Developers, Builders & Property Owners – New Storm Water Permit Under Construction
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed dramatic changes to its regulation of storm water management on construction sites. The new requirements presently under consideration would raise the bar (and expenses) on just about every aspect of storm water management at construction sites. The SWRCB is scheduling hearings and solicting input before they adopt the final permit, which could occur before next winter. Those in the development and the construction industry should take note.
Under the current proposal, most construction sites would have increased monitoring requirements, including more extensive inspections and routine sampling and analysis for every storm event. For the first time, numeric effluent limits and action levels will be included in a statewide general storm water permit. Storm water discharges that exceed numeric effluent limits would be a violation subject to enforcement, and would trigger requirements to sample receiving waters. The standards for turbidity are so low that many construction sites can be expected to violate them, even when their storm water runoff is cleaner than the receiving waters into which they discharge.
The paper burden will expand with requirements for additional documentation, including a Rain Event Action Plan, Action Level Exceedance Evaluation Report, an Annual Report, and site photographs. Construction activities may also face new paperwork processing delays from new agency approval requirements and public scrutiny of the many documents that will be made available through a new electronic filing process. Initiating and terminating permit coverage may no longer be as simple as filing the appropriate forms.
On-the-ground requirements will be more prescriptive with specified best management practices, soil analysis requirements, installation, operation and monitoring of "active treatment systems" (using chemical coagulants or flocculants), credentialed stormwater training required for key personnel, and particular source control measures. The requirements even extend into project design with severe restrictions on peak flows and volumes after project completion.
The new requirements are intended to improve water quality by taking storm water management at construction sites to the next level of accountability. However, the greater emphasis on performance and transparency appear certain to result in increased enforcement, including citizen suits. The Clean Water Act provides for penalties of up to $32,500 per violation per day. The regulated community needs to be involved to ensure that the requirements in the final permit are realistic andmeaningfully related to water quality.