By Clayton Hall
Stormwater management and compliance is necessary to meet often-changing — and sometimes challenging — regulations that serve to protect the environment and our natural resources. But compliance is often associated with confusion, reams of paper and disjointed processes that can lead to missteps and potential regulatory scrutiny or even fines.
Proper stormwater management isn’t, however, just about maintaining compliance and avoiding fines. It has the potential to reduce flooding, improve the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater, and help growing cities and regions strike a balance between protecting natural resources and nurturing economic growth.
Few regions of the country know this impending collision between nature and growth more than Texas. More than 500,000 people moved to the state in 2019, which was the seventh year in a row Texas experienced an influx of as many residents, according to the 2021 Texas Relocation Report released by Texas Realtors. The Lone Star state also is no stranger to the pendulum swing of extreme drought and excessive flooding.
Raba Kistner, a Texas-based engineering consulting and program management firm, for 25 years has successfully navigated stormwater issues for clients and kept them compliant with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as local authorities. The firm has extensive experience integrating industrial and construction permits, as well as separating and segregating them to help clients reach their goals and objectives. In Texas alone, there are roughly 9,000 industrial stormwater permit holders. Yet many permit holders are not aware of or have difficulty with the maintenance required to maintain their stormwater permits.
For years, the Environmental Compliance Services team at Raba Kistner developed and honed a Storm Water Compliance service to address this issue that is currently in place for clients at over 200 locations statewide. However, the team wanted to further simplify and streamline the process by leveraging their experience and expertise with technology. Existing software programs still required users to input tasks, schedules, and requirements. This can be a daunting task because it takes mastering both the regulations and the software. So, the Raba Kistner team used a combined 50 years of environmental experience and 30 years of stormwater compliance experience to develop their own software as a service (SaaS), called Simpli Stormwater.
This cloud-based Environmental Management System (EMS) is specific to TCEQ’s Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit for industrial facilities. The solution takes the knowledge and experience of stormwater compliance experts and uses an artificial intelligence component to translate the compliance process into a turnkey program that can be easily accessed, understood, and quickly updated as regulations change.
The fatal flaws for most stormwater programs are record management and continuity. Because of the complexity of regulations, inspections can be easily misfiled, follow-up actions are missed, and staff turnover can make tracking data and maintaining records difficult. Failure to comply often is simply due to a lack of understanding and process, rather than a lack of desire to protect the environment.
Simpli Stormwater ensures compliance with automatic reminders for important steps or events, such as emails for quarterly inspections that come with a checklist, and the ability to upload findings and data directly to the cloud from the field with a tablet or smartphone. Synced rain gauges generate automated rain logs and send push notifications to collect samples. Required forms are easily accessible, customized and compliant. Online dashboards allow permit holders to manage stormwater remotely and gather real-time information on multiple sites at any time. The cloud-based document management system automatically sends reports to required parties.
This allows permit holders to do everything correctly the first time while providing trackable, transparent, and easily accessible results for regulatory authorities. Simplifying the regulatory process and compliance through services such as Simpli Stormwater also helps clients understand what to do and how to do it, which is beneficial to the environment and the business’ bottom line.
Permit holders complete an online application and licensing request. Once verified that everything is correct and the license is activated, the client’s site(s) are built into the Simpli Stormwater system and the client can begin populating each site account. This will capture the information identified in each site-specific stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP), which allows Simpli Stormwater to develop the site requirements. The easy-to-follow process uses questions and prompts to gather the information and set up the account.
Once the account is established, workflows are defined, task reminders are generated, inspectors are notified of what to do and when, reports are pushed through to authorized signatories for signing, corrective actions are tracked to completion and everything is stored in the cloud for easy retrieval. Raba Kistner has two planned upgrades to the software:
- A SWPPP generator that will allow clients to generate their own SWPPP; and
- Laboratory integration that will seamlessly integrate shipment of the required glassware, chemical analysis and reporting for the site specific required chemical analysis
Proper compliance with complex regulatory processes requires a heavy learning investment on the part of permit holders. Compliance is not only the right thing to do, it can also impact the bottom line, because improper management of these processes can cost permit holders fines and extra time and human resources to return to compliance. By leveraging technology and decades of regulatory experience, Raba Kistner has created a tool to shorten the learning curve and keep permit holders compliant at once.
One of the biggest business benefits of stormwater compliance programs is the ability to track data and provide transparent reporting to clients, stakeholders, and regulatory authorities. Because of organizational turnover, changes in personnel can lead to information and data being lost or improperly interpreted over time, which in turn causes inaccurate reporting and results. When businesses make the switch to cloud compliance tools, all information is tracked, stored, and easily traceable from one person to the next. And by understanding the impact of stormwater management as it relates to different industries and environments, more informed decisions can be made for needed change to both regulations and industry.
Improper or haphazard management of stormwater can have detrimental effects now and well into the future. But most people and businesses want to do the right thing. What Raba Kistner has found is that when clients are more in tune with what needs to be done and the processes to get there, it is easier to take the right steps. Proper stormwater management and the resulting compliance with local, state, and federal regulations helps these businesses and industries work toward creating a sustainable environment now and for future generations.
Simpli Stormwater leverages technology with human experience to deliver a solution that spans generational and regulatory shifts while keeping the focus on protecting our water and the environment.
Clayton Hall is division manager of stormwater compliance with Raba Kistner, Inc., a premier Engineering Consulting and Program Management Firm based in San Antonio, TX.