Are you the one who’s been tapped to implement the requirements of your increasingly complex municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit? Are you struggling to get the fire marshal to rally in support of your industrial inspection program? Do you need your health inspectors to assist in identifying potential illicit discharges? And what about the street maintenance operation: looking for assistance in reducing the impacts of snow and ice treatment on local roadways? It is not unusual to hear from stormwater program staff who must track and report on permit compliance that the cooperation and support needed throughout their organization is not as effective as it could be. With an increased focus on enforcement from regulators and expanding complexity in permit requirements, local government stormwater managers need an effective strategy for engaging all of the operational units within their government to build a strong management program for their MS4 permit implementation.
As MS4 permits throughout the country are being renewed, requirements are increasing in breadth and complexity, resulting in the need for expanding organizational teams to support the compliance effort. Recently reissued Phase I permits, like those in Washington, DC; Montgomery County, MD; and Portland, OR, have included requirements for restoration of a percentage of currently untreated impervious area (some with specific retrofit square-footage targets); development of total maximum daily load (TMDL) implementation plans for pollutants as diverse as nitrogen, trash, and “flow” itself; stepped-up monitoring programs; and even specific tree-planting requirements. These enhanced requirements have introduced additional complexity into management of MS4 programs and now require new skills that need to complement the typical stormwater planner’s or engineer’s experience. Phase II MS4 permittees are also starting to see similar changes to their general permits with specific requirements for monitoring and TMDL implementation plans.
A Tactical Approach to Managing Your MS4 Permit
Case Study: Developing an Inclusive Stormwater Management Plan in Fairfax County, VA
Fairfax County, VA, is a 400-square-mile county just west of Washington, DC, with a population over one million. The county has more than 10,000 employees and a $4 billion annual operating budget; the complexities and extensive service area of the organization itself create challenges for permit management. The county applied for its first MS4 Phase I permit in 1992 and is currently in its second permit cycle. The county has been operating since 2007 under an administratively continued Phase I permit. As with many other communities in the Mid-Atlantic area, the county is expecting a new permit sometime in 2012. Based on preliminary draft permit language provided in 2011, it is anticipated that the permit will include many new or expanded requirements driven in part by the adoption of several local TMDLs, including the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, and the revision of the Virginia Stormwater Management regulations. It is also proposed that the county’s new permit incorporate compliance activities for Fairfax County Public Schools, which currently has its own Phase II MS4 permit.
The primary responsibility for permit coordination and reporting resides in the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), Stormwater Planning Division (SWPD). AMEC’s Environment & Infrastructure business has been working with DPWES, supporting its MS4 program for several years. AMEC and SWPD staff recognized that, while considering the potential impacts of new requirements on county operations, effectively managing the new permit will require additional support not only from other divisions within DPWES but also from outside agencies as diverse as Fairfax County Public Schools, the Park Authority, Facilities Management, Fire and Rescue, and the Health Department.
- Outreach to county leadership beyond DPWES to make sure they understood that the permit involved implementation activities beyond the stormwater group and that failure to comply with the permit requirements was unacceptable
- Identification of key agencies and staff to be involved in the planning and execution of the stormwater compliance plan
- Development of a planning process that would provide a consistent framework and guidelines for compliance actions
- DPWES leadership would approach their peers at other county agencies to get buy-in at the management level for the creation of a countywide permit compliance team.
- The draft permit requirements would be grouped into manageable, related elements, and team leaders for each element would be identified.
- For each permit element, tactical plan teams with representatives from all affected departments and agencies would be established.
- Tools, such as fact sheets and tactical plan templates, would be developed to provide guidance to the teams.
- A set of facilitated meetings with the teams would be held to identify the tactics and resources needed to meet the anticipated new permit conditions, including identification of who would lead the implementation of each tactic and the schedule for completion.
The Tactical Planning Process
The first step in the process was to engage the county leadership in an MS4 outreach effort, because it was deemed critical that the tactical planning process used in the county address education and communication issues related to the MS4 permit program. Through a series of briefings, with the objective to educate agency leaders about the permit goals (improvement of water quality) and the repercussions of a failure to comply with the permit (fines and penalties), a broad-based understanding of the permit challenges was achieved. A primary focus of the education message was that compliance with the permit is not the responsibility of one person or agency but the responsibility of the entire county. All levels of county leadership were encouraged to support interagency MS4 teams that would guide permit compliance through development and implementation of tactical plans that would address each agency’s needs while establishing best practices for the entire county organization.
Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time
While debating the best way to manage the expected new MS4 permit requirements and explain them to others in a concise and effective manner, it was determined that the permit elements would be prioritized and grouped into functional categories. Once the permit categories were set, it became easier to identify agencies affected by or influencing that element, as well as the skills and resources needed for compliance with each element. Fairfax County’s MS4 permit is organized around 18 major elements outlined in the 2011 preliminary draft permit:
- Watershed management
- Structural and source controls
- Areas of new and redevelopment
- County facilities
- TMDL action plans
- Spill prevention and response
- Pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer application
- Illicit discharges and improper disposal
- Construction-site runoff
- Monitoring programs
- Public education
- Industrial and high-risk runoff
- Storm sewer infrastructure management
- Water-quality screening programs
- Tracking and reporting
Tools for Success
Fact sheets were developed for each of the 18 permit elements to provide key information so that all group members started with a common understanding. The fact sheets included information such as the existing and proposed preliminary permit language related to the element, current compliance activities, key challenges for implementing new requirements, timing issues, resources and tools needed for implementation, reporting requirements, and links to additional reference information such as the Clean Water Act and state stormwater regulations.
- the goals of the plan;
- a gaps analysis, with a description of the current program and identification of gaps to meet anticipated new requirements;
- identification of action items, such as development of standard operating procedures, assignment of agency leads, and timing of implementation;
- deliverables resulting from the tactical plan; and
- resource, training, and information technology needs.
The Pilot Plan
Before tackling the planning process with all 18 permit teams, a pilot tactical plan study was conducted for the Roadways permit element to ground-truth the process. Roadways compliance in Fairfax County is somewhat unique for a Phase I community as the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), not the county, provides maintenance and operation of the majority of the road system, and VDOT holds its own Phase II MS4 permit. The county’s responsibility for Roadways under the MS4 permit applies primarily to county-maintained parking lots and a limited number of road segments. Since the Roadways compliance efforts would be applicable to specific, limited county sites but also involve several county agencies, this permit element was selected for use in a pilot study to evaluate the proposed tactical planning process and fine-tune it as necessary.
Implementing the Full-Scale Tactical Planning Process
Based on the feedback from the Roadways pilot, the tactical planning process was modified to combine related permit elements together to increase efficiencies and coordination. Following completion of the Roadways pilot study, work began on tactical plans for five additional permit elements, which were organized into three teams and run in parallel. The team assignments were:
- Team 1: Illicit Discharge and Improper Disposal and Spill Response
- Team 2: Industrial and High-Risk Runoff
- Team 3: Water-Quality Screening and Monitoring
The tactical planning process is still ongoing, but preliminary results show that the process has reinforced the organizational commitment to ensuring effective permit compliance in Fairfax County and that staff charged with permit management and oversight now have more knowledgeable teams to support their efforts. The MS4 coordinators who previously were responsible for the details of program development, implementation, tracking, and reporting across all permit elements now have support from a cadre of permit element experts. The permit element teams have brought together staff from multiple county agencies to learn more about the MS4 permit and how important their work is in permit compliance. Many of the staff from outside of DPWES have become engaged in moving the program forward and have provided important input about how their activities can contribute to increased protection of water quality.