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Easing the Headache of Industrial Stormwater Compliance

Eric Dubcak on December 3, 2020 - in Articles, Feature, Featured

A photo shows a typical use of galvanized grating on a rooftop, which can be a contributing source of zinc.


If your facility has industrial activities exposed to precipitation, you probably need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Managing stormwater compliance can be a reoccurring administrative headache for industrial facilities required to have an NPDES permit. Knowing when to engage technical professionals can help maintain compliance.

Did You Know?

Federal regulations require stormwater discharges associated with 11 specific categories of industrial activity to be covered under NPDES permits (unless otherwise excluded). These 11 categories include the following:

1. Facilities subject to federal stormwater effluent discharge standards at 40 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 405-471

2. Heavy manufacturing (e.g., paper mills, chemical plants, petroleum refineries, steel mills, foundries, etc.)

3. Coal and mineral mining, and oil and gas exploration and processing

4. Hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities

5. Landfills, land application sites and open dumps with industrial wastes

6. Metal scrapyards, salvage yards, automobile junkyards and battery reclaimers

7. Steam electric-power-generating plants

8. Transportation facilities that have vehicle maintenance, equipment cleaning or airport deicing operations

9. Treatment works treating domestic sewage with a design flow of 1 million gallons per day or more

10. Construction sites that disturb 5 acres or more (permitted separately)

11. Light manufacturing (e.g., food processing, printing and publishing, electronic and other electrical equipment manufacturing, public warehousing, and storage).

Most of the time, a facility covered by one of these categories will need to obtain an NPDES permit through the state; however, in a few states, territories and Native American tribal lands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remains the permitting authority.

Copper piping on a rooftop receives direct contact with stormwater.

 

A maintained stormwater vault receives discharge from an upstream stormwater drain line.

 

No-Exposure Exclusion

Industrial facilities that have all industrial materials and activities protected from precipitation and stormwater runoff may be eligible for an exemption from NPDES permitting requirements. However, a facility that meets the criteria of no exposure must submit a certification to the permitting authority once every five years.

Obtaining Permit Coverage

After a facility determines it falls under one of the regulated industry sectors of the multi-sector general permit (MSGP) and doesn’t meet the no-exposure certification (NEC), the owner or operator must submit a notice of intent (NOI), or permit application, to the permitting authority for permit coverage. As part of the NOI, a public announcement may be required before coverage under the permit can be obtained.

In addition to submitting an NOI, facilities are required to develop and implement a site-specific Industrial Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan (SWPPP) that addresses the requirements of the MSGP. Industrial SWPPPs include descriptions of facility operations and potential sources of pollution, control measures and procedures to maintain permit compliance. Control measures include best management practices (BMPs) or other practices to be implemented by the facility. Maintaining permit compliance includes quarterly monitoring, routine facility inspections, annual reporting and personnel training, and varying degrees of corrective actions. It’s recommended that facilities develop their SWPPPs before submitting an NOI.

Best Management Practices

Good BMPs can prevent future problems for owners and operators. Examples of BMPs implemented by a facility include minimizing exposure, good housekeeping, proper maintenance programs, spill-response procedures, erosion and sediment controls, and waste management.

One way to learn best practices is to obtain recommendations for upcoming seminars or events from local consultants’ subcontractors or regulators. Some of these are quick, one-day events. Field days are very impactful if you’re new to the topic and eager to visualize the basics. You may be surprised at the amount of activity happening in your area.

Attending educational events also can provide opportunities to be face-to-face with vendors regarding your facility and potential needs. At these seminars, the professionals share tips and tricks on how to reduce costs and avoid issues with treatment methods. Many firms in the area will be sponsoring these events. There may be opportunities to volunteer at these events, fostering valuable relationships and potentially allowing free admission.

Stormwater outfall into a vegetated area must be checked for environmental compliance.

 

Corrective Actions

Although permit requirements may vary, corrective actions are essential to maintain compliance with your NPDES permit. When are corrective actions required? Although a benchmark exceedance isn’t a permit violation, they require corrective actions and SWPPP modifications.

Benchmark monitoring is a baseline for the facility and a way to evaluate SWPPP performance. After a baseline is established, the site can be evaluated against the permit standards. When a benchmark exceedance triggers a corrective action, common questions to ask include the following:

• Why are we seeing these analytical concentrations?

• What could be the potential source(s)?

• How can we mitigate these issues?

Corrective actions can include implementing additional operational controls, structural controls or treatment options. Operational controls include items such as increasing sweeping onsite as well as being prepared and responsive for spill cleanups. Structural controls include installing retention ponds or oil and water separators. Treatment options typically are a facility’s final effort to remove pollutants from stormwater and may include installing a filtration system.

Having a detailed and descriptive site plan can be very useful to regulators and the sampling team for understanding outfall locations, surface flow, storm lines and operations. Where possible and as a facility design may allow, plan to separate facility outfalls by operations to minimize lumping all discharges into one sample location. Understanding locations of the potential source areas can help focus efforts for corrective actions.

