Construction Stormwater Regulations in Texas: A Guide for Engineers and Contractors
Picture this: You’re knee-deep in a construction project, managing deadlines, coordinating teams, and tackling technical challenges. Suddenly, someone throws a curveball at you: ‘What about the stormwater pollution prevention plan?’ or ‘Have you submitted the Notice of Intent?’ It’s enough to make your head spin, right? But fear not, you’ve stumbled upon the ultimate guide to navigating the labyrinth of stormwater regulations in the great state of Texas.
Table of Contents
Welcome to the World of Texas Stormwater Regulations. Whether you’ve been dubbed the ‘stormwater expert’ for your department or find yourself seeking quick shortcuts and resources, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll unravel the complexities and demystify the jargon surrounding stormwater regulations, empowering you to confidently comply with the rules and best practices. However, you landed here, it’s likely not on accident.
But before we embark on this enlightening journey, let’s make one thing clear: stormwater isn’t just about raindrops falling from the sky. It’s an intricate dance between land, pollution, and the fragile ecosystems of our rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal waters. It’s about protecting these invaluable resources through stormwater controls and best management practices (BMPs) that filter out pollutants and prevent contamination at the source. If there is a specific question, shortcut or resource that you need immediately I suggest reaching out to a stormwater consultant or the TCEQ Stormwater Group.
Stormwater regulations are location based from the EPA to the specific location of a construction site. On top of that every municipality has their own ordinances, permits, forms and pre-construction procedures. Even so the TPDES Construction General Permit lays a basic foundation for any construction project in Texas. The goal of this post is to provide a fundamental overview of regulations and best practices for engineers and contractors involved in construction projects.
What is Stormwater
“Stormwater runoff is generated from rain and snowmelt events that flow over land or impervious surfaces, such as paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, and does not soak into the ground. The runoff picks up pollutants like trash, chemicals, oils, and dirt/sediment that can harm our rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal waters. To protect these resources, communities, construction companies, industries, and others, use stormwater controls, known as best management practices (BMPs). These BMPs filter out pollutants and/or prevent pollution by controlling it at its source.”
TCEQ – Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
TPDES – Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
CGP – Construction General Permit
NOI – Notice of Intent
SWPPP – Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plant
BMP – Best Management Practices
ECP – Erosion Control Plan
The Rules Laws and Regulations
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 snowballed into the Clean Waters Acts, the development of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the implementation of the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) permit program.
In general, there are 3 main stormwater water permits:
- MS4 (Municipal)
Each state has the option of utilizing the NPDES permit program or creating a state specific permit program such as TPDES in Texas. States that decide to build their own program must meet the minimal requirements of the national program, but can add extra requirements such as specific certifications for site inspectors or approved best practice measures (BMPs).
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) administers the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Construction General Permit (CGP) that construction sites must obtain. The CGP is reviewed, updated and renewed every 5 years with the 2023 CGP being the most current.
TPDES Construction General Permit
The CGP lays out specific requirements for construction activities based on location and size. (Sizes include all disturbed, storage and stockpiling areas for a construction of demolition site)
- TPDES CGP – General Requirements
- Large Construction Site (over 5 acres or part of a common plan of development)
- Small Construction Site (1 to 5 acres and NOT pert of a common plan of development)
- Low Rainfall Erosivity Waiver for small sites (LREW) – (small construction site with a low erosivity factor)
- Under 1 Acre Site – Doesn’t fall under the TPDES CGP requirements
TPDES CGP - General Requirements
- TCEQ Approved Site Notices
- Large Construction Site Notice for Primary Operators
- Large Construction Site Notice for Secondary Operators
- Small Construction Site Notice
- Small Construction Site Notice: Low Potential for Erosion
- Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP/SWP3)
A SWPPP is a comprehensive site specific that details the various site concerns like streams, soils, or chemicals that will be used on the site. The remainder of the plan outlines the strategies to reduce impacts to stormwater and the local environment. A construction site is continual changing based on the type of work being performed, and the SWPPP should match the work that is occurring which is why it is referred to as a living document. SWPPP templates are readily available form most state permitting sites as will as the EPA permitting site.
