Stormwater can be a difficult subject to learn about with the overwhelming content and use of acronyms. Below are some standard questions that are relevant to multiple states and the stormwater compliance industry as a whole:
What are the regulations on stormwater?
Clean Water Act (CWA)
- The CWA is a federal law that came into effect as we currently know it in 1972. This was an amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. The CWA was established shortly after the last American river fire in 1969, the Cuyahoga River fire. The federal government was taking action to ensure point sources of discharge into Waters of the United States (WotUS) were regulated. They did this through NPDES permits that were written into the CWA.
- National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are designed to regulate point sources of pollution discharge into Waters of the United States. The CWA requires each facility that may have pollutants harmful to discharge in the Waters of the United States to obtain a permit that allows them to discharge that water. Some of these permits are specific to a single facility, while other permits are aimed at monitoring multiple facilities or areas of compliance. These permits are referred to as general permits. Several general permits exist in for stormwater, regulating certain areas. The most common general permits are the Industrial General Permits, Construction General Permits, and the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4).
Industrial General permit
- Industrial General Permits are sometimes referred to as IGPs, these permits regulate industrial facility’s discharges. The EPA's Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) is the federal industrial permit, which acts as the minimum regulation or backbone of an industrial general permit that may be state specific. Most states use their own specially modified version of the permit that is generally more stringent than the MSGP, and targets that state's unique climate and stormwater conditions.
What is a BMP/Control Measure?
BMP stands for Best Management Practice. BMPs include the scheduling of activities, prohibitions of practices, maintenance procedures, and other management practices to prevent or reduce the discharge of pollutants. BMPs also include treatment requirements, operating procedures, and practices to control site runoff, spillage or leaks, sludge or waste disposal, or drainage from raw material storage.
Commonly BMPs are referred to as either structural or non-structural BMPs.
Structural BMPs consist of physically implemented devices, systems, or objects that are designed to reduce pollutant loads in stormwater. Examples may range from gutters, curbs, and fiber rolls to advanced options like Active Treatment Systems or infiltration basins.
Non-Structural BMPs consist of things like good housekeeping, scheduling for maintenance, training, and record keeping.
What is a SWPPP?
A Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) serves as your guidebook to compliance with your general permit. A SWPPP is facility specific and details custom BMPs to fit specific problems onsite. The SWPPP should contain information related to where potential pollutants lie onsite and materials that are exposed to stormwater, as well as how you plan to monitor your site to prevent pollutants from entering your stormwater discharges.
If you are wondering how to go about making a SWPPP you can check out how Mapistry can help you Build Your Own SWPPP.
What are Enforcement actions?
- Notices of Violation (NOVs) are common instruments of enforcement by regulating authorities. These can sometimes be warnings or harsh financial penalties, in extreme cases even potential prison sentences. The fines and penalties all come from the Clean Water Act. Check out how large some of these fines can be here. Or a quick rundown for California on how to avoid NOVs.
- Civil suits are allowed by a provision under the CWA that allows any citizen to claim damages to their right to clean waters under the act. This special provision was written into the CWA so the government would not be the sole enforcers to encourage facilities to comply. Here are some examples of penalties.
What are Waters of the United States?
Generally refers to surface waters, as defined for the purposes of the federal Clean Water Act. The determination of what is a water of the United States can be complicated, and in certain circumstances, a discharge to groundwater that has a direct hydrologic connection to waters of the United States may constitute a discharge to a water of the United States.
What is a Receiving Water Body?
A receiving water body is typically a Waters of the United States that a facility directly or indirectly discharges to.
What is a 303(d) Listed Water Body?
A 303(d) listed water body refers to any Waters of the United States that have been identified by the US EPA as impaired under the Clean Water Act. The 303(d) list is a list of all identified impaired water bodies and the parameters they are each impaired for.
What are Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)?
A TMDL is defined best directly by the EPA, “A TMDL is the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that the waterbody will meet and continue to meet water quality standards for that particular pollutant. A TMDL determines a pollutant reduction target and allocates load reductions necessary to the source(s) of the pollutant.”
Without going into too much detail, a TMDL is a level the EPA sets for a receiving water body and a specific pollutant parameter that waterbody is impaired for. That level should not be exceeded and is monitored for compliance. Dischargers generally are not allowed to contribute that parameter at all to the waterbody unless they have a permit to do so.
For more on TMDLs, check out our webinar with the SWRCB on them.
What is Sheet Flow?
A flow of water that occurs overland in areas where there are no defined channels and where the water spreads out over a large area at a uniform depth.
What is Run-On?
Discharges that originate offsite and flow onto the property of a separate facility or property or, discharges that originate onsite from areas not related to industrial activities and flow onto areas on the property with industrial activity.
What are Impaired Waters?
Several waters inside the United States have been identified by the US EPA as containing elevated levels of substances that characterizes them as polluted. These water bodies are considered impaired under the Clean Water Act. In order to return these water bodies to an unimpaired state, they are placed on a list (the 303(d) Impaired Waters) and Total Maximum Daily Loads are enforced to regulate the levels of pollutants continuing to enter the water.
- 303(d): Impaired Waters refer to any Waters of the United States that have been identified by the US EPA as impaired under the Clean Water Act. The 303(d) list is a list of all identified impaired water bodies and the parameters they are each impaired for.
- TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) are a permit based approach that allows the EPA to limit pollutants that a water body is impaired for from entering that water body in elevated concentration. There is a daily maximum amount of that pollutant allowed to enter the specific water body. If that level is exceeded, an investigation to determine the source of that exceedance is conducted and traced back to the legally responsible party.
What is secondary containment?
Secondary containment refers to any device used to offer containment measures for a primary tank or device as a means of preventing the contents from spilling.
What is a Non-Storm Water Discharge (NSWD)?
Non-Storm Water Discharges (NSWDs) refer to any discharge of liquid that is not stormwater. These discharges are not allowed under the general stormwater permits if they contain any pollutants.
- Authorized NSWDs can be discharged to a storm drain if they would not cause or contribute to an exceedance of water quality standards. These are defined as things such as AC condensate water, irrigation water (given it has not come in contact with potential pollutants), or fire system flushing.
- Unauthorized NSWDs are considered any discharge that is not explicitly authorized. This can be industrial process water, oil or gasoline, or any form of water that comes in contact with industrial operations but is not stormwater.
What is a Chain of Custody (COC)?
A Chain of Custody is a form often supplied by a laboratory that handles sample analysis. The COC is legal documentation of who was in possession of the samples and for what time period, in case they are ever brought into question in a court case.. This is the paper trail that documents an item moving between multiple parties.
This form is also where a client will describe to a lab which parameters and methods they need to be performed on their samples.
Why do we care?
Waters of the United States are free and public resources that many of us utilize. This may be for our recreational time spent swimming, fishing, surfing, or just the scenic content provided by bodies of water. We all care about protecting these resources to use ourselves and to allow others to use. I don't imagine very many people want to swim in a polluted waterway or eat contaminated fish. Remember that stormwater typically drains completely untreated straight into our waterways. Anything going down a storm drain will end up in those waters so be sure to think twice before letting something drain.