Construction Sign

What is a Construction General Permit (CGP)?

When you’re set to start a construction project of any kind, there are several different types of permits that you will likely need to apply for. One of these permits is a Construction General Permit, which was first adopted by the California State Water Resources Control Board in 2009. Keep in mind that the California Construction General Permit is similar to the one created by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The purpose of the Construction General Permit (GCP) is to reduce the stormwater pollution that’s created as a byproduct of construction sites. Lessening the amount of stormwater pollution should help protect the environment and maintain overall water quality. If the construction project that you’re working on is set to disturb more than one acre of land, you will be tasked with obtaining the Construction General Permit.

The types of construction activity that are subject to the permit include excavation, grading, and clearing. However, standard maintenance activities can be performed without needing to apply for a Construction General Permit. When you submit your application for this permit, you will need to provide the water resources control board with extensive documentation that includes a risk assessment, notice of intent, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, and site map. This article offers an extensive look at Construction General Permits and how they can apply to your project.

Construction site

Who Needs a Construction General Permit?

As mentioned previously, most construction projects will require the Construction General Permit before work can begin. All linear and traditional underground/overhead construction projects that are set to occur on more than one acre of land must receive CGP coverage. This requirement may also extend to projects that disturb less than a single acre of land during construction. If the project is part of a larger plan of development that applies to more than one acre of land, a Construction General Permit is necessary.

When the project that you’re working on is going to include excavation, stockpiling, grading, or clearing, a Construction General permit must be applied for. If the project only involves maintenance that’s set to restore the building’s capacity, line, or grade, you can likely forego this permit and continue construction. Keep in mind that the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan that you will need to submit alongside the application and other types of documentation must be completed by a Qualified SWPPP Developer.

Risk-based Permitting Approach

The Construction General Permit takes an approach to permitting that’s based entirely on project risk. Every construction project that qualifies for this permit will be evaluated for “receiving water risk” and “sediment discharge risk”. Both of these factors are combined to determine the level of risk that the project in question has. The risk level can be set at level one, level two, or level three. Keep in mind that the type of risk is also assessed with options of type one, type two, or type three.

It’s important to understand that projects with high sediment risk don’t always have high receiving water risk. Once you submit your permit application along with extensive details about the construction project you’re working on, the California State Water Resources Control Board will take a thorough look at your project to determine what your risk is.

The risk level and type that are assigned to your project will dictate what your requirements will be while the construction project is ongoing. Projects with high receiving water risk and sediment discharge risk will have more strict requirements. Before you send in your application, know that you may be able to qualify for a Rainfall Erosivity Waiver if your construction project has a short duration and is set to take place on five acres or less of land.

If your construction project has a risk level or type of two or three, you will be required to test construction site runoff for pH and turbidity. The majority of this testing must occur in the field. The results from these tests will be directly compared to the Numeric Effluent Limitation as well as the Numeric Action Level. If the results from your testing exceed the Numeric Action Level, corrective action will be necessary before you can go forward with development.

On the other hand, exceeding the Numeric Effluent Limitation is much more serious. For one, an enforcement action may be taken by regional boards. These actions can include the enforcement of mandatory minimum penalties, which can involve a fine of $3,000. Other enforcement actions may lead to higher and more severe penalties, which is why it’s highly recommended that you adhere to the permit guidelines.

Construction site inspection

Conducting Inspections to Verify Compliance with Construction General Permit

While the construction project is ongoing, you and your team will need to regularly verify compliance with the Construction General Permit guidelines by conducting inspections. These inspections must be performed by qualified individuals who meet either one of the following qualifications:

  • Has taken the EPA’s Inspector Training Course before passing the exam
  • Has a construction inspection license or certification from a type of program that covers subject matter that’s similar to the materials in the EPA’s inspector course

These inspections will take a look at the construction activities at your site to determine how much pollution is being sent into nearby stormwater. If the inspector finds any issues with effluent discharges or controls, you will be required to correct these issues before you can continue development on the project that you’re currently working on.

Before you continue with development, make sure that you maintain documentation for any inspections or corrective actions that occur while the project is ongoing. Documentation must be completed for all corrective actions, site inspections, and dewatering inspections. You can avoid any unnecessary delays in your project by completing and submitting these documents on time.

Construction team in the city

Complying with Local Regulation

Once you receive a Construction General Permit for your project, you will need to continue complying with local regulations, which should allow you to avoid any fines or penalties. As mentioned previously, $3,000 is the minimum fine that can be assessed if you happen to exceed the Numeric Effluent Limitation that has been set by the EPA.

Part nine of the permit focuses on the state or territory-specific guidelines and requirements that constructions crews will be expected to comply with. These requirements can be additive to the main ones listed in the Construction General Permit.

For instance, separate requirements are maintained for construction projects that are set to take place on Morongo tribal lands. An example of these requirements is that any spills or leaks need to be reported directly to the Environmental Protection Department that the Morongo Indians maintain.

The primary requirements that the EPA has placed in the Construction General Permit involves turbidity benchmark monitoring. Keep in mind that these requirements can change and be updated by the EPA on an annual basis, which means that you should check the EPA website yearly to identify what these changes are.

When water is left untreated from various construction dewatering activities, it’s possible that the water quality would dip below the acceptable standards set by the EPA. For 2022 and beyond, construction sites that fall under the Construction General Permit are required to perform turbidity benchmark monitoring if dewatering water is being discharged. The threshold that you should measure for is 50 NTUs.

Keep in mind that these requirements only apply if you’re discharging water to sensitive bodies of water. In order to correctly perform these tests, you will be tasked with collecting one or more turbidity samples every day. These samples must be taken from every discharge point on the days during which dewatering discharge takes place. Once you’ve captured the results of your tests, the next step involves comparing these results to the benchmark of 50 NTUs mentioned previously.

In the event that weekly testing averages are higher than the benchmark, you must take corrective actions to ensure that future readings will fall below the benchmark. The average turbidity monitoring results that you collect must be reported to the EPA on a quarterly basis. Make sure that these results are submitted before 30 days have passed following the end of the quarter. Monitoring quarters end on March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31.

Even though you should try to avoid going higher than the monitoring benchmarks, these benchmarks aren’t considered to be the same as the effluent limitations that were talked about earlier. While the penalties assessed for exceeding effluent limitations can be high, you likely won’t face immediate penalties for exceeding the turbidity benchmarks. These benchmarks are meant to determine if your site’s dewatering controls have been effective to this point in time.

When your monitoring results are higher than the given benchmark, you will need to perform a corrective action before submitting future quarterly measurements. You are, however, required to adhere to the sampling and reporting guidelines that the EPA has created. If you don’t follow these guidelines, you could be held in violation of the Construction General Permit.

A Construction General Permit is essential for nearly every construction project that’s being developed on land that’s larger than one acre in size. By adhering to these requirements, you’ll be able to make sure that the water discharged from your construction site doesn’t contain too many contaminants, which will protect the environment and keep you from being fined.

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