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MS4 Project Managers, Your Nightmare is Over

Four Steps to Better SWPPPs, SOPs, and Staff Training

Everyone has office horror stories. You know those moments of chaos and confusion that derail the simplest projects. Those missteps that make you want to bury your head in your chest and pretend no one can see you.

Everyone has these terrors. MS4 managers are no exception. An MS4 manager assists with permits and regulations for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s).

If you’re an MS4 manager, we feel your pain. We know what it’s like when EPA and DEQ inspections go wrong. We know how it feels when a field staff member dumps extra herbicide mix into wash water with live vegetation. When someone washes equipment over a storm drain. When someone places a full bucket of oily waste behind the maintenance building.

Why do these horrible ‘gotcha’ moments happen repeatedly? How can we prevent them in the future? At GKY, our planners can help answer these tough questions. We want to save you from any more MS4 horror stories with these four steps.

1. Start with Strong SOPs

The first step in preventing problems is having the right plans in place. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Old habits die hard. Stormwater is not a day-to-day priority for most organizations. Regulators know what to look for, and they can easily catch you off guard.

Still, with the right procedures in place, anything is possible. You need to develop pollution prevention standard operating procedures (SOPs), stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs), and employee training programs. Many MS4 operators have already taken these important steps.

For effective MS4 programs, you need to focus on long-term goals rather than short-term projects. To achieve your long-term goals, MS4 programs need to be consistent, built from the ground up, unambiguous, fully integrated into daily activities, and positively reinforced.

2. Mind Your Messaging

All elements of your program should be consistent. You want to make sure everything works together seamlessly. You also want to reinforce consistent messages about everything you do.

Consistency among your SOPs, SWPPPs, and training programs is key. For example, procedures for vehicle fueling should be identical whether in a SOP or a SWPPP. Training should reinforce those same messages.

MS4 managers also need to rethink the way these messages and procedures are developed. In the past, SOPs and SWPPPs were developed first, and training materials were developed second to reflect the language in those documents.

Perhaps it is time to reverse this direction. What are the behaviors and actions that we want staff to employ? How can we work these into SOPs and then by default into SWPPPs?

You should focus on staff behavior first and procedures second. That way, the SOPs and SWPPPs will be more likely to support an effective MS4 program. The key to success is the human element, not what is written on paper.

With this in mind, directions also have to be unambiguous. For instance, it’s not enough to write that materials will be “disposed of in accordance with local state and federal requirements.” You should write step-by-step how to responsibly and legally dispose of the materials. Messages and procedures should be clear, simple and understandable. Clear messaging means less room for human error and fewer horror stories in your future.

3. Have the Right Tools

Now that you have your plans and your messages in place, it’s time to act. You should make sure the SOPs are fully integrated into daily activities.

To make this possible, you need to have the right tools. Even the best SOP will fail if you don’t have the materials you need to get the job done. Say the SOP requires you to clean up spilled fuel cans, sweep up the mess and dispose of it in the dumpster. If you don’t have spill-dri, you can’t clean up the spill. If you don’t have a broom, you can’t sweep up the spill-dri.

Without the right tools, there’s no way to follow the SOP. If the proper materials are provided and staff are encouraged to follow SOPs during daily activities, these procedures will become commonplace.

4. Repeat, Reinforce, Repeat again

Last but not least, SOPs need to be reinforced. You can’t walk on a construction site without seeing a “Danger: Hard Hats Required in this Area” sign. Behaviors and actions taught as part of staff training and incorporated into SOPs and SWPPPs must be reinforced.

If possible, you should post these reminders around the job site. Signs such as “Clean up Spills” should be posted near the spill-dri containers.

Positive reinforcement, that conveys expectations rather than prohibitions will also make your methods more effective. “Dump no waste, drains to river” is a catchy message that certainly gets the point across. But that does not help the employee who still has to empty the mop bucket of dirty, sudsy water.

If mop water has to be emptied into the sewer, that is what your sign should say. You should reinforce behaviors and actions with clear, descriptive statements. Tell employees what they should do, rather than what they should not do.

Now what?

These steps should help you reach your MS4 program goals. Effective programs focus on solid plans, positive behaviors, clear messages, integrated procedures and daily reinforcement. With all of this in place, your projects will be smooth, and your stories will be happy, instead of horrifying.


