Six Steps to Better Stormwater Management

Learn tips from a stormwater management expert to improve your process and lessen environmental impact.

By Tim Ham

While COVID-19 has affected the construction industry in both minor and significant ways, when it comes to stormwater management, luckily everything is business as usual. Daily management tasks on jobsites can be performed with regular safety measures, adding social distancing and masking as appropriate. Even the permitting process hasn’t changed much, outside of the addition of plexiglass and masks in county or state offices. This positive news in the midst of so many other changes doesn’t mean you can put stormwater management on the backburner. Hurricane season is in full swing, and heavy rainfall can affect even the most landlocked construction sites, so here are six tips to help mitigate stormwater runoff and avoid negatively impacting the environment around your jobsite.

While COVID-19 has affected the construction industry in both minor and significant ways, when it comes to stormwater management, luckily everything is business as usual.

1. Plan Ahead

There’s a reason there are so many adages about prevention being better than cures, apples and doctors, etc. Planning ahead is one of the easiest ways to save time, budget and frustration later on in the construction lifecycle. During preplanning, you rely on civil engineers to help you understand the waterways near your site, where water discharges, where the lowest elevation on the site is and any other stormwater concerns. If you’re going to rely on third party trade partners to install silt fences or floating turbidity barriers, you can also get their input on where to place them and whether double or single layers are required. Then you can build a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SW3P), document it on the drawings and delegate the management of the plan with the site contractor. Setting these expectations before you disturb any soil or create any turbid water gets everyone on the same page and will help enforce your plan.

2. Know Your Permitting Requirements

This one’s pretty simple, but depending on which state you’re working in, you could need permits from the city, the county or the state. Especially if you haven’t worked in the area before, make sure you nail down these requirements during the planning sessions to avoid unnecessary schedule delays while you wait on the proper permits.

3. Find the Baseline for Surrounding Waterways

Depending on what region you’re in, the natural turbidity of the water varies. Florida rivers tend to be more noticeably clear than rivers in Texas, for example. You must know the baseline turbidity of the water near your jobsite to know what changes to look for. Document the baseline with photos taken in good light so you have a comparison handy if any questions come up during your inspections.

4. Check Hot Spots First

Stormwater management requires daily inspection. You have to walk the entire perimeter daily to check for breaches in silt fences, changes in outfalls, monitor turbidity levels, and document any changes or issues. For larger jobsites, you might invest in an ATV to ride along longer property lines. After a storm or major weather event, you’ll want to inspect areas with the biggest outfalls from creeks or swamps and the areas of lowest elevation first. These hot spots are where breaches to turbidity barriers are most likely or where they can have the biggest impact, so addressing any issues early can help mitigate contamination. You also need weekly documentation of your inspections, with pictures, that show you have thoroughly covered areas where you’ve disturbed the land. After a hurricane or any half-inch+ rain event, state or local officials will often visit your site to check up on washout or any breaches. Your inspection reports help show you’re on top of it.

5. Document Changes to the Plan

Technology and construction management software have changed things, with digital plans and drawings available on tablets and smartphones, but with your SW3P, it’s still a good practice to keep a paper version of the drawings posted in your superintendent’s office to document and date any changes that might affect the plan. Both scope changes and drawings revisions could affect your SW3P, so highly visible documentation will ensure your inspections are relevant and fully inclusive.

6. Fix Problems Promptly

This should go without saying, but when you’re dealing with environmental impacts, you need to act quickly to lessen any negative outcomes. Penalties can be severe and costly, which could potentially result in further changes to your plan or scope. Breaches happen, but fixing problems as soon as they occur will protect the environment, your company, and the project.

Any construction comes with challenges and changes to the plan, especially when you add in state and local regulations changes due to a global pandemic. But, with the right processes in place, you’ll be equipped to navigate the ups and downs while keeping a watchful eye on stormwater management.

Tim Ham is a senior superintendent with Hoar Construction. In his 30+ years’ experience, he’s worked on a variety of projects in retail, hospitality, entertainment and multi-family construction.

Tim Ham is a senior superintendent with Hoar Construction. In his 30+ years’ experience, he’s worked on a variety of projects in retail, hospitality, entertainment and multi-family construction.

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