Avoiding SWPPP Violations

Through proactive stormwater pollution prevention, builders can have more success in their projects and avoid hefty non-compliance fines

By Don Neff

Receiving a formal written Notice of Violation from a Regional Water Quality Agency or the State Water Board can be an unsettling surprise. It is a sobering wake-up call for the builders’ office and field staff. As outlined in our last article, Storm Water Pollution Prevention Planning (SWPPP) can be the nemesis of many good builders if it is not proactively scheduled into field operations in advance of seasonal rain events.

Both California and federal agencies can, and will, levy severe fines and penalties, ranging from $10K to $37.5K per day per violation, for non-compliance on projects exceeding one acre in size. Lesser fines are levied for not filing an annual report, not filing various other forms, or not recording water test results with the state water board. In anticipation of inevitable storm activity, there are a few important considerations to avoid receiving a dreaded notice of violation, which can be the first heads up of job site problems.

The primary objective of the Clean Water Act is to preserve the “Waters of the US” to be swimmable and fishable. This goal is achieved through several strategies such as managing site runoff created during and after construction, and through implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) of varying priorities as a function of the specific site conditions.

The primary BMP systems employed are designed to address:

1) Run-off Management: Run-off management is akin to handling bulk water flows onto or through your jobsite. This is accomplished by diverting the water through use of earth dikes, swales, and check dams. It also includes conveying water through grassed beltways and mats which effectively slows down and filters water flowing across the site. Above ground and subsurface drains are typically used for intercepting water flows. Stabilizing slopes through flumes and rock/riprap outlets are yet additional frequently used BMPs.

2) Soil Stabilization: The next priority is erosion control, or soil stabilization. Specific proven strategies to accomplish this include vegetative seeding, sod placement, mulching slopes, and/or use of biotech solutions such as bonded fiber matrix, jute matting, and straw spreading. Each of these options varies in application with the soil and slope conditions, as well as the size and configuration of the job site. In addition, organically compatible chemical coagulants can find a useful application where suspended silt particulates are difficult to filter out mechanically.

3) Sediment Control: The third priority is that of sediment (or pollution) control. Effective examples are stabilized project entries, de-silting basins, chevrons of sand bags, sod barriers, silt fencing, rock with shaker plates, street sweepers, and water trucks. Mass grading a job site is done with large earth moving equipment such as scrapers and bulldozers.

It is important to recognize that large projects should have phased grading operations to minimize mass removal of vegetative cover, which protect the site from erosive action of silt-laden water flows during rain events. Equally important is the application of each SWPPP BMP or “tool” which needs to be matched with those unique site conditions. One cannot effectively use a silt fence, for example, to accomplish high volume run-off management when its intended use is for small volume sediment control.

Non-compliance with the SWPPP requirements can include not just exceeding turbidity and pH limits through water testing during rain events, but also for not posting and frequently updating the required erosion control plan in the jobsite trailer and not keeping your paperwork in order and accessible for surprise visits from the regional water quality control inspectors. These erosion control documents (maps and inspection reports) are important archive documents, saved for the three years following project completion. The inspection reports include REAPs (Rain Event Action Plans), pre-storm assessments, during-storm water sampling reports and post-storm follow-up inspections with periodic updates. Also, to be included are the quarterly and annual reports. Training records are no less important to maintain as well as QSP certifications. QSP’s are the boots in the field assuring proper implementation of the various BMPs. Building industry trade associations and other vendors offer interactive training seminars which cover all these critical compliance topics in detail. More training is always better.

Fortunately, most regional water quality control agency field inspectors are somewhat flexible with builders if a sincere demonstrable effort is being put forth conscientiously by the LRPs (Legally Responsible Party) through their field teams and consultants to manage storm flows impacting their jobsites.

Here is a final word of caution: it is always better to be perceived as a proactive solution provider than a reactive problem creator.

Don Neff is President of LJP Construction Services, providing Third Party QA Services to clients nationwide. His SWPPP credentials include several active certifications such as CSP, CPESC and CESSWI, and provides SWPPP training for builder clients as need be to help resolve non- compliance issues. To learn more, please visit www.ljpltd.com.

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