Feb 08, 2021

Monitoring Storm Water Beyond Management

Monitoring storm water projects from multiple perspectives mixed with communication is key 

storm water management
Improper management can affect surfaces, such as roads, sidewalks and parking lots while altering the land's natural hydrology.

Construction site storm water compliance can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and maintenance if not properly managed. Unannounced inspections by regulatory agencies can be a good experience built on communication and professional relationships or can turn ugly if  the right team is not in place. Citations can add up quickly and snowball into a much larger issue that could delay project progress while earning construction companies questionable reputations. 

Today's technology is outstanding. Live site monitoring and project management software can help. Still, without good ol' fashion communication and experienced monitoring of a project from various perspectives, many of today's construction companies will continue to fall into the cycle of multiple citations, operating an uninformed crew and wasting money.

If not properly managed, the effects of storm water can be detrimental to a construction site and community.

Monitoring More Than Just Storm Water

Storm water runoff is rain or snowmelt that flows over land and does not absorb into the soil. When it rains, especially during more massive storms, water washes over the loose dirt on a construction site and the various materials being used in different project phases. The importance of storm water management is to eliminate the number of pollutants, such as hazardous debris and chemicals from that loose soil, transported to nearby storm sewer systems or directly into rivers, lakes or coastal waters. The primary storm water pollutant at a construction site is sediment erosion. The best way to stop erosion is to keep the soil in place through vegetation, erosion control blankets or other methods that prevent the soil from becoming dislodged during rain events.

It is the role of construction site operators to ensure they have the proper storm water controls in place to proceed on schedule, while also protecting a community's clean water and environment. Each site requires permits for discharges from construction activities that disturb one or more acres or discharges from smaller sites that are part of a larger standard plan of development or sale. Depending on the location of the construction site, either the state or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will administer the permit.

storm water management
The primary storm water pollutant at a construction site is sediment erosion. 

The effects of storm water, if not properly managed, can be detrimental to a construction site and community. Improper management can affect surfaces, such as roads, sidewalks and parking lots while significantly altering the land's natural hydrology. If there is a misdirected increase in the volume and velocity of storm water runoff, it can cause severe stream bank erosion, flooding and degradation of the biological habitat. Reducing the infiltration capability of soil can result in lower groundwater levels and affect drinking water supplies.

The erosion process is typically influenced by climate, topography, soil types and vegetative cover. Understanding how these factors influence erosion will help professionals select and design appropriate controls to minimize a construction site's erosion and sedimentation.

To monitor sediment and erosion controls on a construction site, experience is critical, and acceptable housekeeping practices must be followed. Post-construction best management practices, or BMPs, can be placed into two categories: structural and non-structural.

Structural BMPs include moving earth, planting (landscape) and construction. In contrast, non-structural BMPs involve in-situ changes, ordinance development, watershed planning and inventories.

A storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) is more than just a sediment and erosion control plan, and understanding that is one of the most significant issues a construction company faces on the job site.  All SWPPPs are site-specific written documents that describe the pollution prevention practices and activities that will be implemented on the site. It includes descriptions of the site and each primary phase of the planned activity, the roles and responsibilities of contractors and subcontractors, and the inspection schedules and logs. It is also the place to document changes and modifications to the construction plans and associated storm water pollution prevention activities.

The Big Picture

If a consultant only focuses on environmental storm water regulations, then it will be more challenging to provide a higher level of service to the developer. Many of the regulatory agencies do not fully understand the land development process. They may simply visit a site, take a quick look, write up compliance citations and move on. This is a hindrance for both the construction crew and the developer. It is the storm water consultant’s role to understand and implement a proper SWPPP, but also know the big picture of the site, the location and the project.

Many storm water consultants will likewise simply visit the site, look at the section of the overall plan being implemented that day and advise on regulatory matters "of the moment." In the industry, this has become standard practice. The tragedy of hiring inexperienced consultants to only monitor federal storm water regulations may not be something professionals realize is happening until it costs them (or their company) in the long-term. The common issues that will arise are: 

  • Implementing a standard protocol of monitoring across all sites without focusing on geographic location (city or municipality); 
  • Not implementing a proper communication tree with all parties; and
  • Not seeing the big picture of the overall construction project from groundbreaking through completed project. 

These are straightforward processes that evade many storm water consultants. The difference is subtle, but the details make a very significant difference.

The proper way is to monitor all regulatory agencies and rules – federal, state, city, municipality, etc. As an expert visiting a construction site tasked with looking out for environmental compliance concerns and protecting the construction company from costly citations, consultants have to look at more than just the conditions on the checklist for that particular segment of the overall project. What is essential to understand is that just because an item is not on a checklist, does not mean it is insignificant. Looking at the bigger picture means looking at all aspects of a project site, meeting with the site supervisor,and creating an open line of communication concerning potential storm water hazards and the detrimental effects on the developer’s budget and the community.

Multi-Channel Communication is Key

For example, if there is a stockpile of materials without any controls around it, which would be a violation, it is essential to know the stockpiling plan. This is where establishing multiple open lines of communication is vital.

When communicating with a site supervisor and learning that the stockpile is scheduled to be moved in the near future, it is this level of communication that can reduce heartache and stresses on all sides of the construction project. Open lines of communication and learning the processes and awareness of the schedule in place are constructive. Construction sites are an ever-changing dynamic, and it is impossible to stop by, take a snapshot of the site and properly advise on the condition of that project. Communications will help keep consultants in the know as plans change daily. Engaging in site communication with the site supervisor will enable the monitoring process, the site team and the construction company. Many companies also overlook establishing contacts with the trades on site (painters, welders, drywall installers, etc.).

When entering a job site (a new home development project, for example), it is common to see one representative from the developer and many different trade workers on site. Therefore, it is essential to communicate with them as well. The same tradesmen are often used for multiple sites, so getting to know them is beneficial in the long term as you will establish a personal connection and are likely to see them again on another job site. Every time consultants can communicate with the trades, the better informed everyone is, making for a better looking, more functional and more organized construction site. 

When it comes to successful monitoring practices, old-school customer service is vital. In addition to establishing communications with the site supervisor and trades, getting to know the regulatory agency and their representative is critical. Regulatory agencies can show up at any time to inspect a job site. If the proper communication channels were established at the beginning of the monitoring phase, having a regulatory site inspection will be a much more pleasant experience. 

This step is as simple as knowing where the site is located and under whose jurisdiction it falls. Knowing who the regulator is for that city or municipality and reaching out to them to introduce yourself goes a long way towards a safer, more organized construction site as well. 

In the end, the cost savings of keeping everybody involved and informed will provide the developer with significant cost savings in both the processes and the potential fines.  

To stop erosion, keeping soil in place through vegetation, erosion control blankets or other methods is important. 


About the author

Cherie Koester is CEO of Earthworks Environmental. Koester can be reached at [email protected].