Section 6 - WATER
One of the major environmental impacts of construction may be the degradation
of water quality in streams, wetlands, and groundwater near the construction
site. The following guidelines will help you prevent the pollution of valuable
Always check with local water quality authorities before beginning construction.
As a contractor you are responsible for maintaining water quality standards
at your job site even if your particular activity does not require a local,
state, or federal permit.
SITE PREPARATION AND PRESERVATION
Preserving natural features should be a primary goal for every new development.
Many sites have natural features that add economic and practical value as well
as aesthetic interest.
Trees save energy and dollars by providing shade and slowing winter winds.
A natural stream corridor that manages surface water to prevent erosion is less
expensive than installing storm drains. Streams, lakes, and wetlands buffer
the effects of development and maintain fish and wildlife habitat.
Best Pollution Prevention Practices
- Keep natural features intact and healthy.
- Maintain habitat for fish and wildlife.
- Protect surface water from pollutants, sedimentation,
- Protect groundwater from surface drainage.
- Do not fill or build on wetlands.
- Clear only areas needed to install streets,
driveways, parking areas, and building foundations.
- Maintain or replant desirable and hardy native
trees and shrubs.
- Install and maintain oil and sediment traps
in storm drains, especially in parking areas.
- Use biofiltration (permeable bags filled with
chips or bales of straw) during construction to control erosion.
- Avoid using herbicides to remove vegetation.
- Maintain varying heights of vegetation for
wildlife (native ground covers, understory shrubs, mid-level trees,
and high canopy trees) and a diverse mix of trees and shrubs.
- Remove nuisance plants such as Purple Loosestrife
and Stinging Nettles, and replant with native plants like Rushes,
Sedges, and Cinquefoil.
- Maintain a riparian forest buffer area as required
by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) adjacent to
streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This is an area of trees, shrubs,
or grass that reduces excess amounts of pollutants in surface runoff
and shallow groundwater flow.
PROTECT POTABLE WATER QUALITY
Most Americans obtain their drinking water from municipal sources. However,
a significant number of people rely on groundwater as their sole source of drinking
water. As a contractor, your activities could inadvertently contaminate drinking
water sources (for example by spilling a hazardous chemical on the ground or
by improperly decommissioning an underground storage tank). Protecting the quality
of drinking water sources should always be considered during construction.
The well owner is responsible for determining the location of the well. As
a contractor, you can avoid cleanup obligations for contamination through a
written drilling agreement with the well owner. This agreement assigns disinfection
responsibility for the well, protects against misunderstandings between you
and the well owner, and usually specifies that the well owner is responsible
for site cleanup.
- Federal Safe Drinking Water Act: Federal statute protecting drinking water
Best Pollution Prevention Practices
- Prevent pollution of drinking water sources.
- Know your source of drinking water (well or
- Check with the local public water supplier
prior to construction (could be a municipal water bureau or a private
- Septic drain fields must be located at least
100 feet away and down slope from the well. Double the distance
in sandy soils or near shallow wells. Be aware of nearby neighbors'
wells and drain fields too.
- Ask the water supplier if the project is in
a wellhead protection zone.
- Inquire about local requirements, such as spill
- In the event of a hazardous chemical spill,
contact your local water supplier immediately. You should also call
the Disaster and Emergency Services office in your county.
- Do not use old wells as disposal sites.
- Design terrain to keep drainage away from wellhead.
- Make sure hazardous or toxic materials are
stored in secondary containment structures away from wellhead.
- If a well sample needs to be taken because
of contamination or routine selection, ensure that samples are properly
- Protect existing wells by ensuring that they
are cased, sealed, or grouted before beginning construction and
by protecting the area immediately surrounding the well from contaminants.
- Protect new wells from surface water contamination
by installing anti-back siphoning valves between the well and water
- Keep proper absorbent materials on-site for
initial response to spills.
- Specify lead-free solder on copper water lines.
- In areas known to have excess lead or other
contaminants in the water supply, provide filtration for drinking
water (best done at the tap).
- County Disaster and Emergency Services office
- Various State Agencies
WATER WELL DRILLING
If you are planning the construction, drilling, or alteration of a water or
monitoring well, you may need a variety of permits. Water use permits
may also be required. Once again these regulations are variable by geographic
location. The most intense regulations being in drought prone areas and
- County Clerk and Recorder
- State Dept of Natural Resources
STORM WATER MANAGEMENT
Construction has the potential to contaminate storm water, surface water, or
other waters including, but not limited to "all streams and lakes (including
all border waters), wells, springs, irrigation systems, marshes, watercourses,
waterways, drainage systems and other bodies of water, surface and underground,
natural or artificial, publicly or privately owned."
Erosion can carry pollutants (asphalt, fertilizer, sealants, oil, gasoline,
pesticides, and other toxic or hazardous materials) from the construction site
into surface water or groundwater.
Preserving existing vegetation is one of the best ways to prevent soil erosion.
Controlling erosion and its associated pollutants at the source is more cost-effective
than trying to remove sediment and pollution from storm water runoff.