Contact Us!
Need help with your MS4 program? GKY’s team of experienced planners can help. Give us a call, and we can make sure your program has the SOPs, SWPPPs and staff training it needs to succeed. Get in touch with GKY experts today!


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Grass is Always Greener: New Job Training Helps Green Infrastructure Grow

We’ve heard a lot of talk about “going green” in the last few years. But what does a sustainable future really look like? Green infrastructure may be the answer – or at least an important part of it.

Green infrastructure paves the way for sustainable and eco-friendly urban living. A new certification program helps professionals learn the skills they need for the green jobs of today and tomorrow.

What is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure and stormwater management go hand in hand. Instead of using traditional “gray” systems like pipes and gutters, green infrastructure relies on natural methods of removing excess water from urban areas.

Trees, soils and plants store or soak up stormwater. This helps get rid of pollutants in the area naturally, whereas traditional infrastructure often drains pollutants into local rivers. Green infrastructure is environmentally friendly and provides many job opportunities for professionals who build and maintain these systems.

Other benefits of green infrastructure? More green spaces in cities are not only pleasing to the eye, but they also absorb heat. Green infrastructure also helps prevent flooding, as plants soak up stormwater that would have runoff into local streams.

Certified to Go Green

To promote this innovative process, DC Water and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) created a training program on the ins and outs of green infrastructure. The National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP) helps construction and maintenance professionals learn about processes like bioretention, rainwater harvesting, and permeable pavements.

GKY & Associates helped finalize the course materials for this program, and GKY staff also taught some of the classes.

“This is an exceptional course, providing instruction on the environmental benefits and lifecycle characteristics (including construction and maintenance issues) of green infrastructure,” said Stuart Stein, GKY president and NGICP course instructor. “The certification will be a valuable credential to demonstrate practical knowledge to potential employers and customers,” Stein said.

The weeklong course is designed for maintenance and construction professionals looking to learn new eco-friendly skills. Participants are required to take a pass or fail test at the end of the course, in order to receive their certificate.

This certification is the first of its kind in the country, establishing standards for workforces nationwide. In November, municipalities in the D.C. area encouraged their staff members to participate in this program. More than 20 employees from Fairfax County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland were among the first workers to participate in this type of training.

According to the Fairfax County website, the NGICP program also helps Virginia companies comply with new state regulations. New stormwater management rules favor green infrastructure methods.

After construction projects end, organizations involved have to demonstrate that they have implemented measures that reduce runoff and pollutants. Green infrastructure helps reduce harmful runoff, helping to satisfy Virginia’s new runoff calculation policies. The certification will give employees necessary skills to inspect Virginia stormwater management infrastructure.

Greener Pastures – What’s Next in Green Infrastructure?

Graduates of the program will also be more prepared to help their organizations meet Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit requirements. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an MS4 is a “conveyance or system of conveyances” that transport “polluted stormwater runoff”.

MS4s typically consist of gray infrastructure, like storm drains and pipes. However, MS4 permits are increasingly focusing on green infrastructure – one more reason the NGICP certification benefits professionals.

The goal of all of these changes is to replace gray infrastructure with natural solutions. Greener infrastructure means cleaner water, and healthier communities.

“Green infrastructure is the wave of the future,” Stein said. “Not only is it being actively pushed by regulatory agencies, it is also increasingly valued by our citizens, who are far more aware of environmental amenities and issues.”

In the long-term, courses like the NGICP program will help workers grow in their careers. As states become more and more concerned with environmental issues, green certifications will be invaluable to employees engaged in this type of sustainability work.

Whatever the future holds, greener cities are likely on the horizon thanks to new green infrastructure methods, trainings and regulations.


Contact Us!
Want to learn more about green infrastructure? If you think your municipality or company could benefit from these eco-friendly solutions, GKY can help. Get in touch with GKY experts today!


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GKY Awarded Stream Assessment Contract with Roanoke County, Virginia

GKY has been selected to provide professional services to assess approximately 135 miles of Roanoke County streams. This project will focus on providing the County with recommendations to protect stream health and stability and improve County water quality with an emphasis on compliance with MS4 permit Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Wasteload Allocations (WLAs) to the County’s MS4. Potential alternatives that will be investigated in this project include stream stabilization and restoration, as well as upstream stormwater management facility identification and retrofit opportunities.

For more information or to discuss how GKY can assist your community, please call our Chantilly, Virginia office at (703) 870-7000, our Richmond office at (804) 375-2200, or send us a message through the website at http://www.gky.com/contact/.

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