On July 1, 2015, the new California Industrial General Permit for Stormwater (General Permit) will take effect and along with it come a host of new compliance obligations. Chief among those obligations is the completion and submission of a notice of intent (NOI) to be bound by the new General Permit. The last time industrial facilities were obliged to submit an NOI was when the soon-to-be-expired General Permit was updated back in 1997.  Much has changed in the world of industrial stormwater compliance since then.

For those less familiar with the General Permit, it applies in California to the tens of thousands of industrial facilities throughout the state and serves to regulate stormwater emanating from those facilities. The application of the General Permit to any given facility is based on that facility’s Standard Industry Classification (SIC) code. The SIC code for a given facility is determined based on the primary industrial activity at the facility.

The first step in complying with the new General Permit is to determine if an industrial facility is subject to it.  For those industrial facilities that already have their own individualized permit for stormwater, the General Permit’s compliance obligations are inapplicable. And for those industrial facilities that are already operating under the soon-to-be-expired General Permit, the new General Permit’s compliance obligations may be inapplicable.  Oftentimes, industrial facilities will just re-notice their intent to be bound by a new permit without evaluating whether their facility should be subject to a permit. This common practice should be avoided, if possible, to ensure that a facility is not expending time and money to comply with a permit that is inapplicable. Finally, for those industrial facilities that are not already operating under the General Permit, it’s time to evaluate whether the General Permit applies.

Determining whether a facility is subject to the General Permit begins with identifying the primary operations at a facility and locating the associated SIC code. To determine a facility’s SIC code, the State Water Resources Control Board has included Attachment A to the new General Permit which matches up SIC codes with a facility’s primary activity. Generally, the SIC codes covered include industrial operations ranging from manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, hazardous waste, landfill and recycling, transportation, and sewage and wastewater treatment works.

Bear in mind that if it is determined that a facility was not previously obligated to comply with the General Permit because that facility fell under the light industry exemption, that exemption is not carried through to the new General Permit. It remains unclear how many new facilities will be obligated to comply with the new General Permit based on the removal of this exemption, but the estimates are in the tens of thousands statewide. Despite doing away with the oft-utilized light industry exemption, the new General Permit provides a separate carve out from coverage known as the no exposure certificate (NEC). An NEC is available to a facility if that facility does not expose stormwater to industrial activities.  Practically, obtaining an NEC serves to circumvent the obligations associated with compliance with the General Permit.

Assuming an industrial facility is obligated to comply with the new General Permit, then along with completing and submitting an NOI, that facility must ensure registration in the stormwater multiple application and report tracking system (SMARTS). SMARTS is a web-based database for stormwater compliance and reporting. Instituting SMARTS is a change from the old model which involved submitting quarterly and annual reports in hardcopy. While SMARTS will make it easier and less expensive to maintain compliance with regulators, it will equally enable concerned citizens and environmental groups to have instant and up-to-date access to a facility’s records of compliance. A facility’s stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) may serve as the best example of how SMARTS may change the landscape for stormwater compliance.  Historically, some industrial facilities have been lax about maintaining and updating SWPPPs.  Prior to SMARTS, this lax effort may have gone unnoticed, but now that same lax effort is more likely to garner the attention of regulators, concerned citizens and environmental groups, or both.  And with the recent spike in Clean Water Act citizen suits filed in federal courts around the state, garnering the attention of any one of these groups can prove to be very costly and time consuming.

Determining whether your facility is subject to the General Permit and maintaining compliance with the General Permit can be complicated. Simplifying that process can be done through enlisting the assistance of water quality professionals such as legal counsel or consultants.  If you haven’t already, it is important to identify water quality professionals with experience in stormwater permitting and compliance to ensure a facility is afforded the protections available for compliance with the General Permit.