- Waste, Perimeter, Erosion and Sediment Control BMPs
BMPs can be temporary, permanent, an engineered control like silt fence or a procedure such as street sweeping. Sites are responsible for identifying and implementing strategies and/or practices that will prevent soil erosion and control sedimentation. Many municipalities within Texas maintain or reference an approved bmp list with their engineering design manuals. A comprehensive Construction Controls BMP manual was created by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and used by most North Texas cities.
- Erosion Control Plan
Generally, an Erosion Control Plan (ECP) can be found in the civil plan set of a construction project. A detailed ECP will display the construction site, topography, storage and staging, BMPs, phases of construction and stormwater lines. The basic requirements for an ECP are outlined in the 2023 TPDES CGP, but many municipalities have their own requirements or templates. Incomplete Erosion Control Plans are the primary deficiency found by cities and often stop projects from gaining city approval of a project.
- Routine Inspection and Monitoring
Routine inspections of a site include after rain events, BMP inspections, site maintenance, dewatering, etc. Site inspections and the records of site inspections are reviewed by local stormwater staff. Inadequate or lacking records are the main cause of violations, fines and stop work orders. The EPA offers a free Construction Inspection Training Course certification, its in the best interest of a construction site to have qualified personnel who understand stormwater compliance.
- Recordkeeping and Reporting
TCEQ is a state governmental department which undergoes routine audits of all its programs. The person or operator of a site must retain all records for a minimum of three years.
Large Construction Sites
- Sites must apply and be approved for a Texas Construction Notice of Intent (NOI)
- File a Notice of Change (NOC) and/or Notice of Termination (NOT) as appropriate
- Special requirements for disturbing over 10 acres at the same time
- TPDES Large Construction Site Notice for Primary and Secondary Operators
- Municipal Requirements
Small Construction Sites
- TPDES Small Construction Site Notice
- Municipal Requirements
Low Rainfall Erosivity Waiver for small sites (LREW)
- Sites must apply and be approved for a TPDES LREW permit
- TPDES Small LREW Site Notice
- Not required to develop a SWPPP
- Waiver is applicable as long as the site meets the LREW requirements.
Under 1 Acre Sites
- Does not fall under the TPDES
- Municipality requirements, for under 1-acre sites most cities require a simplified version of a SWPPP.
Staying in Compliance
The best way to stay in compliance with the TPDES CGP is training. Operators listed on the Construction General Permit and SWPPP are responsible for every mandate, rule and regulation outlined in the permit. Make sure staff overseeing a construction site have a firm grasp of stormwater compliance. Secondarily, provide training or legal language in agreements with subcontractors that must know and follow basic stormwater compliance practices such as using the correct construction exit or fees for running over silt fence or wattles.
Prepare. Routine maintenance and up to date inspections will eliminate the majority of stormwater issues on a construction site. Preparation for the worst should cover the rest. A prepared site would likely have spill response kits, extra erosion and sediment control materials, and back up plans for adverse weather.
Communicate often with assigned municipal stormwater inspectors. Can’t get your silt fence guy until Thursday, send a quick email to your site inspector. If inspectors find deficiencies on site, make the corrections as soon as possible and provide evidence (photos and reports). The chances of a site receiving a notice of violation, fine or stop work order reduces when an operator simply communicates and follows through with corrections set by municipal inspectors.
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- Sending in an incomplete civil plan set for review. City review staff will have to outline every missing or incorrect item, at best this sends a lack luster impression and at worst it will move your project to the bottom of the pile and increase a projects timeline.
- Only listing silt fence on an Erosion Control Plan. Silt fence is a great perimeter control less so for erosion and sediment control. BMPs should be selected to based off of the conditions and construction work of the site, rarely if ever will a single row of silt fence provide adequate stormwater controls for a site over 1 acre.
- Solely relying on a stormwater consultant or inspector. Someone onsite should be able to answer any stormwater questions from a developer, consultant, subcontractor of municipal inspector.
- Lying about the size or type of construction project. We have seen operators claim a site for a LREW simply to prevent the need/cost of a SWPPP, BMPs, training, etc. Purposeful neglect would increase the chances for fines, citations and enforcement from municipal and state organizations.