common pollutants in the construction and materials industries. Identify your potential pollutants early on, a metals recycling yard will have different pollutants than an aggregate recycling yard.  Of course, there will be some similarities, and some of the best treatment controls will work just about anywhere.  A great tool for identifying pollutants and treatment systems is the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) BMP handbook, which is available online.

There are many reasons for us to protect water quality in California.  Avoiding hefty fines is a powerful one, albeit not the only reason.  Many cities require Low-Impact Development (LID) practices.  Good storm water controls can beautify your site.  And planning for retention or infiltration of water on any work can gain your project valuable LEED points.  So have fun, be creative, and remember that clean water benefits all of us!

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