LA Course #GCE-1-1701
SWPPP and the Landscape Architect
by Richard W Gibney RLA ISA
SWPPP and the Landscape Architect
by Richard W Gibney RLA ISA
This article is intended to serve as an overview of Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP), the process of providing this service to clients and the importance of the landscape architect’s participation in this process. Although written from the perspective of a landscape architect practicing in New York State, most of the regulations, requirements and procedures are national with each state having some variations regarding administration and compliance requirements. Landscape architects that want to offer SWPPPs to their clients should spend time reviewing their state’s requirements before proceeding. For example in California there are nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Boards). Throughout the article, there are procedures that might be unique to New York State and they are followed by (NY). Another thing to keep in mind is that even though all projects might not require a regulated SWPPP, proper erosion and sediment control methods should be implemented on all projects to preserve the environmental integrity of the project and adjacent properties. Being aware of current technology and control methods increases the value of the landscape architect’s role in any project.
History of SWPPP
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution. Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The 1972 amendments are as follows:
· Established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States.
· Gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to implement pollution control programs
such as setting wastewater standards for the industry.
· Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.
· Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless
a permit was obtained under its provisions.
· Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program.
· Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.
The original goal of the CWA was to eliminate the discharge of untreated waste water from municipal and industrial sources and thus make American waterways safe for swimming and fishing (the use of surface water for drinking purposes is covered under separate legislation, the Safe Drinking Water Act).
Toward this end, the federal government provided billions of dollars in grants to finance the building of sewage treatment facilities around the country. The CWA also required businesses to apply for federal permits to discharge pollutants into waterways, as well as to reduce the amount of their discharges over time.
As scientists increasingly recognized the value of wetlands in filtering out pollution, the EPA also began to emphasize wetlands protection under the CWA. Businesses must be aware of the expanding applications of the CWA. The law can affect not only discharges of pollution from factory pipes, but also incidental pollution resulting from the activities of smaller enterprises, such as residential development or the construction of a golf course or office building.
Environmental Protection Agency – EPA
This is the federal agency charged with administering the CWA. The EPA was authorized in the CWA to initiate the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and passed the responsibility for administering, monitoring and enforcing the regulations to the State governments using the federal guidelines under a general NPDES permit. The EPA continues to issue individual and general permits to tribal lands, military facilities, national parks, federal lands, etc.
The EPA offers information and SWPPP templates that can be downloaded from the internet. These include the various types of SWPPPs (municipal, industrial, environmental, etc.) compliance. Various state agencies also offer templates and assistance in SWPPP compliance. It is important to contact the administering agency in the state where you are providing a SWPPP to be sure you are using current templates and Best Management Practices (BMPs). Keep in mind that regulations, while adherent to EPA protocol, can vary from state to state based on each state’s needs and surface water environments (coastal, fresh water, rivers, estuaries, etc.). Also, regulations and BMPs can change from time to time based on new research, knowledge and method improvements (silt traps, sediment filters, containment methods, slope stabilization products, etc.). It is important to review your state and local requirements each time a new SWPPP is prepared. This will insure that you are compliant and that your client is receiving efficient professional services while best serving the environmental intent of these regulations.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – NYSDEC (NY)
In NYS, the NYSDEC established the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity. This agency passed the responsibility to the local governments but with specific regulations. These governments can make the regulations and requirements more stringent but they cannot relax the regulations set forth in the NPDES and SPDES general permits under penalties of enforcement and fines by the State and EPA.
SWPPP Terminology of Participants
Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System – MS4
· County, Town or Village with a storm drain system that they maintain with outflows to natural waterways
· Operates under the SPDES general permit and State oversight
· Must enforce SPDES regulations locally
· Is subject to fines for non-compliance
· If disturbing 1 acre or more of land in a construction activity, land owners must submit a SWPPP or apply for
· Must hire an independent Qualified Inspector (often the SWPPP preparer provides this service as well)
· Is responsible for having a Trained Contractor on the site during all site disturbance activities.
· Is ultimately responsible for compliance under penalty of enforcement and fines.
*MS4s can waive the SWPPP requirement if a qualified professional can prove that stormwater releases from the property will not reach natural waterways. It is important to receive this waiver in written form from the MS4. Also, some municipalities may designate areas within their jurisdiction as exempt due to the distance to surface waters. Again it is important to document this exemption in project files.
The Owner will have a qualified inspector such as a professional engineer, licensed landscape architect or certified professional in erosion and sediment control (CPESC) conduct site inspections in accordance with the requirements in the most current version of the technical standards and specifications for erosion and sediment control (Blue Book in NY). This is where landscape architects should understand their role and right to provide this service. While many professional engineers have taken on this service and the role of an engineer can be vital in various aspects of larger scale SWPPPs, landscape architects can lead this effort and provide the expertise and tools to make the process more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable.