To illustrate stormwater compliance, Terracon assisted with an industrial stormwater project and briefed the client on expectations and work to be performed, including providing a scope of services for permit coverage requirements, monitoring and reporting. An initial cleaning of storm drains and lines would provide a good benchmark for the first set of samples, but the deadline for quarterly sampling didn’t allow adequate time to complete the cleanout. Although the proposed cleanout wasn’t executed, the client was relieved knowing it had the support to address their industrial stormwater concerns and interactions with regulators.

Imagine a maintenance manager at a large facility unaware of the ongoing stormwater management practices, who now decides additional rooftop improvements such as railings, ladders and HVAC support brackets are necessary. The decision was to use a product requiring minimal upkeep and proven to last a long time, so galvanized metal was selected. Although this appears to be a great idea, not understanding that the new items now are a source to stormwater, the following sample results have zinc concentrations all over the spectrum. This may prompt the stormwater team, which is unaware of the rooftop improvements, to question where the zinc is originating. Educating the facility operators of stormwater operations can prove to be very helpful.

Know Your State and Local Regulations

Each state also may have its own regulations in addition to those required by the U.S. EPA. Knowing your state rules and regulations, developing relationships with the local regulators, and partnering with a qualified firm can translate to time and money savings when it comes to managing stormwater compliance. There have been unfortunate instances when facility owners or operators have been unaware of state-specific or local regulations and unaware of compliance gaps. Non-compliance, including permit violations, can lead to civil and criminal enforcement actions by state regulators and even by citizen Clean Water Act groups.

Being engaged with your community about the awareness of industrial facilities and their stormwater management efforts can be helpful. Varying sources report third-party citizen groups appear to be on the rise and are filing suits when a party is in violation of an effluent limitation or standard. Some sites also are managed by a regulatory required administrative order, which comes with a higher level of regulatory oversight.

When operation resources are limited, it can be a burden to manage reporting, sampling, upcoming storm events and even having properly trained staff to perform sampling. Knowing when to engage with proper technical support and which tasks to delegate or manage inhouse could be simple. Firms unfamiliar with the process or lacking the necessary resources may fail at first. Engaging a qualified firm is the best approach to keep the facility in compliance and avoid hefty fines.

Change of Tenant, Change of Coverage?

Terracon has been helping clients operate new facility locations where similar operations now are required to manage onsite stormwater. This can come as a shock, especially if the previous owner or occupant was able to operate the same facility and operations without requiring stormwater permit coverage.

Some root causes are associated with improperly completed facility checklists, such as an application for a no-exposure certification, allowing the previous tenant to avoid permitted responsibility for stormwater management. Because regulations are constantly changing, maintaining compliance is an ongoing process.

Common Non-Compliance Struggles

Industrial facilities face many struggles to maintain stormwater compliance, including the following:

• SWPPP upkeep and modifications

• Lack of qualified individuals

• Sampling locations and procedures

• Permit changes

An SWPPP is a living document, therefore it should be modified when a change may impact the facility’s stormwater discharge. This includes a site map so detailed that a trained person can review and understand how the site operates and where sampling is being conducted. Maintain all your records and keep them organized. Training is important, so keep it up-to-date and continue to train new staff. Never miss a deadline. Promptly contact the regulator when you need to request a time extension—don’t wait until after it’s due. Check your facility and SIC code to ensure operations are properly filed with the permit. Don’t let this be identified by the regulator.

Having more than one qualified individual trained on the SWPPP also is important. For example, having only one person responsible for collecting stormwater samples may result in missing measurable rain events when the trained staff person isn’t working. Or sometimes routine inspections are missed altogether. If you can, make sure you have multiple people trained and prepared to avoid one person holding all the responsibility. Otherwise, it may be time to start looking for a stormwater consultant capable of managing your permit obligations.

Most of the time, already-permitted facilities are notified when a new NPDES permit is published—but not always. Staying up-to-date on current regulations and being aware is a huge start. Continuing to attend local seminars will help you stay current with stormwater knowledge. Being a great student of the work and obtaining new information will prepare owners, operators and consultants for efficient stormwater management.

A photo shows excessive buildup of sediment and vegetated debris at a neglected storm drain.

 

Where to Obtain Additional Information?

There are many public resources available regarding practices of successful and unsuccessful stormwater practitioners and facilities. Unsuccessful testimonies are helpful, because by understanding and relating to failure, people can work differently to achieve success. The EPA also has many guidance documents and templates available on its website for industrial facilities.

Relationships are critical; when you demonstrate you care, you’re likely to get more help with compliance. In addition to meeting the vendors and consultants who attend these events, you have an opportunity to engage with the permit regulators behind permit enforcement. Knowing the local regulators and placing a face to a name always is a benefit. More importantly, knowing which requirements apply to your facility and engaging technical professionals can help ease the headache of complying with NPDES.

 

About Eric Dubcak

Eric A. Dubcak, CESCL, is a group manager at Terracon’s Seattle office, specializing in environmental project work for a wide variety of clients throughout the Northwest; email: eric.dubcak@terracon.com.

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