Underground Utility Damage Prevention: Know What’s Below

Working around buried utilities is a very challenging task. Every 4 minutes an underground utility is struck and damaged by mechanized equipment, potentially causing harm to persons, property and causing the interruption of utility services. The Common Ground Alliance, a stakeholder-run organization dedicated to protecting underground utilities reports approximately 379,000 utility damages occurred in 2016, resulting in an estimated cost of 1.7 billion in property damage as well as countless number of injuries and deaths.

Why are there so many underground utility strikes?  According to the Common Grounds Alliance there are several re-occurring causes: Notification not made to the One-Call-Center, Insufficient locating practices, unmarked facilities, mis-marked utilities, inadequate utility marking, inadequate excavation practices, improper bidding of jobs, improper equipment used during digging, digging with mechanized equipment without first exposing buried utilities using manual digging methods, and the list goes on.

Utility damages impact everyone directly or indirectly. Contractors are affected in terms of a break down in safety, profitability, insurability, productivity, legal and civil liabilities. Utility Owner/Operators are affected in terms of utility repairs and loss of resources. Lastly, everyone is inconvenienced by the interruption of vital utility services. In the state of Georgia alone, between 2015 – 2017 an estimated average of 29,257 utility damages occurre each year.

Excavators, locators, utility owners and the Utility Protection Center all share equal liability in the avoidance of utility strikes. There are some best practices that should be adopted to mitigate damage and avoid utility damages which are:

  • Start at the very beginning: Employees should be trained properly on locating underground utilities and the correct use of equipment and digging techniques, including when to use radar to detect the presence of underground lines and hand-digging and soft-digging techniques. They should also emphasize the correct type of equipment to use for every situation during the excavation.
  • Contractors should follow job site checklists and provide adequate on-site supervision as well as ongoing safety awareness and training.
  • Estimate jobs properly: Job estimates should include costs for allowing the time to locate underground utilities and verify marking, document 811 marking, dig around lines, use radar and have downtime in the event of a strike.
  • Review the site plans and call 811 at least 48 hours before digging. Check the Positive Response Information System to verify excavation request has been processed.
  • Review flags and markings prior to starting the job to determine the proper equipment for the job.
  • Identify, if possible, whether there may be additional lines that are not on site plans and/or are not marked.
  • Document the job site with photographs prior to commencement of digging, taking photos of flags and markings and showing the scale of where you’re digging.
  • Don’t assume the depth of utilities. Digging at a deeper depth than marked utilities does not always solve the problem. If you are not sure, dig slower and use manual tools to expose the utility and determine the tolerance zone.
  • If a utility damage occurs cease excavation, contact 811 and the utility owner, and conduct a damage investigation.
  • Most importantly, use your industry knowledge, common sense and always keep a focus on safety!

The cost of utility damages is a trickle-down effect that is paid by us all. Having a clear excavation plan and knowing what’s below can save lives, money time and property. For a guide on Underground Safety & Damage Prevention click here.

Remember, before excavating on any track or parcel of land, “know what’s below”. If we all do our part everyone wins.  If you have any more additional questions or want to learn more about preventing underground utility damage, check out our Damage Prevention (GUFPA) (811) class.

What is NPDES?

What is NPDES?

NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

Created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act (CWA), helps address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States.

Under the CWA, EPA authorizes the NPDES permit program to state, tribal, and territorial governments, enabling them to perform many of the permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects of the NPDES program. To ensure protection of water quality, NPDES permits contain: Effluent limitations on Pollutants of concern; Pollutant monitoring frequencies; Reporting requirements; Schedules of compliance, when appropriate; Operating conditions; Best management practices; and Administrative requirements.

An NPDES permit is typically issued a facility to discharge a specified amount of a pollutant into a receiving water under certain conditions. Permits may also authorize facilities to process, incinerate, landfill, or beneficially use sewage sludge. Typical regulated point source discharges are: Discharges from wastewater treatment systems owned by municipalities, industries, private utilities, State and Federal government, etc.; Discharges such as cooling water, boiler blow down, etc.; Stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s); Stormwater discharges associated with industrial activity; and Stormwater dischargers from Construction Sites.

Different permits include: Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs), Aquaculture, Biosolids, Forest Roads, Industrial Wastewater, Municipal Wastewater, National Pretreatment Program, Pesticide Permitting, Stormwater from Construction, Industrial, Municipal, Transportation, or Oil and Gas Sources, Vessels Incidental Discharge Permitting, Water Quality Trading, and Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET).

If you discharge from a point source into the waters of the United States, you need an NPDES permit. If you discharge pollutants into a municipal storm sewer system, you may need a permit depending on what you discharge.

To read up more on this topic, visit our NPDES Page or you can simply Contact Us and we can answer any questions you might have.

