Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

EPA Storm Water Regulations: Tough Sailing.

Under the Clean Water Act, quantity and quality of storm water discharge continue to be right in the EPA’s bulls eye.

I remember years ago, the late 70s to be exact, I was involved in a project where we graded 5 acres uphill from the surrounding terrain. You guessed it: every time it rained thousands of gallons of storm water cascaded from the site with a turbidity factor so thick you could almost walk across it. Today, I would have been put in jail.

We have all learned a lot in the last 40 years. We do a better job with the BMP‘s of our sites first because it is law, but more importantly because it’s the best practice. When dealing with storm water, working smart is the best for our downhill neighbors and for the next generations.

However, some might need encouragement to do the right thing when it comes to site runoff. New laws and policies on the Federal and State level are always crafted through litigation. One of the EPA’s noteworthy pursuits is the question of turbidity.

Turbidity, or lack of water clarity, is measured in NTUs using an electronic device. With regular measurement and monitoring, a standard is being set which might require more stringent erosion control devices on projects. Turbidity units are problematic to monitor, but the EPA says more stringent enforcement is coming. At some point, unless litigation dilutes the issue, we will have to deal with it on sites.

The 2012 permit incorporates most of the effluent limitation guidelines from 2008 and 2009, but leaves open the question of maximum numeric limits of turbidity units. Right now, regulation apply to projects disturbing 20 acres or more. By February 2014 it will expand to include projects disturbing 10 acres or more.

I wish the situation was different, but as these regulations migrate through the approval channels, it will ultimately cost money for development. Do you think the benefits outweigh the cost?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.