Construction Erosion and Sediment Control

Prior to 1991, erosion from construction sites was common. Few localities had any regulations against it, and no Federal regulations existed. Contractors moved earthen material and took no precautions against erosion. The result was sediment deposition on roads, in stream beds, and fouling of ponds and lakes.

The Clean Water Act Changed How Construction Erosion is Handled

In 1972, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, which was part of the national effort to make American rivers fishable and swimmable. Initial efforts were directed to controlling point sources of pollution: wastewater treatment plants and industrial discharges. Much progress was made between 1972 and 1983 at reducing the amount of pollutants added to waterways.

However, nothing was done about non-point source pollution—stormwater run-off that does not enter the stream from a concentrated point. The EPA had focused on the point sources, and non-point sources were left to a later date. That date came with the 1983 amendments to the Clean Water Act, when Congress required the EPA to step up its actions against non-point sources.

NPDES Permits Required for More and More Sites

After many studies and much discussion, in 1991 EPA enacted a permit system regulating the discharge of stormwater from non-point sources. Called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, these were originally for wastewater and industrial discharges, but were expanded to include stormwater discharges from a wide range of industrial activities.

Construction sites larger than 10 acres were included in the initial round of permits. This was later amended to include smaller sites. In addition, many States enacted more stringent regulations, including stormwater discharge permits for construction sites as small as 1 acre.

Even for sites smaller than those listed in the regulations, stormwater pollution control is required. Erosion and sediment controls must be installed for the small sites; they just don’t have to go through the regulatory permitting process as larger sites do.

CPESC Confirms Engineering and Construction Knowledge of Erosion Control

The increased attention to stormwater pollution from construction sites, and to stormwater pollution in general, resulted in engineering and construction organizations providing additional education in this area. EnviroCert International, Inc. provides testing and certification for several programs, among them the Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC). The certification requires a minimum of three years working in the field of erosion control, and passage of a half-day exam. Annual continuing education is also required to maintain certification. The examination includes such things as:

  • What pollutants are found in stormwater
  • Similarities to agricultural erosion
  • Federal rules and regulations
  • Site planning and management
  • Watershed hydrology
  • Quantifying stormwater volumes and pollutant load
  • Erosion prevention and sediment control measures
  • Selection of stormwater management practices.

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State and Local Certification Sometimes Required

Many States and municipalities recognize the CPESC certification and require that someone with this certification be responsible for the design of erosion control measures that will be used at construction sites. This includes knowledge of how the construction will progress as well as all that the CPESC certification encompasses.

The USA has moved beyond the point where it is acceptable for construction to proceed in a way that dumps tons of sediment into streams and rivers. A combination of good management practices, construction site housekeeping, and structural erosion control techniques must be employed to reduce construction stormwater pollution.