How to Plan Stormwater Management While Remaining In Budget

construction zones can implement constructed wetlands, rain gardens, riparian buffers

Construction is naturally disruptive to the environment in several ways, including:

  • Disturbing Stabilized Land
  • Contaminants from Equipment and Materials
  • Noise Pollution
  • Stormwater Runoff and Pollution

While most of us are familiar with the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings and the embodied carbon created to build them, some of us are less familiar with additional concerns, like stormwater runoff. 

However, most commercial builders are painfully familiar with the tedious requirements of the EPA or State District office to construct a proper SWPPP, which are designed to prevent stormwater runoff and sediment erosion. 

But some builders and property owners may be surprised to learn that stormwater management doesn’t end once the project has concluded. 

Under an amendment to the Clean Water Act of the 1990s, all municipalities of a specific population size require an NPDES permit to divert runoff to a special conveyance, or MS4. 

However, to avoid flooding these public conveyances, this act also requires municipalities to develop a stormwater management plan to either divert stormwater runoff to qualified conveyance or erect infrastructure to eliminate the risks associated with stormwater runoff. 

As a result, all construction projects tied to that municipality must also abide by these rules. 

With these rules in place, a massive financial burden is placed on construction managers, local municipalities, and the public to deal with polluted stormwater runoff. 

Fortunately, by following this guide and the tips listed below, stakeholders involved with the ongoing creation and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure can reduce the costs of their stormwater management plan and ensure proper compliance with federal law. 

What Is an SWMP and What Do I Need?

A stormwater management plan (SWMP) is a permanent plan to address stormwater pollution from a construction project. Many municipalities within the EPA’s designated urbanized zones are required to create an SWMP to apply for an NDPES permit to construct a separate stormwater sewage system (MS4) or require construction managers to build their infrastructure.

However, SWMPs differ from your standard stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP), which only reduces stormwater runoff and pollution during the duration of the construction project.

SWMPs are essential because they protect the surrounding ecosystem and public waterways from pollution.

Additionally, SWMPs are often required by law, depending on whether a municipality qualifies for the EPA’s special rules regarding MS4s. 

With that said, SWMPs involve a few core components and are generally designed to:

  • Limit stormwater pollutants from nonpoint sources
  • Curtail the risk of flooding
  • Ensure the proper function of in-stream infrastructures, such as ditches
  • Reduce soil erosion 
  • Replenish discharged groundwater
  • Protect surrounding infrastructure from damage
  • Maintain proper water turbidity

Construction zones generally have the freedom to construct their infrastructure as long as it complies with the local municipal SWMP. Some acceptable infrastructure includes drainage ditches, permeable pavements, and other organic or natural barriers, which we will discuss later. 

Unfortunately, erecting new infrastructure can be devastating financially and sometimes impossible for municipalities working inside a tight budget. However, by following the tips below, our team will ensure your SWMP stays within budget and avoid dire straits. 

Tips for Keeping Your SWMP in Budget

Ensure Proper BMPs

There are many cases of construction managers who apply for a notice of intent to discharge stormwater at a construction site before a new project and get rejected by the reviewing agency after they realize that the site has many environmental issues. 

Not only does this inflate the cost of the construction project and upset property owners, but then the onus of cleaning up the existing site and the cost to do so gets tricky. 

For example, cases like these arise from BMPs used for TESCs but not reviewed by a proper stormwater consultant while planning out their SWPPP. The end result is improper BMPs that do very little to prevent excessive stormwater runoff or additional environmental concerns. 

To prevent issues like this from popping up mid-project, municipalities need to ensure proper oversight of BMPs during the initial permit process. As such, municipalities need to educate the public and engage in outreach to ensure appropriate BMPs are followed or understood during construction projects. 

Take Advantage of the Landscape

Municipalities and construction managers can work together to find cheaper ways to erect infrastructure that complies with federal NPDES requirements and utilize the natural landscape as a barrier and filtration system for stormwater runoff. 

For example, construction zones can implement constructed wetlands, rain gardens, riparian buffers, vegetated swales, sand filters, and several other control measures at a fraction of the cost of other manmade barriers.

While still costly, many of these control measures will require very little upkeep and help you maintain proper stormwater compliance

Analyze Existing Infrastructure

Before investing in new infrastructure, it pays to analyze existing control measures and identify areas where improvements can be made. 

This process involves mapping your geographic location and identifying all events that could lead to excessive stormwater runoff, whether from harsh weather seasons or vulnerable infrastructure. 

Then track the performance of your existing infrastructure to determine whether it’s performing adequately to handle new projects or requires immediate assistance. 

Essentially, by getting ahead of a problem before it requires a costly repair, your municipality can save money in the long run. 

Partner with the Public

SWMPs are not confined to construction zones or public conveyances. In some cases, municipalities can create SWMPs that address the preservation of natural wetlands and ecosystems.

To determine where your SWMP and budget should be focused, open discussion with the public and talk to business leaders to decide which resources are most important to your community. 

During this step, you can also take advantage of various ways of funding stormwater management projects, such as proposing new taxes to boost annual revenue, seeking private capital through grants or loans, or even proposing privatization measures to take the financial burden off of your municipality. 

Additionally, partnering with local environmental and watershed groups could also help you gain additional funding and align your goals with your surrounding community. 

Hire a Consultant

Finally, it pays to hire a consultant to ensure that your SWMP remains within budget and utilizes the best possible practices. While stormwater consultants will add an additional layer of cost to projects, they can also identify critical areas where BMPs can be implemented to save your municipality money on short-term and long-term maintenance. 

Environmental consultants are trained in stormwater management and erosion reduction, offering you the best insight to help your SWMP comply with federal law, save you money, and reduce ongoing costs down the road. 

In addition, consultants will work with you and construction managers to identify areas where improvements can and should be made to save both parties money. 

Stormwater management can be a massive financial burden for municipalities. Fortunately, by following these tips and working with a consultant, you can identify areas to save money and ensure projects comply with your budget and EPA standards.