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Municipal Construction Inspection Program

Minimum Measure: Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control

Subcategory: Municipal Program Oversight

Photo description: Construction reviewers periodically inspect construction sites. Description

Construction sites lacking adequate stormwater controls can contribute significant amounts of sediment to streams and lakes. To reduce the water quality impacts of active construction sites, NPDES regulations require that many construction projects install and maintain appropriate erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, and housekeeping BMPs. In addition, the NPDES regulations require many municipalities to implement programs to control runoff from construction sites. These regulation include reviewing construction plans, conducting site inspections, and enforcing control measures necessary to minimize water quality impacts. This BMP fact sheet focuses on the municipality's role in developing a construction inspection program and inspecting construction sites within its jurisdiction.

Applicability

Federal regulations require municipal permittees to develop a stormwater program that includes procedures for the inspection of construction projects to ensure that appropriate BMPs are installed and maintained. In addition to federal regulations, most municipalities have procedures to conduct inspections of constructions projects in accordance with their own ordinances.

Developing a Stormwater Construction Inspection Program
Following the development of a program to review construction phase stormwater plans, municipal permittees should also develop a program to track, inspect, and enforce their local stormwater requirements at construction sites. A comprehensive stormwater construction inspection program should include:
  • Ordinance/Legal Authority
    Phase II regulations require "an ordinance or other regulatory mechanism to require erosion and sediment controls, as well as sanctions to ensure compliance." EPA's model erosion and sediment control ordinance can help municipalities create their own ordinance.
  • Construction Site Inventory
    A tracking system must be developed to inventory projects and identify sites for inspection. The inventory ideally should also track the results of inspections and prioritize construction sites based on factors such as proximity to a waterbody, size, slope, and history of past violations. Construction site tracking should also include procedures to locate "non-filers" or sites that have failed to file proper paperwork.
  • Construction Requirements and BMPs
    Municipalities must provide construction operators with guidance on the appropriate selection and design of stormwater BMPs. As an example, the California Stormwater Quality Association has developed a Construction BMP Handbook Exit EPA Site that contains BMP design standards.
  • Plan Review Procedures
    Submitted plans must be reviewed to ensure they address local requirements and protect water quality. EPA has developed a BMP fact sheet describing construction-phase stormwater plan review procedures.
  • Construction Site Inspections
    The municipality should identify an inspection frequency for sites (e.g., weekly, monthly, twice per season, etc.). The inspection frequency can vary based on the site's priority. Additional information on conducting inspections is included below.
  • Enforcement Procedures
    An inspection program should have clear enforcement procedures, including a written progressive enforcement policy. Additional information on enforcement procedures is provided in the fact sheet on local ordinances for construction site runoff control.
  • Training and Education
    Municipal stormwater staff conducting inspections should receive training on regulatory requirements, BMPs, inspections, and enforcement. National training is available from the International Erosion Control Association Exit EPA Site.

Conducting Stormwater Inspections at Construction Sites

The construction inspector's primary role is to ensure that all relevant precautions are taken to prevent pollutants and sediment in stormwater from impacting state waters. An inspector must also determine the adequacy of stormwater quality control measures. To achieve this, the inspector must first be familiar with applicable statutes, rules, and regulations, permit requirements, and construction practices, and have a thorough understanding of the construction inspection process. Inspectors often receive this training through on-the-job training with other inspectors or, for larger municipalities, formal training for city inspectors. Successful construction inspections require frequent examination, organization, planning, good judgment, and coordination of efforts by all parties.

The inspector should plan his or her inspection schedule to target sites that are in priority areas (i.e., sites discharging to water quality-impaired waters, sites near surface waters, areas undergoing rapid development, large construction sites, or sites with a history of noncompliance).

Prior to the inspection, the inspector should review available documents, such as permits, copies of the site plan, and any past inspection reports from municipal stormwater inspectors who visited the site. The inspector must also be prepared for the actual inspection and have the necessary personal protective equipment (i.e., steel-toed shoes, hard hat, and safety vest) and inspection materials (i.e., digital camera, logbook, and copies of the permit and inspection form) to conduct the inspection.

During an inspection, inspectors are expected to perform their task in a professional and diplomatic manner by objectively documenting all of the inspection findings and developing a working relationship with the construction operator or other members of the public. The inspection should be thorough and consistent and cover all areas of the construction site and BMPs. Throughout the life of the project, the inspector needs to ensure that BMPs are installed and maintained properly and in working order in accordance with the construction site plan. Inspectors should assess perimeter controls (e.g., Silt Fence) and construction entrances and perform a walk-through of the site to assess stabilization practices (e.g., Seeding), structural sediment control practices (e.g. Sediment Trap), discharge points, housekeeping practices (e.g., General Construction Site Waste Management), and off-site areas to determine if adjacent properties or receiving waters are being adversely affected by construction activities.