Best Pollution Prevention Practices
- Minimize loss of topsoil during construction.
- Minimize the erosion of sediment and pollutants
- Enable future landscaping to flourish.
- Minimize exposed soil by reducing graded areas.
- Save and spread topsoil removed during grading.
- Fence exposed areas with appropriate silt fencing
to intercept eroded soil.
- Inspect and maintain erosion control facilities
after every storm.
- Grade streets across slopes.
- Finish grade to slopes of less than 2:1.
- Terrace cuts and fills by placing concrete,
masonry, or environmentally-safe outdoor wood across slopes.
- Replant exposed areas as soon as practical.
Seed grass or place geo-fabric on sites exposed for long periods
- Maintain trees, shrubs, and perennial grasses
on steep slopes, along drainage channels or ditches, and around
bodies of water.
Storm Water Erosion Control Plan
Regulations may require you to develop a Storm Water Erosion Control Plan for
your site. The goals of the plan are to minimize the land disturbance
during all phases of construction and to prevent sediment from leaving the construction
site. Local regulations will dictate the exact components, however recommended
- Narrative site description.
- Site maps and construction plans.
- Erosion and sediment controls, including an implementation schedule.
- Any storm water control regulations required by local authorities
- Any applicable local government sediment, erosion control, or storm water
Best Pollution Prevention Practices
- Maintain healthy soil by holding moisture for
plants, filtering run-off, and slowing run-off velocity and volume.
- Minimize areas cleared, graded, or excavated.
- Encourage infiltration and pollutant removal
of storm water.
- Minimize impermeable surfaces that shed rainwater
- Use permeable paving materials such as gravel
or masonry blocks where practical.
- Use grassy swales, porous filters made of compost,
or managed stream corridors to intercept run-off.
- Plan detention areas or ponds to hold water,
release it slowly, reduce the volume and velocity of run-off, and
allow water to percolate.
- Locate detention ponds to provide natural filtration
- Use oil-and-sediment-trap catch basins, infiltration
trenches/basins, or biofilters in parking areas.
- Design landscaping so that fallen leaves and
debris can remain on the ground to regenerate soil and help maintain
its ability to hold moisture.
- Avoid placing storm drain outlets directly
into streams, ponds, or wetlands. Non-degradation laws require some
form of treatment for new or increased sources of storm water to
CONSTRUCTION IN NATURAL WATERWAYS
Special permits are required for contractors who dredge, excavate, fill, drain,
alter, or conduct construction activities in waters of the state. Regulations
and permits cover the following construction activities:
- Excavation or dredging of material
- Placement of fill material
- Alteration of stream banks or a stream course, including installing riprap
for erosion protection
- Ditching and draining
- In-water construction (driving piles, utility line crossings, etc.)
- Structures in navigable waters (docks, piers, etc.)
Federal Permits and Laws
Listed below are the necessary permits and applicable laws dealing with
wetlands, streams, or other water bodies. Also included are application procedures,
fees and processing times, and contacts for more information. Although the number
of regulations and permits may seem daunting, the process is fairly straightforward.
Some local jurisdictions require permits or have other requirements for construction
in or near waterways. Contact your local planning or building department before
- Section 404 Permit (Federal Clean Water Act)
- A Section 404 permit is required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
prior to any discharge, excavation, or placement of fill material into
"waters of the United States" (this includes rivers, lakes,
wetlands, and other water bodies). For information on construction activities
that could alter the bed or banks of the waters of the state, contact
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are several types of 404 Permits
depending on the impact the project will have on water resources.
- Nationwide Permit
- Projects with few impacts may qualify for a Nationwide Permit.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must verify that the project complies
with Nationwide Permit requirements. Examples of projects that could
fall under the Nationwide Permit include riprap along stream banks, utility
line crossings under streams, and road crossings over streams. The
application may be approved within 10 days. There is no fee for
a Nationwide Permit.
- Regional (General) Permit
- Similar to Nationwide Permits, Regional Permits cover activities that
have been regionally authorized. The Regional Permits require individual
review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The application may
be approved within 10 days. There is no fee for a Regional Permit.
- Letter of Permission
- A Letter of Permission is required for minor work on navigable waterways.
The application may be approved within 10 days. There is no fee
for a Letter of Permission.
- Individual Permit
- Required of large projects with greater potential impact. As part of
its permit evaluation, the Corps of Engineers will look for efforts to
avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts (in that order). Mitigation
is particularly important in wetlands. The project should result in no
net loss of wetland functional values. The Corps of Engineers will
issue a public notice soliciting comments and will factor these comments
into its evaluation of the application. The public notice period is 30
days. As part of its evaluation, the Corps of Engineers will analyze
impacts on archeological resources, historic properties, and endangered
species. The process usually takes 60 to 90 days. The fee
is $100 for all applicants. The cost of supplying additional information
required for environmental analysis must be paid by the applicant.
Federal Rivers and Harbors Act - For construction activities on, in,
or over any federally-listed navigable waters of the United States.
- Procedure: Submit applications to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Time: Approval may take 60 to 90 days.