Handling Unannounced Environmental Regulatory Inspections

Agents from environmental regulatory agencies may show up at your project site without prior notification.  Environmental regulatory agents are trained to their rights and limitations when stepping foot on a job site. It is equally important that workers are educated on what rights they have, and site managers also need to understand how to manage the inspection process.

Should agents from any local (county, city), state, or federal (EPA) governmental agency appear on your project and ask to conduct an inspection or review documents, please do the following:

Be courteous and professional

  • Fully cooperate with all regulatory agents while maintaining your rights to ensure inspections are lawful and to have agents accompanied by appropriate company representatives.  Request that the agents refrain from conducting their inspection until you contact your appropriate company official (Project Manager, NPDES Administrator, etc.) who can be present at the inspection.

Make the Call

  • Call your company representative(s). Inform them that agents from a regulatory agency (mention which one) are on your site requesting an inspection and/or review of documents.
  • The appropriate company representative should make every effort to arrive on the project to accompany the regulatory agency personnel.

Whether walking or waiting, be careful what you say

  • Refrain from answering any specific questions until the Project Manager and/or NPDES Administrator arrives.
  • Most important, do not speculate. Be strictly factual in any information you provide.
  • It is acceptable to say, “I do not know the answer to that question. I will forward it to the appropriate person for a response.”

If the agent won’t wait

  • Request identification from the agent(s). Get their business card(s).
  • Alert the Project Manager and/or the NPDES Administrator to inform them that the inspection is taking place without them present.
  • Ask if they will be conducting a general inspection or are responding to a specific issue.
  • Accompany them and take notes concerning what is inspected and/or reviewed.
  • Write down any questions that they ask.
  • If the agent takes photos, ensure you take similar photos for your own records.
  • Document any search for items (inspection reports, plans, BMPs, specific areas, etc) that could not be located.
  • Do not interfere with the inspection or review.
  • Confirm contacts and procedures for follow-up.

It is important to remember that the regulatory agents are constantly building a case against your company. They probably began before stepping on your job. So, it is extremely important to begin building your case during this process as well. If your company needs assistance when a regulatory agent shows up, please Contact HB NEXT. If your company receives a citation from the EPD, EPA, or has any disputes with an adjacent landowner, HB NEXT has a variety of Legal Services to aid you.

GA NPDES Electronic Permit Submittal Requirements

The new Georgia NPDES General Construction Permits for Storm Water Discharge will become effective August 1, 2018.  While much of the permit remains the same, there are some important and major changes that will occur.  The one new requirement that will affect all permittees is the electronic submittal of all permits.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has developed an online portal for submitting NPDES permits (Notice of Intents, Notice of Terminations, and Storm Water Sampling Reports) to comply with the Federal EPA NPDES construction permit. The site can be found by  CLICKING HERE.

How does this affect you? All permittees will have to register with GEOS and set up and account as a Responsible Official (RO). This is regardless if you actually do the NPDES permit filing. If you contract with a consultant to the filing on your behalf, you can still use a consultant (or preparer) to do your filing. However, you will have to initiate the filing and notify your preparer that there is a permit ready to be completed and filed.

Not only does the GEOS system fulfill the EPA requirements, but also it makes filing permits faster and easier (no more certified mail, return receipts). Additionally, it also creates an online portal to search and find previously filed permits.

For more information, you can visit the following links:

Video tutorial: CLICK HERE

How to set up an Responsible Officer (RO) account: CLICK HERE

How to File an NOI: CLICK HERE

 

If you have further questions about permit filing or need assistance with NPDES / SWPPP Inspections, please call us or Contact Us through our website.

NPDES Construction Site Inspection Best Practices

This Inspection Guide describes how to conduct stormwater inspections on construction sites and discusses inspector responsibilities, preparation, inspection procedures, report writing, tips on inspecting BMPs, and enforcement.

An on-site construction site inspection will typically consist of the following components:

  • Pre-Inspection Preparation
  • Entry
  • Records Review
  • Site Inspection
  • Inspection Report Preparation

Pre-Inspection Preparation

In preparing for an inspection, you should review available files such as permits, copies of SWPPPs or erosion and sediment control plans, past inspection reports, downstream water quality problems from monitoring/assessment reports, and other correspondence such as maintenance records on the construction sites you will be inspecting. Also take into account sites that discharges to impaired waters as they will have additional requirements that are described in the NPDES permit. Be prepared for the inspection. Dress for the weather and make sure to have the appropriate safety gear/PPE.

Entry

Before entering the construction site, observe the surroundings and the various stages of construction. Note areas for in-depth review and any clear violations. This is also a good time to view construction site vehicle exit locations and perimeter controls. Indicate on the inspection form the date/time and weather conditions (e.g., light rain, sunny, some rain in previous 24 hours).

