Water is a gift. As more and more demands are made on our water supply, we must all do our part to keep it clean, not just for ourselves, but anyone and anything that depends on clean water…
How do we make sure that happens? For us, it means that we follow the law. In 1972, Congress enacted the first comprehensive national clean water legislation in response to growing public concern for serious and widespread water pollution. The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law that protects our nation’s waters, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
This is a typical local ordinance enforcing the Clean Water Act:
Very simply, that means we cannot allow anything to go into a storm drain that is not storm water or rainwater runoff.
So what is a pollutant? According to the EPA and other regulatory bodies, this includes not just soaps, acids and other cleaners, but leaves, debris, and plain ol’ dirt. To the right is a photo I took at an area restaurant showing a restaurant employee in clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
It is very likely that this young gentleman or the restaurant that employs him is not at all familiar with the provisions of the Clean Water Act. He is obviously allowing oil residues, debris, dirt and whatever else his wash water has picked up to be carried into a storm drain. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is no excuse. The enforcement section is all too clear. This is directly from the EPA’s website:
Clean Water Act Enforcement
EPA may issue an order to any person or company who violates the Clean Water Act. The order may impose a civil penalty plus recovery of any economic benefit of noncompliance and may also require correction of the violation.
- Who must comply with the Clean Water Act?
Any ‘person’ discharging a pollutant into the waters of the U.S.
A ‘person’ is defined as an individual, corporation, partnership, association, state, municipality, commission, or political subdivision of a state, or any interstate body.
- What are the penalties for noncompliance?
Under Section 309 of the CWA, penalties for violating the permit or not having a permit to discharge into the waters of the U.S. may be up to $27,500 per violation per day. Under Section 311, a Class I penalty may be assessed in an amount of up to $10,000 per violation, not to exceed $25,000; a Class II penalty may be assessed in an amount of up to $10,000 per day per violation, but not to exceed $125,000.
The Clean Water Act focuses on improving the quality of the nation’s waters. It provides a comprehensive framework of standards, technical tools and financial assistance to address the many causes of pollution and poor water quality, including municipal and industrial wastewater discharges, polluted runoff from urban and rural areas, and habitat destruction. The Clean Water Act:
- requires municipalities and major industries to meet performance standards to ensure pollution control;
- charges states and tribes with setting specific water quality criteria appropriate for their waters and developing pollution control programs to meet them;
- provides funding to states and communities to help them meet their clean water infrastructure needs; and
- protects valuable wetlands and other aquatic habitats through a permitting process that ensures development and other activities are conducted in an environmentally sound manner.
What to do then? We have several different methods available to us to deal with wash water, which is why we follow the recommendations of the Power Washers of North America (PWNA) and issue a Pollution Prevention Voucher to our clients. Upon completion of the work, this documents the safe and proper disposal of any wash water left onsite.
Be careful choosing a contractor who claims he doesn’t “know about it,” “it’s not a big deal,” “it’s EPA approved,” or “I use biodegradables.” The EPA and complementary regulatory agencies takes a dim view of any of the above excuses, they don’t “approve” anything, and it won’t diminish your liability as the property owner.
In short, if your contractor can’t explain why the below photo depicts a legal and environmentally safe action and the young man cleaning the restaurant parking lot above is not, you may want to think twice about risking your property in his hands.
Written By: Brian Welker