Trained Contractor (NY)
Prior to the commencement of construction, an owner or operator shall have each contractor and subcontractor, that has been identified as being responsible for implementation of the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), identify at least one employee from their company (Trained Contractor) that has received 4 hours of endorsed E&SC training. The Trained Contractor must be on site on a daily basis when soil disturbance activities are being performed and will be responsible for implementation of the practices included in the SWPPP. It is advisable for the Trained Contractor to be present and walk through the inspections with the Qualified Inspector and take notes on any remedial recommendations that need attention (repair of silt fence, cleaning of silt traps, replacement of straw bales, etc.).
The SWPPP Process Summarized
The following is a summary of the general process required for SWPPPs (refer to your state’s specific regulations and requirements). This process is for properties where over one acre and less than five acres are being disturbed by the proposed project.
The Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan
The SWPPP is produced by a qualified professional who often stays on the project as the Qualified Inspector. This is a Site Plan showing permanent and temporary control measures to be implemented throughout the period of site disturbance for construction. These controls include but are not limited to tracking pads, drainage swales, siltation traps, drywells, silt fencing, straw bales, buffer plantings, check dams, detention ponds, permanent green infrastructure, rain gardens and site stabilization solutions after construction. Notes and details are included to instruct and guide the trained contractor in the implementation of the SWPPP. This Plan is required by the MS4 and subject to their approval before sending on to the state agency. Once the MS4 has approved the SWPPP, the following items and documents must be filed and implemented while keeping copies on the project site and in your office file.
· Written MS4 Approval of Plan required* before sending on to the state agency
· NOI – Notice of Intent to state agency (standard form found on-line or at the agency office)
· Owner Compliance/Responsibility – form signed and notarized
· Qualified Inspector – a licensed and registered engineer, landscape architect or CPESC
· Qualified Contractor (file current certification in Site Log binder)
· Weekly Monitoring/Reports/Photos/Site Log (check with states’ specific requirements)
· NOT – Notice of Termination to state agency (standard form found on-line or at the agency office)
*some exceptions – see EPA issued permits above
NOI – Notice of Intent
· Register with state agency as required
· Fill out NOI and have Owner/Operator sign (and understand)
· Submit with Plan and MS4 Acceptance Form to the state agency
· Receive acknowledgement letter from state agency with start date
SWPPP Qualified Inspector Tips
· Read and know the state agency requirements
· Review Checklist provided by your state agency
· Provide a suitable binder for the Site Log
· SWPPP, permit copy, blank inspection sheets and signed inspection reports in binder
· Have contractor provide a lockable, watertight storage container on site for the binder
· Have a date stamped digital camera – take photos at every site inspection
· Make scheduled inspections as required and record visits systematically in Site Log
· Document all visits and keep copies of everything in an off-site file (physical and/or electronic).
· Be aware of regulations that might allow for a suspension of inspections during project shut down or in-
activity (frozen ground, deep snow, project delays, etc.).
NOT – Notice of Termination
· Site must be stabilized to the satisfaction of the MS4 (usually 90% - check state’s requirements).
· Receive acceptance letter or form from MS4
· Fill out NOT form and submit to NYSDEC (NY) with MS4 acceptance letter. Look for or follow up to
receive acceptance of project termination.
Why Landscape Architects Should Lead the Way on SWPPPs
While many, if not most SWPPPs are implemented by civil engineers, land owners should realize the importance of including landscape architects to lead the effort or play an instrumental role in the SWPPP process. Landscape architectural training not only includes the principles of grading, drainage and site stabilization but landscape architects can design a site to implement these measures integrally by limiting temporary erosion controls and integrating permanent controls into the site design using green infrastructure, well placed drywells and drainage structures, buffer plantings, proper plant selection and water features. Landscape architects can lead in the SWPPP process as prime consultants using engineers, testing labs and water quality experts as support when necessary for services involving Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), treated sewage discharges, turbidity measurements, toxins calculations and monitoring. Many projects under 5 acres do not require these services (again, check with your state requirements).
Finally, on smaller sites, landscape architects can provide a great service to their clients and the environment by limiting the site disturbance to under one acre thus eliminating the need for the full SWPPP process. Erosion and sediment controls should still be utilized but the state requirements and costs are greatly reduced. Remember that states and MS4s can lower this threshold (to less than a one acre disturbance requiring compliance), especially in very sensitive environments. Be sure to understand the state and local requirements before proceeding. A meeting with the MS4 building department or compliance staff prior to commencement of a project is highly recommended.
- EPA website
- NYSDEC website
- Professional experience
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