When entering the site, it is always good practice to locate and ask to speak with the site representative (superintendent, foreman, project manager, etc.) or someone who is familiar with the construction site. Always note the names of the individuals with whom you meet and speak to.

Records Review

During the records review, make sure that all of the required records are on site:

  • Copy of the NPDES Notice of Intent and proof of submittal
  • Copy of the approved erosion and sediment control plans
  • Copies of the past inspection reports (weekly and post rain event)
  • Copies of the stormwater sampling reports (if required) and proof of submittal
  • Copies of any self-reported violations

If these records are not available, ask why and note the response in your report. There are no legitimate excuses for not having stormwater paperwork on-site and available for review. Inform the contractor that the permit requires these records to be on-site or readily available for review.

Site Inspection

A keen eye, an understanding of the construction sequencing process and accurate documentation are the keys to an effective construction site inspection. Use the inspection form, and take notes regarding the location and condition of BMPs, discharge points, and inlets.

Review the sitemap and plan how you will conduct the inspection (this is particularly important for large construction sites). Identify the significant pollutant sources and BMPs you want to inspect (silt fence installation, sediment basins, slope stabilization, material storage areas, etc.). Consider the direction stormwater will flow as you plan the inspection. Begin your inspection at the low point on the construction site, observing all discharge points and walk up the slope to inspect the rest of the site. Consider the current sequence of construction phasing when planning your inspection.

Inspect discharge points and downstream, off-site areas for signs of impact. When inspecting discharge points from the site, if it appears that sediment is leaving the site, walk downstream to document the extent of travel and impact on receiving waters or storm drain systems. Note on the inspection form all environmental impacts and document with photographs if needed. If needed or required, collect samples of stormwater discharges from a construction site at the locations specified in the erosion control plan.

Inspect perimeter controls. Note the type of perimeter controls installed at the site, and whether these have been properly installed and maintained. Note if any perimeter controls need to be replaced. Inspect the construction exit to determine if there is excessive tracking of sediment from the site. Is there evidence of additional construction exits being used that are not in the plan or are not stabilized? Check all sediment controls. All storm drains must be protected and temporary stockpiles must have sediment controls installed.

Compare BMPs in the plans with construction site conditions. Are all BMPs required by the plans in place for the current phase of construction? Are additional BMPs needed? Evaluate whether BMPs have been adequately installed and maintained. Describe in your notes the potential violations and their location. Look for areas where BMPs are needed but are missing and are not included in the plans.

Inspect disturbed areas not currently being worked. All exposed soil areas must have temporary stabilization initiated whenever any construction activity has ceased on any portion of the site and will not resume for a period exceeding 14 calendar days. Note any areas that may require temporary stabilization.

Inspection Report Preparation

Make sure all observations and deficiencies are recorded on the inspection report. Also, note any maintenance that was performed since last inspection. Debrief the person in charge. Explain the results of the inspection and answer any questions and concerns. Explain the identified deficiencies and any areas of concern (reports are missing, inspections are not being done, silt fence was down, sediment leaving the site, etc.). Lastly, if it appears additional BMP’s may be needed, don’t tell the contractor which BMP to use. Explain the problem or the permit requirement that must be met, and describe how other construction sites have addressed typical problems. It’s OK to tell the contractor about what typically works and what doesn’t work in the field, but don’t specify the BMP to use (especially if it is a proprietary BMP). Ultimately, it is up to the contractor to decide which BMPs to use. If the contractor is not sure, recommend that the design professional on record be contacted to revise the erosion control plan.

Common compliance problems at construction sites

  • No temporary or permanent cover where needed or required. All exposed soil areas must be stabilized no later than 14 days after the construction activity in that portion of the site has temporarily or permanently ceased. Ask the contractor when particular exposed slopes were last worked to help you determine if there is compliance.
  • No sediment controls on site. The NPDES permit requires sediment control practices (e.g., sediment traps/basins, silt fences or sediment barriers, check dams, etc.) installed before land disturbing activities begin.
  • No inlet protection. All storm drain inlets that receive a discharge from the construction site must be protected before construction begins, and must be maintained until the site is stabilized. Inlet protection may be removed for a particular inlet if a specific safety concern has been identified.
  • No BMPs to minimize vehicle tracking on public right of way. Vehicle exits must use BMPs such as stone pads, concrete or steel wash racks, or equivalent systems to prevent vehicle tracking of sediment or mud off-site.
  • Sediment on the road. If BMPs are not adequately keeping sediment off the street, then the permit requires tracked sediment to be removed (e.g., street sweeping).
  • Improper solid waste or hazardous materials management. Solid waste must be disposed of properly, and hazardous materials (including oil, gasoline, and paint) must be properly stored (which includes secondary containment).
  • Concrete washout. All liquid and solid wastes generated by concrete washout operations must be contained in a leak-proof containment facility or impermeable liner. Area must have a sign.

