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Understanding Impaired Waters in SWPPP

There are several terms or concepts that may play an important role in any stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) setup on any jobsite or similar area, and one that cannot be ignored here is known as "impaired waters." What are impaired waters, which pollutant sources can contribute to creating them, and how must they be considered within SWPPP setups and stormwater management approaches?

At Cearley SWPPP, we're here to help with a wide range of SWPPP services around Ogden, from SWPPP plans and permits to erosion control services, SWPPP inspections and more. Here are some basics on what the term impaired waters means, the kinds of pollutants that most commonly tend to create impaired waters, and some other important topics related to impaired waters and SWPPP management for full compliance and safety.

Understanding Impaired Waters in SWPPP

What Are Impaired Waters?

For those who are just learning about SWPPP management and what it really involves, impaired waters are defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as any water body that does not meet required standards for one or more of its designated uses. This means that the water may be contaminated or otherwise unable to support its intended use, whether that's recreation, drinking water, aquatic life habitats and others.

The most common form of impaired waters, by far, is pollution of various kinds. Water can become polluted from a wide range of sources, from industrial sites and agricultural operations to urban runoff, wastewater treatment plants and many others. Let's take a closer look at some of the most frequently observed sources of impaired waters in different parts of the country.

Common Pollutant Sources

As we noted above, pollutants that contribute to creating impaired waters can come from a variety of sources. In fact, there are well over 100 different possible contaminants that can enter water bodies depending on the area.

Naturally, we won't go over every single one of those here. However, here are some of the most common we tend to see around Ogden and other parts of Utah:

  • Fertilizer: Runoff from agricultural operations, golf courses, and other properties that use fertilizer can lead to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies. These nutrients can cause excessive algae growth, which depletes oxygen levels and harms aquatic life.
  • Sediment: Soil erosion caused by construction activities, deforestation, and farming can contribute to sediment pollution. This sediment can clog waterways, harm aquatic life and vegetation, and carry other pollutants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
  • Chemicals: Industrial and manufacturing facilities often produce chemical pollutants that can enter water bodies through runoff or direct discharge. These chemicals can be harmful to both human health and the environment.
  • Metal: Especially when close to a construction or industrial site, metals such as copper, lead, and zinc can enter water bodies and cause harm to aquatic life.

Unacceptable Levels of Impairment

One of the more nuanced areas of impaired waters in SWPPP is the fact that acceptable and unacceptable levels of impairment will vary heavily. The primary variable here is how the body of water is used - for example, a swimming pool will have much stricter standards for water quality than a lake used for fishing.

There are also different categories of impairment that can be assigned to a body of water, depending on the severity and extent of contamination. For example, if a water body is identified as "impaired," it may have one or more pollutants present at levels high enough to affect its designated use. However, if a water body is identified as "impaired" with a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), this means that the pollutant levels are high enough to require a specific plan for cleanup and restoration.

Impaired Waters and Drought

As several areas of Utah remain in some level of drought, it's important to note that this can impact impaired waters and how they are managed. Drought conditions tend to only worsen impaired water situations - this is primarily because higher concentrations of pollutants are present when water levels are low, so even small amounts of runoff can have a bigger impact on water quality.

That's why it's especially important for construction sites and other businesses to prioritize SWPPP management during times of drought. Proper erosion control measures and stormwater management strategies can help prevent excess pollution from entering impaired waters and causing further harm.

Impaired Waters and SWPPP

Luckily, SWPPP typically contains multiple measures designed to prevent or mitigate potential impacts on impaired waters:

  • Erosion control: There are several types of erosion control measures that can help prevent sediment and other pollutants from entering water bodies, including silt fences, straw wattles, and sediment basins.
  • Stormwater management: SWPPP plans also include strategies for managing stormwater runoff to prevent it from picking up pollutants on the site and carrying them into nearby waters. This can include techniques such as vegetated swales, detention ponds, and filter strips.
  • Regular inspections: SWPPP regulations also require regular inspections to ensure that all erosion control measures are functioning properly and any potential issues are addressed promptly.

Impaired waters are a serious concern for both environmental health and human use of water bodies. By understanding the sources of impairment and implementing proper SWPPP management strategies, we can work towards cleaner, safer water for all.

At Cearley SWPPP, we are dedicated to helping businesses and construction sites in Ogden and throughout Utah stay in compliance with SWPPP regulations and protect our water resources. Contact us today to learn more about our services or schedule an inspection.