Mud Wrestling

March 1, 2000
Gx Bug Web

Having just spent a week focusing on erosion and sediment control issues at the International Erosion Control Association’s annual conference, I feel compelled to discuss what for many is an unpleasant subject-new stormwater regulations from EPA affecting the construction industry.

Uncontrolled runoff from construction sites is a water-quality concern because of the devastating effects of sedimentation and contaminated stormwater runoff. When left uncontrolled, sediment-laden runoff has been shown to destroy habitats for fish and other aquatic species, increase the difficulty of filtering drinking water, increase loss of water reservoir storage capacity, and create negative impacts on the navigational capacity of waterways.

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According to the 1996 National Water Quality Inventory, approximately 40% of surveyed US water bodies are impaired by pollution and do not meet water-quality standards. Eleven percent of impaired lake acres and a like amount of impaired estuaries are affected by construction-site discharges.

Phase I of EPA’s stormwater program-National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)-was initiated in 1990, relying on permit coverage to address stormwater runoff from (1) medium and large municipal separate storm-sewer systems generally serving populations of 100,000 or more people, (2) construction sites 5 ac. or greater, and (3) 10 categories of industrial activity. The Stormwater Phase II Final Rule “automatically” covers operators of small construction activities that disturb 1-5 ac. of land.

The new regulations mean that operators of small construction activities will have to apply for NPDES permit coverage-most likely under a general rather than individual permit-and implement stormwater-discharge best management practices. The specific requirements for stormwater controls on small construction activity will be defined by the NPDES permitting authority on a state-by-state basis. EPA expects that the permitting authorities will use their existing Phase I general permits for large construction activity as a guide for Phase II permits for small construction activity. If so, a stormwater pollution prevention plan will likely be required for small construction activity.

The NPDES permitting authority will issue general permits for Phase II-designated small construction activity by December 9, 2002. Operators of Phase II “automatically” designated regulated small construction activities must obtain permit coverage within 90 days of permit issuance. Permitting authorities will have the option of providing a waiver from the requirements to operators of Phase II construction activity that can certify to any special conditions contained in the rule.

As with most EPA regulations, a typical first reaction is to rail against the increased costs. But is this complaint based on sound reason or knee-jerk reaction? From an economic standpoint, does it cost more to prevent runoff problems than clean up after them? Rarely, I think, but either way the price will be paid. How about fairness? If it’s my project and I’m the one who benefits from it, I’m perfectly happy to cut my costs on the front end and let you pick up the tab for cleanup.but how do you feel about being the pigeon? Both factors go to the heart of what NPDES is about.

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Phase I has been in effect for nearly a decade, and while compliance activities have been notably low-key, it’s hard for us to plead ignorance of its existence. With the emergence of Phase II, we’re confronted with one fact-NPDES is still alive-and a host of possibilities, including one that says the regulators will get serious about compliance.

I strongly suggest that you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the Phase II proposed rule by contacting the EPA Office of Wastewater Management (202/260-5816, [email protected], or Your feedback is welcome: e-mail me.