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Environmental Law Newsletter

The EPA Requires Construction Operators to Design and Implement Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Program regulates construction activities that disturb one acre or more of land. Such activities include those that have a tendency to expose soil, including, for example, clearing, excavation and grading activities. Pursuant to the program, construction operators may be required to obtain an NPDES permit from either an authorized state environmental agency or from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If the EPA has not authorized a state to issue NPDES storm water permits, permit coverage must be obtained from the EPA itself. In most locations where the EPA is the permitting authority, the operator of the construction site must obtain the EPA’s Construction General Permit (CGP). The CGP dictates general procedures that must be performed in order to comply with the NPDES Stormwater Program in areas where the EPA is the permitting authority.

Development of a SWPPP

The preparation of a storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) is an integral requirement of the CGP. At least one SWPPP must be developed for each construction project covered by the CGP. Further, each SWPPP must be prepared in accordance with good engineering practices.

A SWPPP generally consists of detailed plans outlining how sediment and erosion controls and other best management practices (BMPs) will be implemented on a construction site. According to the language of the CGP, the SWPPP must perform all of the following functions:

  1. Identify all potential sources of pollution which might affect the quality of storm water discharges from the construction site
  2. Describe procedures that will be employed to reduce pollutants in storm water discharges from the construction site
  3. Assure compliance with the terms and conditions of the CPG

To ensure that the SWPPP is designed in accordance with site-specific characteristics, the EPA structured the CGP requirements in such a manner as to grant the construction operator maximum flexibility when designing the SWPPP’s storm water controls. The EPA provides additional guidance by suggesting that the following factors may be considered when designing a SWPPP:

  • Types of soil found on the construction site
  • Sloping of the land
  • Precipitation patterns based on the time of year and the location of the construction site
  • Nearby bodies of water and respective sensitivity to the discharge of pollutants
  • Architectural landscape and orientation of buildings
  • Size of construction site
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