For decades, HB NEXT has been serving construction firms in the areas of stormwater compliance. Contact HB NEXT for SWPPP / NPDES inspections at your next jobsite.

 

 

Draft Changes to the Georgia NPDES Construction Stormwater Permit

On December 15, 2017, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued their draft NPDES Construction General Permit. If approved, the new permit will go into effect August 1, 2018.

Below is a summary of relevant changes:

  • As a result of the EPD’s implementation of the NPDES electronic reporting rule, ALL
    Notices of Intent (NOI), modifications to existing NOI’s, and Notices of Termination
    (NOT’s) MUST be submitted through the EPD’s electronic submittal portal:
    https://geos.epd.georgia.gov/GA/GEOS/Public/GovEnt/Shared/Pages/Main/Login.aspx.
  • The EPD is in the process of developing an electronic method of submitting water
    sampling reports via the electronic submittal portal. Notifications will be sent once this method is completed.
  • Plans required to be submitted directly to the EPD for review must now be submitted electronically via the electronic submittal portal or as a PDF file on a CD-ROM or other
    storage device.
  • The “self-reporting” of permit violations to the EPD has been clarified as follows:
    • Whenever a BMP has failed or is deficient and has resulted in sediment
      deposition into waters of the state, that constitutes a violation and a summary of
      that violation must be submitted to the EPD.
    • If the BMP that resulted in the sediment deposition does not require a new or
      replacement BMP or significant repair, the BMP must be repaired by close of the
      next business day from the time of discovery.
    • If the BMP that resulted in the sediment deposition requires a new or modified
      BMP or significant repair, the BMP must be operational by no later than 7
      business days from time of discovery.
  • Rainfall must be measured and recorded within the disturbed areas of the site that have
    not met final stabilization once every 24 hours except any non-working weekends and
    holidays.
  • Coverage under the infrastructure construction permit (GAR100002) is not required for
    construction projects that consist solely of the installation of cable barriers and guardrail
    within existing rights-of-way, and the installation of buried utility lines.

The public commenting period is 30 days from the date of the public notice. A public meeting regarding the draft permit is scheduled for January 31, 2018. The content of the comments and results of the public meeting may alter these proposed changes. Contact HB NEXT for any other questions pertaining to Storm Water or Environmental Services.

EPA Makes Strides in Monitoring Stormwater Systems

In the United States, raw sewage overflows and inadequately controlled stormwater discharges from municipal sewer systems sending a variety of harmful pollutants, disease causing organisms, metals and nutrients that threaten our communities’ water quality.  This can also cause beach and shellfish bed closings, stream flooding along with basement backups of sewage.  Through the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a goal by the end of 2016 to visit 213 systems addressing large combined sewer systems with untreated sewage overflows.  Large municipal combined sewer systems are those serving a population > 50,000 people.  At FY 2016, they had visited 203 systems.  They also had a goal to address large sanitary sewer systems with untreated sewage overflow.  The goal was to visit 1103 systems by FY 2016.  They’ve completed 964 systems.  Large municipalities whose sanitary sewer systems produce > 10 million gallons per day (mgd) of waterwater.

It is imperative those working on construction projects or with situations that can impede water drainage or sewer drainage, special preventive measures are taken to ensure responsibility is shown to prevent harmful pollutants from threatening a community’s water quality.  Pavement and roofs prevent rain from naturally soaking into the ground.  Therefore, the water runs off into storm drains, sewer systems and drainage ditches.  This can cause the following

  • Downstream flooding
  • Stream bank erosion
  • Increased turbidity (muddiness created by stirred up sediment) from erosion
  • Habitat destruction
  • Combined storm and sanitary sewer system overflows
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Contaminated streams, rivers and coastal water

On October 27, 2016, EPA’s Green Infrastructure Program released a draft guide, toolkit and technical assistance promoting a comprehensive, community planning approach to managing stormwater.  These are community solutions for voluntary long-term stormwater planning.   This toolkit will include technical and financing resources to walk communities through the long-term stormwater planning process provided in the Community Solutions for the Stormwater Management Guide.

The EPA is developing long-term stromwater plans to serve as a national model in the following areas:

  • Burlington, Iowa
  • Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Hattiesburg, Mississippi
  • Rochester, New Hampshire
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico

The EPA hopes early and effective stormwater planning and management will provide a significant impact for long-term cost savings while supporting human health and water quality.

HB NEXT provides compliance training and management services for stormwater projects.  Understanding the challenges and the solutions for stormwater is critical to keeping your project on track and under budget. Contact HB NEXT today for more information.

Source:  United States Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement and Planning Division