By Jon Lycett
In July 2013, I wrote about the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s order updating the NPDES general permit for municipal separate storm sewer systems (“MS4s”). See San Diego Water Board Issues Updated Permit for Municipal Storm Sewer Systems. MS4s are typically owned and operated by cities and other similar local government entities (called “co-permittees” in the order). Initially, the Regional Board’s order only applied to MS4 co-permittees located in 10 “Watershed Management Areas” in San Diego County. Later, the Regional Board issued a second order that brought the same rules into watersheds within the San Diego Region’s south Orange County and south Riverside County jurisdiction. In my earlier article, I described how the new permit requires a lengthy process of preparing a coordinated “Water Quality Improvement Plan” for all the MS4s within each watershed. That process also included revisions to each co-permittee’s “Runoff Management Program.” With some delay, that process is completed or wrapping up in most areas, and many cities are starting to roll out their enforcement programs.
What does this mean for your business? It means that it is time to review your compliance with storm water regulations. Most importantly, every property owner should review their city’s updated Runoff Management Program. Some cities are holding training programs to help get local businesses up to speed. I attended one in March held by the City of San Marcos, which most attendees found very valuable. Ask your city’s storm water manager what they recommend.
Two changes to the rules may come as a bit of a surprise to many businesses. Specifically, properties of every shape and size will need to create or install new BMPs to address landscape irrigation runoff and trash. These are two areas that are being emphasized and will likely be enforced. Landscape irrigation runoff is now completely prohibited, so property owners will need to install BMPs to either capture runoff before it goes to the storm sewer or to prevent irrigation systems from overflowing the landscaping areas. Likewise, property owners may need to increase the BMPs already established to prevent storm water contact with trash collection areas. New BMPs may be required to ensure that trash remains contained within the trash receptacles and to ensure that any litter does not find its way into the storm sewer. These may not be expensive changes, but they impact virtually every property owner in the San Diego Region.
Additionally, if you are currently operating under or seeking to obtain an industrial permit, you will need to make sure to review your city’s updated Runoff Management Program. Make sure your existing BMPs or those you are proposing comply with the new rules. Avoid spending substantial amounts of money on new engineered BMPs without making sure both the Regional Board and your City’s storm water enforcement program signs off. With new and more intrusive local rules, there is an increased risk of inconsistent requirements costing you money. You are better off getting ahead of the game before the City inspector shows up and tells you that your industrial permit BMPs are not enough. The industrial permit requires your SWPPP to keep updated with local rules anyway.
The new rules for construction are significant. The local Runoff Management Program will likely have more stringent requirements and will apply to smaller sites than the Regional Board’s construction permit. These requirements will be handled through the permit process, as always, but you will need to be prepared for them in advance to make sure you can reasonably meet them within the project’s budget range.
The San Diego Regional Board is a bit out in front on this issue, but similar changes will be happening all over the State. The State Board, in fact, is currently reviewing similar changes that the Los Angeles Regional Board made to its MS4 permit. Depending on the State Board’s conclusions, more changes could be coming. Check back for more updates as things develop.