The single most important environmental aspect of building any new structure is the impact the construction has on the land and the resulting changes to the natural behavior of storm water runoff. Left on her own, Mother Nature does a pretty good job of capturing rainwater and channeling it to the plants, underground aquifers, and surface reservoirs. Slow discharge into the soil, natural evaporation and the gentle swelling of streams and rivers enables the land to absorb storm events. When we build buildings of any size, we disrupt this natural path of water. If we don’t proactively manage the displaced storm water runoff, we run into big problems including erosion, pollution of streams and drinking water, flooding and property damage. Unfortunately, we’ve been plagued by poor planning and shoddy development in the past that has created the myriad environmental problems we face today.
The Federal and State governments have since developed strict regulations and guidelines to carefully manage storm water runoff to mitigate this growing problem. NPDES stands for Natural Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Enacted by Congress, the US EPA in conjunction with local governments (in our case, Pennsylvania’s Chester County) created a strict permitting system requiring all construction projects that disturb more than an acre of land to be carefully reviewed for potential environmental impacts including pollutants, waste water, storm water, erosion mitigation and a host of other issues impacted by construction activities. Not only is the application and approval process time consuming and expensive, but it is an ongoing process mandating ongoing compliance including weekly site visits by government staff during the entire construction process.
The last phase of the NPDES approval is an on site, face-to-face meeting between the owner, contractor, owner’s engineer, township engineer and excavator to review the excavation plans, verify the construction sequence and discuss specific issues with respect to disturbance, silt fencing and other details related to managing runoff.
Participants in the site meeting included (from left to right) Jim Fritsch, senior engineer from Regester Associates, Inc., Jim Hatfield, Pocopson Township engineer, Jim Demchak, Resource Conservationist at the Chester County Conservation District, Jim Hicks, excavator, and Mark Thompson of M.W. Thompson Builders, Inc.