Inspectors should document and track all findings at the construction site using inspection forms, photographs, notes, and written logs. One example stormwater construction inspection from is available from the University of Notre Dame [PDF - 27 KB - 2 pp] Exit EPA Site. Whenever possible, photographs should be taken to document problems and to identify areas where subcontractors may need to conduct maintenance. This documentation will aid the inspector in escalating enforcement or pursuing more stringent penalties if the site is in continuous noncompliance.

Recommended Construction Inspection Process

To conduct a thorough construction site inspection, inspectors should consider using an inspection process similar to the following (adapted from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) Stormwater Construction Inspection Guide [PDF - 5.77 MB - 38 pp] Exit EPA Site:

  1. Plan your inspection ahead of time.
    Obtain and review permit requirements, site map with BMP locations marked, and any other necessary information needed to plan how you will conduct the site inspection. Create a formal checklist to use during the inspection. Before entering the construction site, take note of the surroundings and stages of construction. The inspector should begin at a low point and work uphill, making sure to observe all discharge points and any off-site support activities.
  2. Inspect perimeter controls and slopes.
    The inspector should examine all perimeter controls (such as silt fences) to determine whether they are adequate for the drainage area they were designed to treat, and that they have been properly installed and maintained. The structural integrity of the BMP should be checked to determine whether portions of the BMP need to be replaced. Slopes and temporary stockpiles should be inspected to determine if sediment and erosion controls are effective; look for signs of slumps or rills, as well as tracking of stockpiled materials to other parts of the site.
  3. Compare BMPs in the site plan with the construction site conditions.
    Determine whether BMPs are in place as specified in the site plan and evaluate whether those BMPs have been adequately installed and maintained. Document any potential violations and their location and look for areas where additional BMPs are needed that are not specified in the site plan.
  4. Inspect site entrances/exits.
    Inspect the vehicle construction entrance/exit and surrounding streets to determine if there has been excessive tracking of sediment from the site. Look for evidence of additional areas where vehicles are entering or exiting that are not on the site plan and are not stabilized.
  5. Inspect sediment controls.
    Inspect sediment basins and look for signs that sediment has accumulated beyond one-third to one-half the original capacity of the basin. If so, document that maintenance is required.
  6. Inspect pollution prevention and good housekeeping practices.
    Inspect trash areas and material storage and staging areas to ensure that materials are properly maintained and that pollutant sources are not exposed to rainfall or runoff. Where applicable, verify that concrete washouts are being used properly and are correctly sized for the volume of washwater generated at the site. Inspect vehicle/equipment fueling and maintenance areas for the presence of spill control measures and for evidence of leaks or spills.
  7. Inspect discharge points and downstream, off-site areas.
    Inspect all discharge points and downstream areas to determine if erosion and sediment control practices are effective in preventing offsite impacts. Walk down the street if necessary to look for evidence of discharges from the site. This is particularly important in areas with existing curb and gutter. Inspect down-slope catch basins to determine whether they are adequately protected, and identify whether sediment buildup has occurred. The inspector should document any violations or evidence of offsite impacts on the inspection form and with photographs.

Common Problems Found During Inspections

The following are problems commonly found during inspections of construction sites. An inspector's role is to identify these types of non-compliance:

Problem #1 - No temporary or permanent cover
Areas that have exposed soil and are not part of the active construction activity should have temporary erosion control cover. Areas that are at final grade should receive permanent cover as soon as possible.

Problem #2 - No sediment controls on-site
Sediment control practices (e.g., silt fences, sediment traps/basins) must be in place before land disturbing activities occur.

Problem #3 - No sediment control for temporary stockpiles
Temporary stockpiles must have perimeter controls and cannot be placed in waterways or runoff conveyance systems, including curb and gutter systems.

Problem #4 - No inlet protection
All storm drain inlets that receive runoff from the construction site must be protected before construction activities begin, and this protection must be maintained until the site is stabilized.

Problem #5 - No BMPs to minimize vehicle tracking on to the road
Vehicle exits must have BMPs such as stone pads or concrete or steel wash racks to prevent vehicle tracking of sediment. If BMPs are not adequately keeping sediment off the street, then tracked sediment may need to be removed and the entrance/exit protection redesigned or repaired to improve its effectiveness.

Problem #6 - Improper solid waste or hazardous materials management
To minimize the impacts of spills and leaks, solid waste must be disposed of in designated containers, and hazardous materials (including gasoline, oil, and paint) must be properly stored to prevent transport in rainfall and in runoff.

Problem #7 - Dewatering at the construction site
Dewatering from building footings or other construction site sources should not be discharged without treatment. Also turbid water should be filtered or allowed to settle before being discharged from the site.

Problem #8 - Poorly maintained BMPs
Site controls are only as effective as the operation and maintence. Inspectors should ensure that BMPs identified on site plans are not only installed, but that records exist documenting inspections and maintenance as appropriate. In some instances, poorly maintained BMPs actually increase erosion rates at a site.

