Environmental compliance on a construction site can be tedious and often burdensome to the project superintendent. Rules and regulations are constantly in a state of flux and when your main focus is building a project on time, within budget and safely, adding storm water compliance to the mix of concerns tends to take lower priority. That is, at least until the State’s Regional Water Quality Control Board Inspector shows up at your job site. Over the past two months I’ve seen a flurry of activity by Regional Board Inspectors performing field Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan and Permit compliance inspections throughout Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside Counties.
As part of the State of California’s agreement with the US EPA in administering a state-level Clean Water Act compliance program, the state is required to perform compliance inspections/reviews on 20% of active permits annually, meaning that all active permits will be reviewed at least once in a five-year period (statistically). Within the last month, multiple projects for which I am the Qualified SWPPP Developer and Practitioner have received Regional Board inspections. I’ve also had many projects that were inspected that had identified Non-Compliances reach out to me directly to assist them in resolving those issues. Common themes I’ve seen listed in the inspection reports are: no project QSP, compliance inspection reports not on site, lack of BMPs installed, no list of contractors and subcontractors in the SWPPP, and for projects that have been going on for a while: out of date risk assessments. All of these issues are easily avoided by having a competent QSD write your SWPPP and a QSP perform your weekly and rain event related inspections.
So what should you do if a regulator shows up to your job site unannounced? They will show up unannounced, so don’t take that personally, it’s just the way the program is. As a Permittee, you have agreed to allow access to the regulator to inspect your permitted site, so don’t fight them on this. If you deny them entrance and they have to come back, (and they will) you won’t like the outcome of the inspection. When they show up, kindly greet them, take them to a controlled space with few disturbances (the project trailer is ideal or a quiet section of the building that’s under construction where you and the regulator can hear each other clearly). Start off with a safety orientation for them on the specifics of your project’s safety program and requirements. Demonstrating that you take safety seriously may translate well that you take all areas of compliance seriously (this can only help you in the perception category). An added bonus to the safety speech diversion is that you can buy a bit of time to get the crews out to clean-up the site as best they can before the walk begins. At this time, you should have already called your project QSP and even your QSD (assuming that you have one), if you don’t have one, call me, Matt Renaud at (201) 240-4319. While they may not be able to make it to your site in time to walk with the inspector they should take time to talk on the phone with them at the end of the inspection to limit unnecessary items in the inspection report.
Provide the inspector with all site documentation you have and be honest if they ask for something and you don’t have it. Honesty is the best policy here, the program is based on continuing improvement so just getting a fix-it ticket is better than a violation because you lied about it. If you know you have the documentation but can’t find it, try and have someone work on finding it during the site walk so that when that’s done, the documentation will be waiting for the inspector.
During the site walk, be strategic. While the inspector has the right to go anywhere on the project, they will often follow your lead in a route. I’ve taken many an inspector on a circuitous route around a job site so as to avoid direct observation of some subcontractors that the general contractor just can’t control, sometimes it might just work. Again, don’t deny the inspector access to an area, they will come back, sometimes with “assistance” of law enforcement in order to access a property if need be. During the walk be honest, or at least answer the tough questions with: “I’ll have to get back to you with an answer to that” or “I’ll contact my subcontractor about that and get back to you.” Take as many photos as you can during the walk. If the inspector takes one photo, take 4 photos of the area in all directions, remember in My Cousin Vinny when the best photo of the tire tracks was from a distance and not just a close-up one? Sometimes the long-view tells a bigger story.
At the end of the inspection ask for a recap of the issues that were identified and write these down. Discuss these with your QSP if you have one, especially the more technical compliance issues that you’re less comfortable with. At the end, don’t forget to thank the inspector for coming, (even if you may not mean it or don’t want to) and remember that they have a job to do and that’s what they are doing. The last impression you leave them with on their way out will likely be the one they remember when they sit down back at their desk to write up the report.
Now that the inspector has left, get your crew(s) working on correcting as many of the BMP deficiencies as you possibly can that same day. Sending the inspector a photo of a corrected issue before they get back to their office will speak volumes to them in your sincerity to address water quality protection, even if you don’t, but we hope you do. If you don’t have a QSP and/or a QSD, your next move is call me, I’ll meet you at the project site as soon as possible to discuss the issues and what you’ll need to do to correct.
Surviving a regulatory storm water compliance inspection can seem like a daunting task, but with the right team member on board you shouldn’t have to expend much time and energy on it. I’ve resolved inspection issues that my now new client was issued Notices of Violation on in a matter of days from issuance. Let your professionals handle it while you get back to doing what you do best, constructing.
For all your construction storm water compliance needs, please call me at (562) 495-5777 or email email@example.com. Stay dry, but not dusty (that’s a whole other strategy).