In a blog post from January, we discussed Rhode Island DEM’s state-level enforcement action priorities for 2020. Today, we’ll take a closer look at one of the priority areas, stormwater construction general permits, and the related state environmental regulations.
The DEM Stormwater Program
DEM established the Stormwater Program to meet its requirements from the federal Clean Water Act, state law, and the associated federal and state environmental regulations. The Stormwater Program addresses federal requirements imposed by EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and Underground Injection Control (UIC) programs from the Clean Water Act. It also addresses state environmental regulations covering the RI Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (RIPDES) as well as those covering freshwater wetlands, water quality, groundwater discharge, and stormwater.
Overall, the Stormwater Program allows DEM to ensure that projects meet the various laws and regulations that aim to keep harmful pollutants from entering waterways and groundwater via polluted stormwater runoff. Construction project sites may create polluted stormwater runoff because of the materials associated with construction found on the sites; as the runoff flows across a site, it picks up sediment, debris, and liquids (oils, paints, etc.) from the site and carries it into the nearby waters.
Stormwater Construction General Permits
The Stormwater Program is run by the DEM Office of Water Resources (OWR), which oversees the permitting of projects for the different sources of stormwater runoff. These are: industrial activity, municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), and this year’s priority enforcement area, the RIPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharge Associated with Construction Activity or Stormwater Construction General Permits. With the exception of “Indian Country lands” (which must seek permits from the EPA), construction projects in Rhode Island must obtain these permits to make sure they will meet the state environmental regulations related to the projects.
OWR strongly recommends pre-application meetings with them to ensure that you submit the correct forms and apply for the proper permits. A Stormwater Construction General Permit is required under a number of circumstances, and is sometimes paired with different permits depending on what the project proposes to do and where. Other state environmental regulations may require additional permits; for example, coastal construction also requires permitting from CRMC. The application itself, available here under “Applications and Forms,” explains the circumstances under which a permit would be required. One must also remember to submit a Notice of Start of Construction when the project commences construction, and a Notice of Termination when the project’s construction is completed. These are both available in the same Excel file as the application itself on the related DEM website. Minimum Standard 10 in the Stormwater Management, Design, and Installation Rules (250-RICR-150-10-8) lays out some of the minimum requirements for applicants to meet that will minimize and/or prevent stormwater from running off construction sites into the nearby environment.
Importance of Understanding the State Environmental Regulations and Permit Requirements
Above, we’ve provided information about what the Stormwater Construction General permits are and when you need one. This allows people and businesses to work toward following the rules and helps prevent enforcement actions against them.
It’s important to also understand the potential costs of not obtaining a necessary permit, and/or engaging in prohibited actions even after obtaining the permit(s). Enforcement actions seeking to ensure compliance in this area will occur even more frequently this year, since it is a priority for DEM in 2020. The costs are high, and the risk of highly expensive enforcement actions are now also very high; this can make the overall cost of your project become economic unfeasible. Working closely with OWR, construction partners, and even attorneys versed in state environmental regulations exponentially improves your timeline and project permitting.
For assistance with determining whether you need a Stormwater Construction General Permit, obtaining one, or ensuring compliance with your permit, reach out to our attorneys at 401.477.0023 to talk through your project plans today.