Limitations

Municipal permittees commonly lack staff resources for frequent, comprehensive inspections. Inspections can be time-consuming, especially in large, rapidly developing communities. Without adequate time, inspectors may tend to do more 'drive-by' inspections in lieu of a more thorough walk-through of a site, which vastly decreases the effectiveness of the program.

Permitted municipalities can look to outside sources for construction inspectors. Some permitting authorities, such as Maine Exit EPA Site have implemented a private inspector program in which individuals can receive stormwater management training to become certified inspectors to reduce the burden on the governing agency. These private inspectors can be hired directly by the contractor when the governing agency anticipates that a larger, more complicated site will require substantial agency resources. Contractor certification programs are supplements to a municipal inspection and enforcement program. Such programs might fail if the contractors and inspectors are not held accountable, even without certification. Because there is a potential for contractors and private inspectors to abuse their certification, some states require spot checks by municipal enforcement agents.

Another potential stumbling block in implementing a construction inspection program is that inspectors lack the necessary authority to enforce the local ordinance effectively. To quickly gain compliance and minimize pollutant discharge, inspectors must be able to process necessary enforcement actions, such as notices of violation or administrative fines. In addition, if inspectors do not adequately document and track inspection findings it can be difficult to properly escalate enforcement or pursue more stringent penalties. It is imperative that all enforcement actions are legally defensible, and proper documentation is critical.

Effectiveness

Reice and Andrews (2000) measured water quality parameters at 17 construction sites in 3 in North Carolina jurisdictions to determine whether the degree of regulatory stringency and the level of municipal enforcement affected water quality. At each site, the researchers collected benthic macroinvertebrates and water samples for chemical analysis, and analyzed leaf litter decomposition rates upstream from, downstream from, and at the construction site. Samples were taken before the commencement of construction activities, during the "peak" land disturbance, and after the site was completed and released by the regulatory agency. The results showed that construction sites in jurisdictions with strong enforcement had a significantly smaller environmental impact on streams than those jurisdictions with weaker enforcement. The stringency of local regulations was not an important factor determining water quality relative to enforcement.

For municipal permittees, there are a number of ways to measure the effectiveness of a construction inspection program. A municipal permittee could document and track the rate of change in instances of noncompliance at construction sites. Alternatively, a permittee could track the numbers, types, and overall performance (pass/fail) of BMPs installed at sites in the community to determine if better BMPs are being selected, or if better BMP performance is seen over time as a result of the inspections. Finally, a municipal permittee might measure the number of inspections accomplished each month or the number of times each site was visited in a year to measure programmatic progress in terms of inspector efficiency.

Some municipal permittees are attempting to correlate inspections with water quality improvements as well. The City of Charlotte and the County of Mecklenburg Exit EPA Site have collaborated to develop an effective erosion and sediment control enforcement program that employs frequent inspections, notices of violation, and fines, as well as an appeals process to effectively and fairly require compliance. Inspections are conducted approximately once every two weeks, and fines of up to $5,000 per day are possible. Before any land disturbance, a form naming the person "financially responsible" is completed for each project. The financially responsible party is on record as the party to accept any notices of violation or related documents for any noncompliance with the City of Charlotte's Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Ordinance.

The goal of the program is to achieve a 25 percent reduction in total suspended solids loads in streams with established in-stream stormwater monitoring sites. For streams where no sites have been established, the goal is to prevent turbidity levels from increasing more than 25 percent downstream of the construction site. If it is determined that turbidity levels have increased more than 25 percent, the city increases its inspections. Data are maintained in an inspector logbook, and a report is provided at the end of each quarter. These reports are then provided to staff during water quality meetings at the beginning of each quarter. Based on the reports, action plans are developed to enhance measures, such as inspection and enforcement activities, to achieve water quality goals. Several streams have shown a reduction in sediment levels since the program began in 1999. Additional monitoring is needed to establish long-term trends.

References

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Protecting the Environment Using Erosion Control. [http://charmeck.org/CITY/CHARLOTTE/EPM/SERVICES/LANDDEVELOPMENT/EROSION/Pages/Charlotte%20Soil%20Erosion%20and%20Sedimentation%20Control.aspx Exit EPA Site]. Accessed June 3, 2005.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Stormwater Construction Inspection Guide. 2004 [http://www.pca.state.mn.us/publications/wq-strm2-10.pdf [PDF - 5.77 MB - 38 pp] Exit EPA Site]

Reice, S.R., and R.N. Andrews. 2000. Effectiveness of Regulatory Incentives for Sediment Pollution Prevention: Evaluation Through Policy Analysis and Biomonitoring. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Erosion and Sediment Control Training and Certification Program. [http://www.deq.virginia.gov/ConnectWithDEQ/TrainingCertification.aspx Exit EPA Site]. Accessed June 3, 2005.

 

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