Stormwater: What’s Going Down Your Drains?

Before we go anywhere else on this topic, we want to make sure you’re clear on two critical points. (1) Stormwater is rain or melted snow that runs off surfaces like roofs, manufacturing and production areas, parking lots, streets, landscaped areas, etc. (2) Stormwater that’s not absorbed into soil (nature’s filtering system) runs down stormwater drains and directly into our local waterways. That’s right; stormwater isn’t typically treated. So any pollutants it picks up on its way to the drains goes right along with it to the nearest stream, river, or lake. And that can be a big problem.

It’s so big that federal, state, and local governments have massive and strict stormwater management regulations and programs in place to protect our waterways. One big component of stormwater management is permitting, which helps prevent harmful pollutants from contaminating local surface waters. Depending on your operations, you may need a stormwater discharge permit.

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, regulates point sources, i.e., a specific location where pollution occurs, that discharge pollutants into our waterways. In many states, the NPDES permit program is administered by state and local authorities. The permitting program helps government agencies monitor what’s going into our surface waters—besides good old H20.

Not sure if you need a permit? Find out. Check the EPA’s web page, NPDES Permits Around the Nation, and check your state’s requirements. Basically, government agencies classify industrial and business operations in sectors based on Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes and industrial activity codes. Those codes dictate whether an organization needs a permit to discharge pollutants down stormwater drains.

The NPDES has a zero-tolerance policy for unpermitted pollutant discharge into surface waters via storm drains or other methods. Fines for violations are steep: upward of $37,000 per violation per day. Yes, you read that right. So be sure you’re compliant with regulations.

If your operations and materials are conducted and stored under shelters that prevent rain and/or snow exposure, you may qualify for a conditional no exposure exclusion. But you’ll need to provide written certification.

Whether you need a permit or not, you should still employ best practices to manage your stormwater runoff and drains. In addition to keeping contaminants out of the stormwater system, a well devised stormwater best management plan could prevent flooding during large storms and sudden large maintenance events. As part of your stormwater management plan, you should:

Examine your property to see if there are any issues that could affect your stormwater runoff. For example, do you store items outdoors, such as scrap metal, drums of materials, old tires, plastics, etc.? Are they exposed to the elements so rainwater washes any leaked materials or residues into storm drains? Either move them to a covered area or keep them under some sort of cover. Dumpsters should also be covered.

Inspect your stormwater drains. How do they look? Are they clogged with debris or trash so they’re not operating well? If so, you’ll need to have them cleaned.

Maintain your air conditioning system. Large air conditioning system condensate can’t go in your storm drains. Instead, direct it into a holding tank and then have it removed.

Be careful with outdoor cleaning projects and vehicle washing. When you’re pressure washing or hosing down an area or your fleet with anything other than water, don’t discharge the wash water into storm drains. Soap and other cleaning agents can’t go down storm drains.

Document regular storm drain inspections and cleanings. That will keep you on good terms with regulatory agencies.

Remember, water is a precious and limited resource, so do what’s required by your permit and beyond. If you have a stormwater permit, review it regularly, follow it, and consider best management practices beyond the minimum requirements. If you aren’t required to have a permit, develop a written best management plan that includes:

  • Protecting and monitoring storm drains and sumps monthly
  • Keeping debris out of our storm drains
  • Using berms, silt fencing, and good covers to keep material out of drains
  • Inspecting storage areas regularly
  • Documenting all your findings to keep a record of your stormwater management and drain maintenance

Environmental Remedies can help. Not only will we clean your property for you, we won’t put anything down the storm drain. Instead, we’ll collect the wastewater and remove it from your site.

With Environmental Remedies as your partner, you can rest assured that your storm drains will be clean and fully functional. For more information, speak with one of our knowledgeable people at 800-399-2783 or visit our website:

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