By Matthew Renaud
February was ending, that once every four-year event, Leap Day was upon us. Like so many, we were planning our schedules for March, ensuring that we had the appropriate staffing in place for the upcoming rain events, reporting requirements, and other routine tasks that come through the door for our clients. Then, March came in like a lion, but not a winter storm, no, this was a storm of a different kind. When the real news of the effects that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was becoming known and the seriousness of it was finally being accepted by the multiple levels of government, our collective worlds changed seemingly overnight. What can we all do for the collective good our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike? Stay home, stay away, and then what about work? Am I essential? It’s human nature to feel like we should be classified as “essential.” Fortunately, some levels of the government have answered this question for us. From the environmental protection/compliance side, the Regional Water Quality Control Board for San Diego was the first to answer this question for me and what I dedicate my career to. A few days later, on March 20, 2020, the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) issued a release that clarified for all state permittees that the protection of our State’s water and environmental resources are an essential component of our collective good and that compliance matters are essential to be complied with throughout this crisis.
Specifically, the Board’s directive was “[we] are continuing our efforts to protect public health, safety, and the environment consistent with all Federal, state, and local public health directives and guidelines related to COVID-19.” And then made it even clearer that:
“timely compliance by the regulated community with all Water Board orders and other requirements (including regulations, permits, contractual obligations, primacy delegations, and funding conditions) is generally considered to be an essential function during the COVID-19 response. As a result, the Water Boards consider compliance with board-established orders and other requirements to be within the essential activities, essential governmental functions, or comparable exceptions to shelter-in-place directives provided by local public health officials.”
For industries, construction sites, and other regulated entities, this crisis is not alleviating the environmental permitting compliance requirements that their operations must comply with. All routine and storm-related inspections and sampling are required to continue as prescribed in the associated permits/orders. However, these activities need to meet the health and safety requirements of social distancing and face covering that is quickly becoming our “new normal.”
So what this means in the real world of operations is: do your required inspections on the appropriate timeline, collect required samples, make sure Best Management Practices (BMP) are installed properly, and keep additional materials on hand in advance as our reliance on traditional deliveries are not guaranteed. For construction projects, make sure to maintain communication with your Qualified SWPPP Developer (QSD) and Practitioner (QSP) about any changes to planned activities so that appropriate measures can be altered as needed. For industrial facilities, make sure your Qualified Industrial Storm Water Practitioner (QISP) is aware of any changes to the facility’s operation and if any of your BMPs are not going to be able to function or need adjustment. Regional Board inspectors are still performing their inspection responsibilities. They will be visiting sites, although they might just be drive-by inspections, so ensure your BMPs are in place and that your site/facilities look good. Don’t give them reasons to stop or to schedule a follow-up.
With all that being said about complying with permits being compulsory, the Board does give the regulated community an out, under specific circumstances. If a regulated entity feels that compliance with a specific order or requirement cannot be completed on time because it would be inconsistent with current governmental directives or guidelines related to COVID-19, the entity must contact the applicable Regional Board immediately. The email communication shall include the following information:
The Board stated that they intend to respond within 48 hours to these notifications, but do not assume that your request will be granted. Keep contingency measures in place until official communication occurs.
It’s important to remember that the State of California’s environmental compliance of Clean Water Act requirements is handled by the state. EPA directives about compliance do not affect how compliance is to be handled in California. This may make for some varying compliance programs throughout the country for multistate operations. Consulting with your regulatory experts should be high on your priority list to avoid any additional unpleasant circumstances in operations.
We are all in this together. Having a great team of knowledgeable advisors and trusted partners will help us all weather this crisis together and eventually come out of it collectively stronger. If you want advice on what your facility/operation/municipality/construction project may need to do to comply in these changing times, please do not hesitate to contact any of NV5’s technical experts:
Industrial Permits: David Renfrew, CPSWQ, QISP ToR, QSD David.Renfrew@NV5.com
Municipal Permits: Garth Engelhorn, CPSWQ, QISP ToR Garth.Engelhorn@NV5.com
Construction Permits: Matthew Renaud, CPESC, QSD/P ToR, QISP Matthew.Renaud@NV5.com
If you need COVID-19 cleaning protocols or an evaluation of your facility/operations for the protection of workers and customers, NV5’s team of industrial hygienists have you covered. Please email Lisa Kay at Lisa.Kay@NV5.com for more information.
We are all in this together, we are struggling in our unique ways, and we are all looking forward to our “new normal” to becoming recent history. Stay strong, stay distanced, and most of all stay who you are!