Update on Georgia’s Draft Industrial Stormwater General Permit

creekAs we reported in an earlier blog post, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GAEPD) has posted a draft of the 2017 NPDES General Permit No. GAR050000 for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activity. The current (2012) version of the permit is set to expire on May 31, 2017, and this revision will replace it. The GAEPD has held three stakeholder meetings that were open to the public, and representatives from CTI were in attendance. There are a few obvious trends that we can see from the direction the GAEPD is heading. Most notably, there is an increased focus on erosion and sedimentation control, and there is a push for higher accountability in completing corrective actions. We will discuss both of these below, but keep in mind that the permit is in an early draft phase.  The GAEPD will be issuing a second draft based on input received during the stakeholder meetings and the preliminary comment period, and there will be a second opportunity for the public to comment before the final permit is issued. 

Increased Focus on Erosion and Sediment Control

For many years, dating back to the early 2000s, there has been a significant focus on stormwater runoff from construction sites; specifically on minimizing erosion and sedimentation associated with land disturbing activities. Erosion typically occurs when you have exposed soil and/or high volumes of water flow. Without vegetation to protect the soil from falling rain and to hold it in place, sediment can wash off a site and into nearby culverts, ditches, and streams. Increased flow of water will increase the amount of sediment carried away, and it can scour ditches and river banks. All the excess sediment picked up by the stormwater makes it into our streams and rivers, where it eventually settles out, changing the flow characteristics of the waterbodies. All of this causes increases in the likelihood and severity of floods, can threaten the stability of river banks and nearby structures, and can harm aquatic life and the surrounding fauna. To combat these negative effects, construction sites have been required to develop, implement, and maintain Best Management Practices (BMPs) to prevent erosion, capture sediment, and reduce the flow rate of stormwater leaving the property.  These controls must be maintained through the entire construction process, until the site is stabilized. Once construction is done, sites can request termination of their coverage under the general construction stormwater permit. If a facility is an industrial site, it will then need coverage under the general industrial stormwater permit (if it didn’t already have this).

There are requirements for erosion and sediment controls under the current industrial general permit, but they pale in comparison to the requirements of the construction stormwater permit.  That is looking to change in 2017, as GAEPD continues to show that the spotlight of stormwater pollution prevention is moving from construction to industry.  Specifically, the draft permit is now proposing to require facilities, at minimum, to use controls measures in accordance with the Manual for Erosion and Sediment Control in Georgia – something previously reserved for construction sites. In addition, the draft permit is requiring a detailed evaluation of the erosion and sediment controls as part of the annual comprehensive inspection, including a determination of how effective the current controls are and a description of any new areas needing erosion and sediment controls. All of this means that state and local inspectors, as well as third party citizens (e.g. Chattahoochee Riverkeepers), will have stronger tools to use when enforcing pollution control requirements.

Higher Accountability for Corrective Actions

The previous versions of the industrial general permit have consistently required facilities to identify the need for and to complete corrective actions. With the 2012 version of the permit, the corrective action requirements became more specific; events that trigger corrective actions were defined, and corrective action deadlines were established.  The new draft permit is even more strict than the 2012 version, as it requires immediate action to initiate corrective actions, and it has increased the deadline for completing corrective actions from 90 days to 14 days (or 45 days, depending on how feasible the corrective action is). In addition, the draft permit requires facilities to modify their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) within 14 days of when a corrective action is completed, if the corrective action results in a change to any control device or procedure.  These deadlines are going to be hard for many facilities to meet, and this was echoed in the stakeholder meetings, as representatives from both industry and government spoke out about the infeasibility of the proposed deadlines.  Look for these deadlines to be loosened in the second draft of the permit.

Looking Ahead

Interested parties have the opportunity to submit written comments on the first draft by September 9, 2016. The GAEDP promised to consider the discussions from the stakeholder meetings and the written comments prior to issuing a proposed permit. Once the proposed permit is issued, a formal public meeting will be held after a 30-day notice period. This formal meeting is currently planned for November 8, 2016. Once the GAEPD issues a final draft permit, the permit will go to the USEPA for final approval.  If all of this progresses on time, the new permit will be issued and become effective on June 1, 2017.

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