New Construction General Permit for Storm Water

Posted by Tina Lau on Mar 18, 2015

Currently, practically all construction projects need a storm water permit that is issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Most projects are covered by what is called a General Permit (as opposed to an Individual Permit). On September 2, 2009 the SWRCB adopted a new General Permit for construction activities. This permit became effective July 1, 2010 and it overrides the old permit.

While much of the basic requirements, such as Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) and Best Management Practices (BMPs), remain the same, there are some new elements that could have significant impacts on construction projects throughout California. In this article, I will provide a general overview of a few of the changes the industry now faces.


Who is impacted?

Those construction projects that disturb one or more acres of land surface, or that are part of a common plan of development that disturbs more than one acre, are still affected. However, this permit will now also include linear utility construction projects (i.e. pipeline trenches) and placement of dredge spoils.
Projects applying for a storm water permit after July 1, 2010 will be covered under the new permit.

Existing projects (i.e. projects with a storm water permit Waste Discharge ID Number prior to July 1, 2010) will still have to comply with the new permit, but they will be “grandfathered” into the new permit requirements as a Risk Level 1 discharger.


Risk levels

A new concept with this permit is the assignment of Risk Levels. Projects will now be categorized as Risk Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 dischargers. The most burdensome is Risk Level 3 while Risk Level 1 is very similar to operating under the existing permit.

The Risk Level is defined by two elements: Sediment Risk (the relative amount of sediment that can be discharged from the project) and Receiving Water Risk (the risk to nearby sensitive water bodies). The SWRCB has published on their Website equations and maps necessary to calculate the Risk Levels. As part of the permit application, projects will have to submit their Risk Level calculations.

It will be critical to understand how these risk categories will affect your project site because there are different Best Management Practices (BMPs), sampling and reporting requirements for the different risk levels. For example, Risk Level 2 and Risk Level 3 sites will need to collect storm water discharge samples, while Risk Level 1 sites do not.


Sampling and NELs/NALs

Another new requirement with this permit is a more rigorous storm water sampling program. While Risk Level 1’s sampling program is similar to the existing program, Risk Level 2 and Risk Level 3 projects will need to collect samples of storm water discharges from locations identified in the site-specific Construction Site Monitoring Program (CSMP). A minimum of three samples must be collected per day of a qualifying event. Risk Level 3 projects also need to collect samples from the receiving water body.

Risk Level 2 projects will need to analyze these samples for pH and turbidity, and compare the results against Numeric Action Levels (NAL). The NAL for turbidity is 250 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU), and for pH is 6.5–8.5 pH units. If a sample is higher than the NAL, the site will need to take corrective actions and, if requested, submit a NAL Exceedance Report.

Like Risk Level 2, Risk Level 3 projects will need to analyze the samples for pH and turbidity and compare them against NALs. In addition, Risk Level 3 projects need to compare their results against Numeric Effluent Limits (NELs). The NEL for turbidity is 500 NTU, and for pH is 6.5–8.5 pH units. An exceedance of an NEL is considered a violation of the permit, and would require the submittal of an NEL exceedance report.



Unlike under the old permit, beginning July 1, 2010 projects must have a designated Qualified SWPPP Developer (QSD) and a Qualified SWPPP Practitioner (QSP).

After July 1, SWPPPs must be certified by the “QSD” and implemented by either the QSD or the QSP. A person becomes a QSD/QSP by getting one of nine certifications/licenses from third parties. All the applicable certifications are not here, although please note that a Professional Civil Engineer license qualifies for the QSD/QSP certification. The QSD must have the certification by July 1, while the QSP must have the certification by September 2, 2011.

In addition to the certification/license, the QSD and the QSP must receive State sponsored training by September 2, 2011. The State is developing the training and it is not yet being offered.


Electronic Submittal

The final change to be discussed is the requirement for electronic submittal. Beginning July 1, all non-Caltrans projects will need to register on the Board’s SMARTS electronic data system and upload all SWPPP information to this web based database. This includes the Annual Reports, sampling data, SWPPP amendments, and other storm water related documents. This database will be available to and accessible by the general public.


More information

This article simply highlights some of the major changes we can expect under the new permit. There are numerous details and requirements that were not discussed, and this article is no substitution for reviewing (and understanding) the actual permit. More information can be found on the State Water Resources Control Board’s website.

Back to all Blogs