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Stormwater Pollutants, EPA Compliance, and Avoiding Fines

“Stormwater” is any precipitation that falls from the sky: rain, snow, ice, or hail. Let’s look at how stormwater pollutes the urban landscape, and what we can do to control or eliminate dangerous pollutants, erosion and flooding. 

When stormwater falls onto water-resistant surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, construction sites, and parking lots, it flows across these impervious surfaces, picking up and transporting dangerous pollutants. This contaminated runoff flows into bodies of water, polluting every waterway it encounters, before eventually finding its way into an ocean to dump its pollutants.  

The Dangerous Stormwater Pollutants

One inch of rain falling over one paved acre produces 27,000 GALLONS of polluted stormwater runoff! 

Pollutants are broken into 8 categories, and here are some of the most common sources:


Dangerous Stormwater Pollutant Chart

Stormwater’s Damaging Effects

In addition to transporting harmful pollutants, runoff can also cause erosion, flooding, and sedimentation by sweeping away and displacing soil. Stormwater can easily and quickly destroy an unprotected construction site.

Storm drains, pipes, and ditches are designed to flow stormwater away. However, storm sewers do not flow stormwater to wastewater treatment plants. Instead, the uncontrolled toxic stormwater runoff creates a domino effect, draining into neighborhood creeks and ponds, flowing into local lakes and rivers that drain into larger lakes and rivers, before ending up in the ocean, all along its damaging path it pollutes water sources, spoils recreational areas, kills aquatic life and land-bound wildlife as well as their habitats. 

Stormwater runoff can also bring heavy metal poisoning to ocean life which dies from an accumulation, or the contaminated animal may be eaten by humans exposing them to heavy metal poisoning.

Stormwater Runoff Causes Flooding

Sedimentation is the most common pollutant. Increased sediment flows into waterways, and when it finally settles, it sinks the bottom. Uncontrolled stormwater runoff can cause:

  • Escalations of infection and disease risk through abnormal levels of nutrients and heavy metals in soil and water.

  • Increased urban flooding overwhelming sewers, drainage systems, and flooding homes, streets, and businesses, creating millions of dollars in damages and even fatalities.

  • Significant economic consequences. Experts estimate that flooded basements lower property values by 10 to 25 percent. Almost 40 percent of small businesses never reopen following a flood disaster per FEMA.

  • Direct consequences of water quality, boosting algae growth, kills native vegetation growth, and smothers aquatic life.

Guard Installed for Stormwter

Why Stormwater Management Is Important

Stormwater management is the control and use of stormwater runoff. It includes planning for runoff, maintaining stormwater systems, and regulating the collection, storage, and movement of stormwater. Stormwater management also considers drainage in the design of cities as well as residential and commercial construction.

Important Acronyms

BMP (Best Management Practice) - These are structural or engineered devices, tools, and systems that filter or control to prevent pollution at the source. BMP can also refer to operational practices (street sweeping). 

SCM (Stormwater Control Measures) - This is similar to a BMP and refers to structural or engineered control devices and systems (retention ponds) to treat or store polluted stormwater. It also refers to operational practices (street sweeping). 

SWPP (Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan) - Required as part of your general construction permit, a SWPP will help you prevent stormwater pollution. More than an erosion and sediment plan, a SWPP describes everything you need to know to comply with EPA requirements, is site-specific, and must be authorized by a company executive. A SWPP is required for obtaining a NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System).

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) - An independent Federal agency formed to protects our national water supplies and other environmental protection matters. Created by President Nixon in 1970.

CWA (Clean Water Act) - Established in 1972, CWA is the Federal law governing water pollution. Its basic structure is to regulate and restore polluted discharges into American waters. Also regulates quality standards for surface waters and stormwater management for communities, developments and businesses.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) - This agency is under Homeland Security and helps people before, during, and after disasters.

NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) - An EPA agency working with state governments to address water pollution through a permit program that regulates the sources that discharges pollutants into U.S. waters.

MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) - These facilities are governed by NPDES permits. In 2017, 855 large municipal systems (serving populations of 100,000+), and 6,695 small systems are regulated by the NPDES permit system.

Avoiding Federal & State Fines

The EPA, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, is responsible for making all U.S. waters “fishable” and “swimmable.” As a result, stormwater pollutants are tightly controlled through the issuance of NPDES permits.

The EPA can issue compliance orders or file civil lawsuits against anyone who violates a NPDES permit. Penalties can range from $25,000/day for criminal charges up to $50,000/day, three years imprisonment, or both. Charges of knowingly violating EPA requirements can result in fines up to $250,000, 15 years in prison, or both.
Stormwater Guard Installed
Although the EPA has authorized 47 states to issue NPDES permits, many states and local governments have enacted additional stormwater management ordinances that surpass federal requirements. Some states issue erosion and sediment violation fines as $25,000/day in addition to federal fines.

Your project’s Construction General Permit (CGP) and SWPP should detail federal, state, county, and city requirements. You should also include BMP in your SWPP.

Be sure to include a post-construction plan designed with zero stormwater discharge.

Keep reading to learn more about BMP and the best tools to control or reduce stormwater runoff.
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