- Fees: Vary from $10 for private applicants to $100 for commercial.
DISCHARGE OF CONSTRUCTION WASH WATER
Contractors often wash and rinse buildings, vehicles, tanks, containers, paint
brushes, and other equipment at the construction site. Pollutants from
these activities can run off directly or indirectly (via storm drains) into
rivers, streams, groundwater, and other water bodies. Vehicles and equipment
are sources of oil, grease, and toxics, particularly when they are not properly
Options for Water Discharge/Disposal
In the construction industry, the primary pollutant in the wastewater is
sediment. You should not (local regs may mandate the you do not)
discharge untreated construction wastewater to surface water or groundwater
by either direct discharge or discharge to a storm sewer. The sediment
and other pollutants must first be removed.
If you collect all construction wastewater, you may be able to discharge it
to a municipal wastewater treatment plant and avoid the non-degradation requirements.
Prior arrangements must be made with the appropriate local municipality. Also,
check with your local building sanitation department or wastewater agency to
see if you might be able to discharge the wash water to a municipal sanitary
Discharge of Treated Wastewater
In some instances the city might not allow you to discharge your wastewater
to a wastewater treatment plant; the city might require that you treat the water
yourself. A good way to remove the sediment from the water is to construct a
pond and let the sediment settle to the bottom. The cleaner water can then be
decanted from the pond. Or you may have to install a filter system that will
remove the pollutants.
If the water is not contaminated, you may be able to apply the water to land
at locations where it will eventually percolate to the groundwater. You can
also dig a pit and let the water infiltrate the ground.
Best Pollution Prevention Practices
- Stop pollutants from entering storm drains
and leaching into groundwater.
- Do not wash spilled material into storm drains.
- Wash vehicles off-site. Take them to a "proper
location" (e.g., car wash).
- Change oil and antifreeze off-site and recycle
- If dirty construction vehicles are washed on-site,
do it in a designated area that has the following characteristics:
- Well marked as a wash area.
- No bigger than needed to park and wash
the largest vehicle.
- Posted with a sign that forbids washing
with solvents or changing oil, and indicates the nearest oil
- Paved and drained by a system that leads
to an oil/water separator and is connected to the sanitary sewer.
- Provide temporary gravel base on-site to keep
- Biodegradable washing detergents and chemicals
are encouraged. Do not use detergents or cleaners containing phosphate.
Minimize the quantity of soap, detergents, or other chemicals used.
- When practical, collect all wash water containing
soaps or other cleaning chemicals for reuse or discharge to a sanitary
- Maintain and monitor catch basins (big basins
designed to infiltrate the water, not just for detention purposes)
regularly. Where land is being cleared, protect catch basins by
covering the inlet with filter fabric (place fabric under gate).
- Maintain oil/water separators. Clean them before
three inches of oil accumulates in the entry chamber. Do not use
soap or other dispersants to clean the separator.
- Sweep paved outdoor surfaces rather than spraying
with water, which may wash pollutants into the drainage system.
Pick up and dispose of sweepings in the trash unless they contain
hazardous waste. If they contain hazardous waste, the sweepings
must be separated and managed appropriately.
- Educate equipment operators on methods to report
and contain spills, such as a ruptured hydraulic line or fuel leak.
SEWAGE DISPOSAL SERVICES
This section mainly applies to contractors who provide sewage disposal services
such as installing, pumping, or disposing of septic system wastes. Some counties
require contractors who plan to install, repair, alter, or pump septic tanks
and drainfields on a commercial basic obtain a license from their local County
Health Department. Different counties have variations in licensing procedures
and fees. Therefore, general requirements and procedures for licensing are explained
below. For more information or copies of forms, contact your local County Health
SEWAGE DISPOSAL SYSTEMS
Contractors constructing and hooking up subsurface domestic sewage systems,
such as septic tanks and drainfields, probably need to be licensed by the local
County Health Department in which they are working. A permit is likely
required to install any septic system. Important issues include:
- usage of the lot
- type, size, and placement of the septic system
- placement of the well
- may need approved site evaluation
Contact your local County Health Department for more information.
Generally, you will need to dig two test holes in the location of the proposed
disposal system. This allows the sanitarian to ensure that the soil is adequate
to absorb and treat domestic wastewater. If the soil is not adequate, other
approved alternatives such as a sand filter system may be available.
To obtain the construction permit from your local County Health Department,
Submit appropriate forms supplied by your County Health Department. Likely
information you must provide includes:
- Legal description of the structure for which the permit is sought
- Parcel size
- Description of both existing and proposed structures to be connected to
- Site plan
This section applies to contractors who construct drain and sewage lines that
are hooked up to municipal sewage systems. Regulations often require contractors
to hire licensed plumbers to hook up drain and sewage lines to domestic sewage
service laterals or to some other disposal terminal holding human or domestic
sewage. Consult your plumber to see if there may also be a hook up fee. Contact
your local building or plumbing department for additional information on local
- Local Building or Plumbing Department/Agency
(Fact Sheet 6 of 12)