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As land development gains ground, stormwater practices encounter increased scrutiny

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The evidence of a residential land-development recovery is apparent, with many local and regional developers scrambling to get land under contract or resurrect previously shelved projects. After a long period of dormancy caused by a protracted recession, land developers might be surprised to learn that the rules regarding stormwater runoff have changed.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) recently implemented a number of arduous requirements that expose developers to complex administrative responsibilities including intensive recordkeeping, reporting and proactive measures to protect environmentally sensitive watershed locations.

Not long ago, a developer simply had to implement a few BMPs (best management practices) across a site, such as straw wattles and sandbags, to reduce silt in the storm-water runoff. The regulatory standards have evolved into comprehensive and far-reaching requirements for graded projects in excess of one acre, ranging from weekly inspections to actual sampling of the rain runoff that naturally exits a project during a rainstorm, in addition to other regulatory requirements.

"The board is very serious about enforcement in Southern California," said Gordon Kovtun, principal of KCM Group, which provides comprehensive environmental compliance program management services to land developers in California and Nevada. "Just recently, teams of RWQCB inspectors visited many Southern California projects with surprise inspections and issued notice of violations on nearly 40 of them."

Erika Horn, Senior Environmental Compliance Consultant at KCM Group, with Principal Gordon Kovtun at a jobsite.

The consequences can range from an order to comply to penalties in the millions of dollars, which can result in project delays. Many of the regulations are so complex that developers are often unaware that they are not in compliance.

Environmental compliance specialists are crucial to interpreting regulatory requirements and ascertaining the appropriate working plan for a developer’s project.

"Our first priority is to keep our clients in compliance with the state and local regulations in the most cost-effective manner," said Erika Horn, senior environmental compliance consultant at KCM Group. "As I observe the changing landscape of regulations, I see the most alarming regulation being stormwater runoff sampling for turbidity and pH."

Horn is referring to a requirement for certain qualifying projects to have stormwater runoff sampled in the field to measure turbidity (cloudiness) and pH using specialized meters. If the results exceed certain thresholds set by the state, the results must be reported to the state’s database. This testing is in addition to many other field and administrative requirements set by regulators.

The regulations are intended to keep California’s waters clean. However, navigating the process to implement these measures and stay in compliance during a development project can be a bit murky.

"The level of activity to stay within compliance can take up significant resources for land developers who are often more focused on other aspects of the development," Kovtun said. "KCM Group provides comprehensive service programs to handle all aspects of a developer’s compliance needs."

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Gordon Kovtun

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